World Press Freedom Index: Greek government spokesman responds to poor ranking with counterfactual claims
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) deplores the Greek government spokesman’s counterfactual claims in response to Greece’s ranking in RSF’s 2022 World Press Freedom Index – 108th out of 180 countries worldwide – which is the lowest of any European country.
Although RSF used sound and transparent methods to compile the Index, an open letter by government spokesman Ioannis Oikonomou accuses RSF of “tainting the image of a democratic European country” and causing “significant and unjustified harm to the country’s international good standing.”
Oikonomou, who is also deputy minister to the prime minister, argues that “the majority of newspapers in Greece exercise fierce criticism against the government” and that some “regularly publish extremely offensive headlines and content against the Prime Minister and members of the Cabinet and their families, at an unprecedented intensity in Europe and worldwide.”
The Greek government spokesman has tried to be reassuring about Greece’s “guarantees” and “protection” of press freedom and, in support of his claims, has referred to the “Media Pluralism Monitor” report by the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom. But this report was based on data gathered before 2021, a year that saw the murder of a journalist, Giorgos Karaivaz, and many other press freedom violations identified by RSF.
Oikonomou makes several counterfactual claims about this report, as the fact-checking website HellenikaHoaxes.gr has pointed out. Although it does not rank countries, he says that, according to the report, “Greece is in the European average, exceeding the performance of many countries” and “lags behind a minimum.” He also says the report was produced “under the auspices of the Council of Europe” when, in reality, it was published by an independent research centre based at the European University Institute in Florence and co-financed by the EU.
RSF being prepared to assist Greece in implementing specific measures
“Instead of criticising the World Press Freedom Index, which is just a measuring instrument, the Greek government would do better to focus on solving the very concrete problems that Greek journalists are facing,” RSF’s secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “The positive aspect of this reaction is that freedom of the press is for once on the Greek government’s agenda. But the gulf between the government’s claims and the Greek state’s international commitments, on the one hand, and the situation of Greek journalists, on the other, is glaring. We will continue to denounce press freedom violations as we have done under previous governments*.” RSF’s secretary-general Christophe Deloire added: “RSF stands ready to help the Greek authorities with implementing concrete measures to promote the right to news and information, at a time when this right is threatened at the national and global level by media polarisation and information warfare.”
The Greek government publicly supported the European Commission’s recommendations on the safety of journalists, which were adopted in 2021. But the investigation into Karaivaz’s murder seems to have stalled, while police violence against reporters covering protests, and the surveillance of journalists investigating sensitive subjects such as migration clearly violate these new European standards.
A law increasing prison sentences for spreading fake news, which the Greek parliament passed in 2021, threatens journalists with arbitrary prosecution and encourages self-censorship. The Greek government imposed drastic curbs on reporting from hospitals during the Covid-19 pandemic, while an inequitable distribution of public funding has undermined the Greek media.