At first glance, the threats on the life of an independent reporter and the recent bombings on five journalists’ houses seem to go well together, two cases of attack on press freedom, just as they were presented by Al Jazeera Listening Post. The thing is, on closer examination, they are really very different. And unless more Greek journalists take it upon themselves to report in a way that is useful to an international audience, it will be very difficult to shine a clear light on the atrocities happening in Greece.
A part of this report by Al Jazzera Listening Post highlights a problem that has surfaced as international Media try to shed light on different aspects of Greece’s plight: professional and technical capabilities, even when best intentions are a given, are no substitute for that indispensable raw journalistic material – a solid understanding of realities on the ground.
Most of the Listening Post segment above reports on the threats on the life of an UNFOLLOW magazine reporter, following a story he did on oil smuggling in Greece. Then, towards the end, a side-story is added: five journalists’ homes were recently bombed. And the report is rounded off with a statement by the Athens Union of Daily Newspapers, calling on the State to act before it is too late.
Μainstream Media in Greece is entrenched in a nefarious web of relationships between business oligarchs and powerful political families
At first glance, the threats and the bombings seem to go together, in the sense that they are both instances of violence against the press, and they should be presented under the same light, as attacks on press freedom. The thing is, on closer examination, they should not. And since Al Jazzera is mercifully not a player in the Greek Media’s ideological game, one can’t but conclude that the reason they are bunched together is quite simply an inadequate understanding of what is going on.
It is true that for decades, mainstream Media in Greece has been entrenched in a nefarious web of relationships between business oligarchs and powerful political families. This network includes the relatively few companies that control large sectors of the economy, such as shipping, construction, and mining; banks, which provide favorable loans; politicians, who concoct the necessary laws; and lastly the Media, which secures protection for everyone, by deftly framing the public discussion. (Listening Post has reported on this situation in the past.)
It is impossible to overstate how hard it is to break this deadlock. The report on oil smuggling by UNFOLLOW magazine was an attempt to work in that direction. It is not the only one. An increasing volume of -mainly online- independent, or “citizen”, journalism is responding to the crisis by disputing mainstream Media’s monopoly on the public discussion. UNFOLLOW, however, is one of very few print media that consistently do so with solidly researched reports.
Since publication of this and other stories, and since the threats on our reporter’s life, which went unreported by most mainstream Media in Greece, it should be all the more evident that independent journalism in this country stands against a very powerful establishment. This establishment, it should be stressed again, includes most Media.
Now, the reporters whose houses were firebombed are a part of that establishment, they work for the mainstream Media. The bombs were not the establishment’s way of silencing the dissenting voice of an independent press, but the way certain dissidents chose to attack journalism that they see is in the service of power. At least one of the journalists whose houses were attacked, alongside his job in the press, also holds a PR position in the Government agency charged with fast-tracking privatizations of public assets, according to the troika program.
This is not to say of course that one must rejoice at the bombing of people’s houses, no matter who they are and what they do for a living. It does however paint a completely different picture of the situation. In the first instance, press freedom is under threat. In the second, press freedom has already been undermined; it is not even an issue. The issue is dissident violence on members of an established order, seen by an increasing number of citizens as responsible for their misery.
In a sense, when the threats on a journalist reporting against this pact of oligarchs, Government and Media are bunched together with dissident violence against those who provide support for this pact, one is inadvertently playing the Greek government’s game
Moreover, making this distinction helps us understand the complexity of the current turmoil in Greece. On the one hand, dividing lines between opposing political outlooks are becoming harsher by the day. On the other, the differences within each of those outlooks are becoming blurry to many people’s eyes – a development greatly helped along by a systematic Media-assisted Government campaign against “extremes”, which indiscriminately include union protesters, left-wing politicians, anarchist squatters, anarchist militants, rioters, and neonazi storm troopers on racist rampages. Although responsibility for the attacks on journalists’ houses was publicly claimed by anarchist militant organizations, the Government managed to blame the main opposition party, SYRIZA, and to cloud the issue of the blatant, one-sided support of Government policies in the mainstream Media, in one fell swoop; Government Spokesman Simos Kedikoglou stated: “There is open terrorism against the Media, a vital democratic space. What does SYRIZA need to denounce its pampered rioters?”
So, in a sense, when the threats on a journalist reporting against this pact of oligarchs, Government and Media are bunched together with dissident violence against those who provide support for this pact, a report such as the one above by Al Jazzera Listening Post is inadvertently playing the Greek government’s game – at least in part.
Of course, in order to know all this, it is not enough to have a few contacts here, or even to have good fixers, when a crew is sent to cover a major event. It is not enough to contact a magazine like ours – as the good editor of Listening Post did, when preparing the part of the report that dealt with the threats. Anyone in our position can only provide so much. What is needed is first hand knowledge of texts, both primary sources and analysis, which may start to acquaint someone with facts and players on the ground: who is this, why is he saying what he is saying, why now, who was he before, what else has he done, what else is being done through what he is saying, apart from the actual thing he sais?
Unfortunately, given the language barrier and the time frame that international Media follows, this kind of knowledge is very hard to achieve. Unless more Greek journalists –perhaps even the ones that are out of work because of the crisis– take it upon themselves to report in a way that is useful to an international audience, I am afraid that it will be very difficult to shine a clear light on the atrocities happening here.
 One would be hasty to assume that the recession and austerity policies have had a chilling effect on these practices. For example, MEGA Channel, one of the largest and most influential TV stations in Greece, co-owned by construction and shipping magnates recently received a scandalous loan of 98 million euros in bonds and cash. A few days later, a new tax bill was passed, lowering taxation for shareholder dividends. And so on…