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World Press Freedom Review
2005 World Press Freedom Review
By the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
On 25 January, the Journalists’ Union of Athens Daily Newspapers criticised the decision of the defence minister to limit journalists’ access to the building of the ministry. The union claims the minister’s decision "confirms his intentions of trying to blatantly control the information the Greek public receives." Finally, the Executive Board unanimously decided to continue omitting the names and images of the ministry’s political leadership in the media and has scheduled other kinds of protests.
On 16 February, the Journalists’ Union of Athens Daily Newspapers condemned the charges against the journalist Costas Papaioannou. He was accused of being an accomplice to a crime, mainly for refusing to reveal his source, who had provided him with a document he made public.
On 11 March, the behaviour of Olympic coach Dusan Bajevic was condemned by the Executive Council of the Hellenic Union of Sports Writers. Bajevic refused to make any statements to media representatives after his team played a game against PAOK. The union also condemned the stance of PAOK’s coach Nikos Karageorgios, who followed the example of his colleague and left the press conference.
On 13 April, the Court of Appeal of Athens found the author of The Life of Jesus, Gerhard Haderer, not guilty in a blasphemy case, reversing the judgement of the Court of First Instance. It ordered the return of confiscated books to Oxy Publishing S.A., the Greek publisher of The Life of Jesus. On 11 April, a statement of the Executive Board of the Journalists’ Union of Athens Daily Newspapers (ESIEA) condemned the fact that Austrian Cartoonist Haderer had been charged by Greek courts for his satire cartoons in The Life of Jesus. The union strongly opposed the decision by the court of first instance against the cartoonist and the ordered confiscation of his book. The trial had started in December 2003, after the Greek Orthodox Church filed a complaint against his comic book, and had temporarily concluded in first instance on 18 January with the conviction of Haderer to a six-month suspended sentence and the acquittal of the publisher and booksellers.
On 7 February, the Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) sent a letter of protest to officials in Greece, saying it is alarmed about the recent decision to hand down a prison sentence to a cartoonist. SEEMO strongly condemned the sentence against Haderer, whose book has also been published in other countries without raising controversy. The court decision was a clear attack on freedom of expression and ran against all international standards. SEEMO urged Greek authorities to annul the sentence and to accept cartoons as a form of free expression. It also urged the Greek Parliament to revise the existing law under which Haderer was charged.
On 7 May, Kostas Nikolakopoulos, a journalist for the sports daily Fos ton Sport and the radio station Super Sport FM, was attacked by four unknown men in front of his wife and two young daughters, only meters away from his home in Ilion, Athens. During the attack, Nikolakopoulos was repeatedly hit on the head and about the body with knuckledusters and iron bars. Once Nikolakopoulos had fallen to the ground, the men disappeared. Nikolakopoulos was later taken to a nearby hospital where he was treated for his injuries. SEEMO protested this attack, as did the Journalists’ Union of Athens Daily Newspapers. On that occasion, SEEMO also reminded Greek officials that this was not the first attack on a sports journalist in Greece.
In October 2004, sports journalist and head of the Sports Department of the Eleftherotypia daily newspaper, Philippos Syrigos, was attacked in the car park near the Super Sport FM radio station when walking to his car after a radio show. His attackers were two unidentified individuals wearing helmets, who hit him on the head with a metal bar and stabbed him several times in the back. The two perpetrators managed to escape and were not caught.
On 20 May, a statement by the Journalists’ Union of Athens Daily Newspapers condemned the fact that the journalist Nikos Manavis was sued for an April Fool’s Day joke. The journalist gave a witness statement on 12 April 2001, and on 23 July 2001 a defendant’s statement. Although his sentence was issued on 10 February 2004, it was handed to Manavis only on 16 May.
The charges were based on an April Fool’s Day article published in 2001 in the provincial newspaper Kriakatika Eolika Nea Lesvos, in which Manavis had presented, in the annual tradition of 1 April newspapers, a false story. It was backed with an electronically edited picture which suggested that the newly built island of Mytilini bridge (after a seven year controversy) had supposedly collapsed. As usual, the next day the newspaper stated it was an April Fool’s Day item. Nikos Manavis now works at the Mytilini-based daily Empros.
On 30 May, the Journalists’ Union of Athens Daily Newspapers condemned the attack on a journalist and sports writer Giannis Megas, which happened while he was reporting from a football game in Thessaloniki.
On 30 May, Goran Momirofski and two other staff members of TV A1 from Skopje filed visa requests at the Greek embassy in Skopje. They said they wanted to meet members of the Rainbow Party, a party that represents the Macedonian community and the Greek section of the European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages (EBLUL). They were granted visas but not permission to film and conduct interviews on Greek territory. SEEMO reacted with a protest, calling upon Greek authorities to treat all journalists equally and to allow them to move freely in order to be able to exercise their profession. Oliver Vujovic, SEEMO Secretary General said, "The fact that a European Union member country is refusing to grant accreditation to foreign journalists without any official explanation and without legal grounds constitutes an obstruction to press freedom." He added: "This a clear restriction of free movement of journalists and a violation of freedom of expression and press freedom."
