Greece’s new guidelines for policing protests threaten press freedom

Greece’s new national guidelines for policing demonstrations are likely to restrict the media’s reporting and access to information, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) warns, calling on the Greek authorities to review the guidelines in consultation with representatives of the country’s journalists.

Drafted without consulting media representatives, the guidelines unveiled by citizen protection minister Michalis Chrisochoidis on 21 January include a “communication strategy” under which journalists will be assigned to a “specific area” during demonstrations and will be allocated a specific police “liaison officer” to serve as their main information source throughout.

But such a “strategy” is liable to restrict the activity of reporters at demonstrations and make it easier for the authorities to disseminate their own version of events at the expense of independent coverage.

Chrisochoidis tried to reassure the media, claiming that he wanted to “provide reporters and photographers with a space (...) so that they can cover events.” But the guidelines have triggered an outcry from journalists, who say they think their freedom of movement and access to information will be reduced during protests.

“The citizen protection minister must review the new national guidelines on policing demonstrations in consultation with journalists’ representatives in order to reach an agreement that does not encroach on journalistic activity and free will,” said Pavol Szalai, the head of RSF’s European Union and Balkans desk. “We also ask the Greek police to protect and respect journalists and to immediately stop any act of violence and intimidation against them during demonstrations or in connection with matters linked to the migrant crisis.”

Relations between police and reporters continue to be fraught in Greece, especially during street demonstrations. Many photo-journalists have been prevented from doing their job in recent months. They include Antonis Rigopoulos, who was subjected to police violence and detained while covering a protest in Athens on 17 November.

At the same time, journalists covering stories linked to the migrant crisis are systematically harassed by the Greek police. Two reporters, Danilo Campailla and Iason Athanasiadis, were recently detained arbitrarily on the island of Lesbos. In October, a German TV documentary crew were detained without charge and without access to a lawyer for seven hours with the clear aim of discouraging them from continuing their reporting.

Greece is ranked 65th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.

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Updated on 02.02.2021