Newsroom / News / Media / Info Magazine LGP NEWS 01/2022 / A Gordian knot in the Greek media system

A Gordian knot in the Greek media system

A Gordian knot in the Greek media system

The Austrian advertising affair is now fuelling strong criticism of media funding in Greece, leading to a fierce exchange between the conservative ruling party “Nea Dimokratia” and the opposition left-wing populists of “Syriza”. 

The left-wing opposition leader and former prime minister Alexis Tsipras accuses the conservative government under Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis of placing advertisements in an opaque manner and launching unfair polls. In response to these attacks Nea Dimokratia highlighted Syriza’s time in government under Tsipras (2015-2019) during which the left-wing populists conducted false polls and tried to influence the media. On the issue of giving taxpayers’ money to media, Tsipras has mainly referred to a campaign called “We Stay Home”, which was designed to convince Greeks of the need for lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Numerous media outlets, including some whose existence has been called into doubt, reportedly received 22 million euros in total. The government argued that the sole purpose was to “strengthen the health sector and save lives”. The opposition, on the other hand, contends that the payments to the media were made in order to buy favourable coverage. 

The government published a list of media outlets paid to promote COVID-19 health measures in July 2020. This so-called “Petsas List” – named after the former Greek government spokesman – included a whole host of pro-government newspapers, while other major newspapers critical of the government were excluded entirely. “Here in Greece, this is a huge scandal. One almost feels that what Kurz did in Austria is not at all comparable with what is happening in Greece,” is one of the common comments on the affair. The 18-page Greek list contains 1,232 (!) media outlets that have received financial support – including more than 200 web portals that are not listed in the country’s online media register, among them inactive or non-existent websites or obscure blogs with few or no readers. “Far from being based on objectivity or fairness, the criteria for selecting which Greek media outlets received government funding during the COVID-19 pandemic were at best arbitrary and at worst designed to punish media outlets critical of the government for their coverage,” the International Press Institute (IPI) commented in its position statement. In any case, such pro-government media bias raises serious questions about whether the Greek government really supports media pluralism and freedom. 

The Greek media situation is difficult. Greece has a chequered history of ministries and government agencies allocating taxpayers’ money for media advertising as an unsubtle “quid pro quo” to achieve positive coverage. On the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, Greece ranks just 70th out of 180 countries, to the degree that Greece is mentioned by some in the EU alongside other “black sheep” like Poland and Hungary. The crisis years in particular have been quite divisive for the media: Due to the tense economic situation, free reporting became much more difficult and many journalists were forced to adapt broadly to the respective positions of the media owners. After the conservative party Nea Demokratia’s election victory in 2019, the public broadcaster ERT and the state news agency ANA-MPA were directly subordinated to the prime minister by presidential decree – in Greek state television, interviews such as those conducted by the ORF with government politicians presented by ZIB 2’s Armin Wolf would probably be unimaginable. The fact that one of the country’s most influential industrialists and media moguls was the current prime minister’s best man and friend just reinforces the image of the close personal ties between politics, business and the media in Greece. 

According to recent Eurobarometer data on pluralism and democracy in the media, Greeks are the most critical of the media in their own country and in the EU as a whole. Less than half of the population believes that the Greek media promote pluralism and democracy – while almost 90% believe that the media is subject to great political or economic pressure. In fact, the Greek media sector is currently economically unviable: total annual revenue from advertising is under 500 million euros, and unsurprisingly given the large proportion of web and print media, operating costs exceed revenues by 35% on average, which in turn results in high deficits, debts and consequent dependencies. Parallel to this, more and more financially sound entrepreneurs are entering the media industry, often hoping to gain “other advantages” from their economic commitment. 

All of the above clearly comes at the expense of the reporting, impartiality and quality of the media in Greece, the vast majority of which is dependent on the state and the party system. The Greek media system is currently facing many interdependent barriers: Too many media outlets, a small market, limited revenue potential, high liabilities, strong dependencies, limited credibility and low-quality reporting. The sad consequence is that citizens now trust neither the information provided by serious high-quality media nor political parties and politicians, as all are under general suspicion of merely serving various interest groups or themselves. This knot can probably only be disentangled by civil society itself and by courageous political leadership. The European Commission also has a role in providing concrete proposals and efficient support – but this will be a long road for Greece. 


Mag. Dimitrios Droutsas, Senior Expert Counsel at LGP

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