Greece: Premier’s worrying embrace of hostile media group

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is worried about Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ motives in suddenly trying to rescue DOL, a cash-strapped media group that he has often criticized in the past and only recently accused of disinformation and colluding with business interests.

The U-turn came on 18 January, when it was announced that Vassilis Moulopoulos, a close Tsipras ally, was taking over as DOL’s administrator in a bid to save this “historic” media group from bankruptcy and protect the jobs of its hundreds of employees.

The appointment of Moulopoulos, a former parliamentary representative of Tsipras’ ruling coalition, Syriza, and a member of the board of the Syriza newspaper, AVGI, has stunned opposition parties and other media outlets, some of which are equally indebted, and is widely viewed as a government attempt to take over the media group.

“We are concerned about what seems to be a new attack by the Greek prime minister on media independence and pluralism,” said Pauline Adès-Mével, the head of RSF’s EU-Balkans desk. “We are monitoring the actions of this government, which should be working to ensure media pluralism and freedom and not just to control the media.”

The DOL media group’s history is closely intertwined with the history of Greece’s successive governments. Founded by Christos Lambrakis, a Greek media magnate who died in 2009, the group is now controlled by businessman Stavros Psycharis. Its two leading outlets, the newspapers Ta Vima and Ta Nea, have survived thanks to bank loans backed by government officials and government advertising.

But Greece’s six-year-old deep economic crisis has exposed the financial fragility of these newspapers, with the government no longer able to extend loans or write off debts now totalling 190 million euros.

The DOL group, which includes Radio Vima FM and shares in MEGA TV as well as the newspapers, has nearly 600 employees, who are now in danger of being laid off. They have not been paid for several months but continue to work in the hope that DOL will find a new investor. DOL is now on the verge of bankruptcy while the judical authorities have accused its owner, Psycharis, of tax evasion and money laundering amounting to 45 million euros.

DOL’s media outlets have opposed Tsipras ever since he was first elected in 2015. To Vima and Ta Nea openly supported calls for austerity and criticized the Tsipras-led, far-left coalition’s policies. The mutual accusations between Tsipras and Psycharis have often been front-page stories in all the media.

The administrator, Vassilis Moulopoulos has said he wants to save DOL because he worked for the group for 20 years in various position including editor-in-chief. Acknowledging that he is not an investor, he said that, in the absence of money, solutions “will be found with the political forces.”

Tsipras was widely criticized over a new broadcasting law and the auctioning of TV broadcast licences in September. The media and opposition accused him of amateurism, undermining pluralism and trying to “establish his own oligarchic system.”

Greece is ranked 89th out of 180 countries in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index.

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Updated on 26.01.2017