Since May 2021, when in the report published annually by “Reporters Without Borders” (RSF) our country lost thirty-eight places compared to the previous year in freedom of the press and was in 107th place out of a total of 180 countries, the debate which should have opened never started. The 108th place followed in 2022 and in 2023 we managed to get back to 107th. Without deserving of congratulations.
The press is sick, and seriously so, since we are last in Europe and even lower than Botswana and Mongolia, but apart from the political confrontations, when the announcements were still fresh, society as a whole did not come out of its apathy. There is an explanation and it is simple. All surveys in recent years show that the citizen’s trust in the Greek press is at its nadir. Officially, the citizen believes that the “media” is hiding the truth from him or that he is being lied to, and that is why, in another, equally important annual survey in the Digital News Report of the Reuters Institute, we are consistently last in citizens’ trust in the media information. This year we managed and lost another 8%, which is a lot even when you’re at the bottom. On the contrary, we are the first to inform through social media!
The concentration of the press in the hands of a few, with privileged ties to power, creates a stranglehold on financially independent media.
Whatever you comment will sound like platitude: democracy is in danger, entanglement has tentacles everywhere, the state has failed in its protective role… we cried “help the wolf” because the wolf was coming. And yet, the wolf ate us and no one bothered about it. Regardless of the methodology used by the authors of the RSF report—and yes, there have been complaints about it abroad—press freedom is inextricably linked to four factors: violence, censorship, disinformation, and SLAPPs.
Violence is one of the relatively new phenomena in our country. One of the reasons why we lost so many positions is the fact that the murder of Giorgos Karaivaz still remains unsolved, despite the arrest of some suspects. Police violence, too, at protests and elsewhere. Sexism at work for women. Illegal surveillance. Violence has many faces. Censorship, on the other hand, is more insidious.
Yes, when questioned in Strasbourg in July 2022, the prime minister showed “opposition” leaflets to his partners. But we are not living in the era of Metaxas in 1936. Censorship has other weapons today and to expose it you have to look for the main shareholder in newspapers, channels, news(?) websites. The concentration of the press in the hands of a few, with privileged ties to power, creates a stranglehold on financially independent media. With advertisers out of print and the public addicted to free copy paste, the once difficult ‘job’ of censorship has become a breeze. Just fund so many media outlets that they can drown out independent voices.
Misinformation is a byproduct of the monetized media landscape, in which any obscure blog has the same value as the website of a major newspaper. The Trump logic: “the media hides the truth from us, so let’s go to “ours” who only tell us the real truth”, has unfortunately prevailed in our country as well. The dizzying number of Greek semi-blogs, semi-websites, without signatures and with strange names, although they have not yet formed an alt.right-type constellation, mainly serves censorship. How do you talk about Predator surveillance to an audience that believes we’re being watched by various dark centers anyway? The truth is drowned in many alternative truths in the same universe. We don’t even need the timeline branching a la Marvel.
Finally, SLAPPs, the newest member of the decadent family, is a term that the general public doesn’t even know about, but it hits journalists and the media to an alarming degree. Their strange name “strategic lawsuits against public participation” hides behind it the intimidation through lawsuits of journalists and media (as well as activists, citizens, etc.). Last July, POESY started the process of recording SLAPPs cases against journalists with the aim of establishing an Observatory of abusive lawsuits.
The above are by no means exclusively Greek problems. The whole of Europe is suffering from the concentration of the media and the entanglement of their ownership with political power, from SLAPPs, from misinformation, from violence in its different guises. The noticeable difference lies in the role of the state mainly through legislation. Even bureaucratic Brussels was forced to intervene with the European media freedom act. It protects editorial independence, opposes the use of spyware, promotes the independence of public media, regulates the concentration of ownership, enforces transparency in government advertising, and protects media content online. Each member state, however, can implement the minimum of the above in national legislation, which no one doubts that we will do as well. However, in order to climb higher again on the RSF list, not even the maximum will be enough.
* Assistant professor at the Department of Digital Media and Communication of the Ionian University