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World Press Freedom Review
2001 World Press Freedom Review
Greece continues to be one of the few countries within the European Union (EU) that has consistently brought criminal defamation suits against journalists. IPI and other press freedom organisations have long campaigned for the repeal of such repressive laws, pointing out that handing down prison sentences in defamation cases impedes the free flow of information and ideas and the threat of imprisonment deters free and critical reporting. In addition, criminal defamation is in contradiction to Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights, to which all EU members, including Greece are bound by law.
However, representatives of the Greek government deny that criminal defamation, as applied in Greece, constitutes a threat to freedom of expression. At a meeting on Freedom of Expression in Europe, organised by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe on 12-13 March and attended by IPI, a Greek government representative said that Greek journalists prefer the current system since it is cheaper for them. The Greek delegate said that it in common practice, if an individual is found guilty of defamation, prison sentences are bought off for a small amount of money. As such, it is cheaper for the convicted than if a verdict were reached in civil court.
After being presented with an IPI paper at the conference listing a number of press freedom violations in Greece, the Greek representative said that press freedom organisations have a biased picture of the situation for Greek journalists and that many of the reported incidents are not press freedom violations at all. IPI pointed out that, in practice, criminal defamation criminalizes free speech which goes against a number of international declarations and that the use of it in Greece reveals a deep-seated suspicion on part of the Greek authorities against a free and unfettered media. The attitude of the Greek representative was also evident in a protracted court case which dragged on last year.
On 2 February, Sotiris Bletsas, a member of the Society for Aromanian (Vlach) Culture, was sentenced to 15 months in prison and fined the equivalent of US $1,400 by an Athens court for disseminating false information under Article 191 of the penal code. Bletsas appealed the sentence and was set free pending the appeal. The charges were brought by a deputy with the conservative party New Democracy, Eugene Haitidis, and concern leaflets distributed by Bletsas in 1995 which he deemed defamatory to the Vlachs, since they referred to the Vlach language as a "minority language". In addition, the court said the leaflet, published by the European Bureau for Lesser-Used Languages, could cause "fear and anxiety among citizens." The case has been appealed.
The trial has been criticised by several human rights organisations and critics maintain that Greek authorities are particularly reluctant to acknowledge the existence of a number of minority languages in Greece and that the sentence provides further evidence for this. Greece has been criticised for failing to provide minorities with sufficient rights, which are considered to be of extra importance since Greece is a centre for immigrants from the Balkan region.
Elsewhere, the American embassy in Athens refused to grant a left-wing journalist a visa at the beginning of the year. Christos Papoutsakis, editor of political weekly Anti, was denied the visa needed to go to an event organised on 1 February by the Columbia School of Journalism on dissenting journalism. The Greek Helsinki Monitor, a human rights organisation, protested the decision. It is believed a possible reason for the denial is that Papoutsakisís name remains on security lists dating from the Cold War. Papoutsakis has long been a critic of U.S. foreign policy.
On 9 April, Greek journalists went on strike demanding a pay-rise and better pension plans. The journalistsí union released a statement saying the journalists in print and electronic media want "decent wages" and that they would strike for one day to achieve this aim.
On 8 June, a group of Greek students forcefully entered a public television station in the city of Thessaloniki. The students, all with Aristotle University in Thessaloniki, demanded they be allowed to state their views on education reform, a demand which was granted by the manager of ET3 television.
In Greece, pirated entertainment products remains a problem. On 22 March, U.S Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said the U.S. has resolved a three-year long trade dispute with Greece over illegal broadcasting of movies and television shows made in the U.S. The two countries reached an agreement after Greek officials said they would crack down on individuals dealing in pirated goods and that the necessary legislation to deal with the problem would be passed. Much like in neighbouring Albania, many smaller TV stations air copyrighted material without the necessary permission to do so.
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