On 1 June, the Journalists’ Union of Athens Daily Newspapers condemned the harassment of the journalist Giannis Andritsopoulos by an officer of a security company while he was reporting on a doctors’ strike at the Social Security branch in Kallithea-Athens.
In the night of 30 September, an unidentified man attacked and injured Periklis Stellas, a journalist for the Goal News newspaper. According to information before the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), an unknown person hit him several times in the head and face, leaving him with a concussion, a fractured jawbone and other minor injuries. Stellas was exiting the newspaper’s offices on Mitropoleos Street in the centre of Thessalonica. The journalist was hospitalised at a local hospital; his life was not in danger. SEEMO sent a protest letter to Greek officials. Greek Deputy Minister of Culture and in charge of sports issues, Giorgos Orfanos, condemned the attack.
On 11 October, the Journalists’ Union of Athens Daily Newspapers published a statement after charges brought against journalist N. Vafiades for publishing information in Metro magazine, revealing the activities of Antonis Aravantinos, head officer at the reform centre of imprisoned drug addicts, although the officer had previously been indicted for his behaviour. In its statement, the journalists’ organisation condemned these events.
On 26 October, Greek Defense Minister Spilios Spiliotopoulos filed charges against three journalists from a new daily paper Press Time, following an article published on 17 October, which criticised him for irregular political activities. The paper reported that the Hellenic American Council, which includes controversial Greek businessman Constantine Stengos on its board, had helped organise the minister’s visit to US. On 1 November, an Athens court refused Defence Minister Spiliotopoulos’s suit, which demanded 2.5 million euros from Press Time and seizure of the reporters’ assets. Former Deputy Finance Minister Adam Regouzas sued Alpha TV director George Psaras and one of his reporters for 800,000 euros over a report, which led to the minister’s downfall.
On 3 November, the Journalists’ Union of Athens Daily Newspapers condemned the court charges against the journalist Argiris Demertzis, which he faced under Greek law 1178 of 1981 and a fine of 300,000 EUR for published articles.
In October, Archbishop Christodoulos, head of the Church of Greece, said, "all institutions have been degraded by those appointed as prosecutors throughout Greece, while, through the media, they do nothing else but debase and demolish the institutions of this nation…" The Archbishop also criticised various TV programmes, which, he stated, are often watched by children in the afternoons. Some weeks later, on 18 November, Archbishop Christodoulos accused the media of distorting his words and using Nazi practices. As an example, he referred to a time when he was asked about a book on politician Kostas Simitis. He used a play on words, saying he had just exited from the church and was not interested in the secular world. He claimed his statement was incorrectly reported, as the first part of the sentence was cut and the second part remained.
Moreover, the Archbishop sent a circular to Athens priests, urging them to avoid "the atmosphere of clashes" on the issue of separation between the Church and the state and noted that representatives of the Church should not argue with supporters of state-Church separation.
On 28 November, the Journalists’ Union of Athens Daily Newspapers released a statement condemning violence, which broke out at a football match in the city of Livadia, causing injuries, damaging TV equipment and destroying a TV car being used to report on the game.
On 8 December, Greece’s Hellenic Union of Chambers of Commerce ordered the removal of a brochure brought by a visiting delegation from Macedonia (Republic of Macedonia – FYROM) in which the country was referred to simply as "Macedonia." The order was sent before the materials were distributed to foreign chamber officials attending a meeting of Balkan chambers of commerce in the Greek capital. Greece opposes the use of the name "Macedonia" by its neighbouring country because it is the name of Greece’s largest province in the north.– valuable in our times – for human rights carried out by Amnesty International and other social organisations that are fighting against the cultivated complacency that dissolves social cohesion and offends humanitarian values."
According to information before SEEMO, on 13 December, Mega TV reporter Christos Michalopoulos and his cameraman, Alfonso Ponse, were attacked by unknown men wearing masks and helmets while covering a demonstration in downtown Athens. The demonstration was organised by trade unions in protest at a new law introducing significant changes to working practices in the public sector. Two journalists were sent to cover the demonstration after some 30 masked men burnt a police car. Later the two were also attacked and beaten around the head and upper body by the same men. They were both taken to a hospital, where their injuries were treated. None of the perpetrators could be identified. Oliver Vujovic, SEEMO Secretary General condemned the attacks, stating, "It is important that during a demonstration all sides respect the right of journalists to report on important news events."
On 29 December, the Journalists’ Union of Athens Daily Newspapers criticised the National Radio and Television Council’s (ESR) decision to reject the broadcast of a spot prepared by the Greek section of Amnesty International as a public service message. The union board asked the ESR to retract the decision and "encourage the campaign
For more information about media developments and press freedom in Greece, please see the SEEMO Media Handbook 2005/2006.
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