EU media watchdogs and associations urge Greece to protect press freedom – EURACTIV.com
The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a European mechanism that tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in Europe, urged the Greek government on Tuesday (12 October) to withdraw proposed amendments that would introduce fines and prison terms for journalists found guilty of publishing “fake news”.
“We believe the bill’s vague definition and punitive sanctions would undermine press freedom and have a chilling effect at a time when independent journalism is already under pressure in Greece,” the RSFF said in a statement. .
The Ministry of Justice has proposed amendments to the new Civil Code (Article 191) which journalists’ associations fear will limit freedom of the press, including penalties for those found guilty of spreading “false news likely disturb or frighten the public or infringe the freedom of the press”. public confidence in the national economy, the country’s defense capability or public health”.
“If the transaction was carried out repeatedly through the press or online, the perpetrator is punished with imprisonment for at least six months and a fine,” the amendments suggest.
The publisher or owner of responsible media also faces prison terms and financial penalties.
Journalists’ freedom watchdog MFRR says it understands the grave threat posed by disinformation, undermining democracy and jeopardizing the fight against COVID-19, but considers governments’ authoritarian legislation that grants journalists prosecutors the power to decide right from wrong does more harm than good.
“The media in Greece are already threatened with abusive trials and prison sentences for criminal defamation. Strengthening Article 191 would only create an additional possibility for journalists to be prosecuted and imprisoned.
“Even when not directly enforced, the potential for self-censorship under such legislation is enormous,” says MFRR.
According to the 2021 World Press Freedom Index, Greece ranks 70th out of 180 countries, followed by Hungary (92nd).
Similar attempt in Albania
In 2018, the Albanian government announced the so-called “anti-defamation package”. These provisions would place all online media under the direct supervision of the state-appointed Broadcast Media Authority. The board would have the power to levy heavy fines, force retractions and even suspend the site for posting what it defines as fake news, inciting panic or defamation.
All penalties would be enforced ex-judicially, and the media can only appeal once the penalty has been paid or executed.
Reactions from the EU and international media have been strong. Described as “draconian” and likely to have a “chilling effect” on media freedom, the government has been urged to revise it.
The law was passed by parliament in December 2020, but was later vetoed by the president. It is currently back on the agenda of parliament and requires a simple majority vote to become law.
No progress on murdered journalist
On October 8, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called on the Greek authorities to keep their promise to give priority and do everything possible to solve the case of judicial reporter Giorgos Karaivaz, in the name of the safety of Greek journalists.
Karaivaz, who reported on the mafia and organized crime in Athens, was shot dead outside his home six months ago, and no suspects have yet been identified.
The government has insisted that the investigation into Karaivaz’s murder on April 9 was a “top priority” for Greek police. But police have yet to identify any suspected perpetrator or instigator, “although the murder was perpetrated in broad daylight in a European capital”, RSF said in a statement.
“This case has confirmed the insufficient measures taken by the Greek authorities to protect media personnel. Although journalists are threatened by organized crime, their relations with the authorities are marked by deep mistrust,” adds RSF.
Similarly, when an assassination plan for investigative journalist Kostas Vaxevanis was revealed at the end of April, RSF again urged the Greek authorities to adopt measures to restore trust between the media and the police.
“The government seemed to be going in a completely different direction by proposing legislation that would broaden the definition of fake news.”