Greek journalists go on strike, alleging state censorship
October 31, 2012
The embattled Greek government faces another strike – this time from journalists. Greek state television staff have begun work stoppages to protest what they say is increasing government censorship.
The country has been shaken by two separate scandals in quick succession, in which authorities were seen as being heavy-handed and using selective justice to punish political dissenters.
One concerns presenters Marilena Katsimi and Costas Arvanitis, who were suspended “indefinitely” from a popular current affairs morning show carried by national broadcaster ERT. The suspension came after they criticized right-wing interior minister, Nikos Dendias.
ERT workers staged a walkout during scheduled programming on Tuesday morning and said they will organize 24-hour rolling strikes until Katsimi and Arvanitis are reinstated.
Dendias was recently forced into an embarrassing turnaround over accusations of police torture of left-wing anti-fascist protesters, who were detained during a motorcade protest against racism a month ago. Several days later, a report, supplemented with photos, appeared in the UK’s Guardian newspaper claiming that the demonstrators were beaten, spat on and denied water while in custody.
The interior minister initially branded the accusations as false, and said the government should sue the newspaper for”defaming Greek democracy”. But later, a medical evaluation confirmed that the activists may in fact have been abused.
This became the subject of the following exchange on Katsimi and Arvantis’ show:
Mr. Arvanitis: Is Dendias going to resign now?
M. Katsimi: I do not think so.
Mr. Arvanitis: And now what? Will he say he is sorry?
M. Katsimi: I do not know …
Within an hour of the broadcast, Aimilios Liatsos, ERT’s head of news, demanded to see the transcript, and then replaced the presenters without even talking to them.
Liatsos released a statement saying Katsimi and Arvanitis “violated basic journalistic ethics” with “unacceptable insinuations” that “did not give the minister a chance to respond”.
Katsimi said that the explanation amounts to an attempt to muzzle free discussion of politics, and says amidst economic turmoil, the government is trying to bring the media to heel.
“We have been critical of ministers in the past from all parties, and there have been complaints to the management before but this is new,” she told the Guardian.
“Everywhere in media people are being fired, but at ERT they are hiring. The government want people who agree with their position and they want to hire their friends.”
Nikos Dendias has now told parliament that the complaints of activist detainees will be investigated.