Greek crime reporter Giorgos Karaivaz, who was killed outside his home in Athens on Friday 9 April, 2021 Library

Remembering Giorgos Karaivaz: One year later, targeted killing remains…

Greece: Remembering Giorgos Karaivaz, one year later, targeted killing remains unresolved 

April 9 marks the one-year anniversary of the killing of veteran Greek crime reporter Giorgos Karaivaz in Athens. Ahead of the date, the partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) honour Karaivaz’s memory and call on the Greek authorities to urgently bring to justice all those responsible for this abhorrent murder and to provide more transparency about the investigation.

On April 9, 2021, Karaivaz, an experienced reporter who worked for the TV channel STAR and ran a news website focusing on crime and policing, was gunned down by two men on a scooter outside his home in broad daylight. After the killing, police said the “professional” style of the hit indicated the involvement of organized crime groups, which have carried out a number of targeted killings in recent years and which Karaivaz was known to have investigated.

Karaivaz’s assassination represents a low point for press freedom in Greece and has drawn international attention to the country’s significant problems with journalists’ safety, many of which were highlighted in our recent MFRR mission report.

No signs of progress

Troublingly, over the last year the Greek authorities have not announced any significant progress in the investigation. Despite the collection of substantial amounts of data, security camera footage, and forensic analysis, no suspects have been publicly identified and no arrests have been made. Despite multiple requests from the MFRR partners and other press and media freedom organisations, information about the status of the investigation has been kept secret, relying on an unwarrantedly restrictive interpretation of the Greek Code of Criminal Procedure. Contrary to the authorities’ promises, progress in the investigation appears to be slow.

Although we acknowledge that a murder investigaton requires a certain level of discretion, we emphasise that transparency and public scrutiny are essential to monitoring progress and preventing impunity. Given the fact that the killing took place a year ago without any visible progress, we urge authorities to provide an update on the status of this case, which is a matter of high public interest.

The European Commission Recommendation on ensuring the protection, safety and empowerment of journalists in the European Union states that “Member States should investigate and prosecute all criminal acts committed against journalists, whether online or offline, in an impartial, independent, effective, transparent, and timely manner, making full use of existing national and European legislation – to ensure that fundamental rights are protected and justice is swiftly delivered […] and prevent the emergence of a ‘culture’ of impunity regarding attacks against journalists.” The Council of Europe’s 2016 Recommendation on the protection of journalists in this regard says that “Investigations into killings, attacks and ill-treatment must be effective and therefore respect the essential requirements of adequacy, thoroughness, impartiality, and independence, promptness and public scrutiny”.

Although this lack of transparency means we cannot assess the extent to which the recommendations regarding an effective investigation have been met, it is clear that the lack of transparency entails that the European Commission and Council of Europe Recommendations are not adequately followed at the moment.

The uncertainty and the lack of communication by police and prosecution service have a chilling effect on the work of other journalists, which was confirmed by MFRR’s recently published report on the safety of journalists in Greece.

The longer that these kinds of attacks go unpunished, the higher the risk of long-term impunity. Moreover, others thinking about silencing journalists are more likely to act, as they see that attacks on the press carry no consequences.

On the one-year anniversary of the brutal murder of Giorgos Karaivaz, we renew our call for all those responsible to be identified and prosecuted. We will continue to honour Karaivaz’s memory and push for justice for both him and his family.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.

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Controlling the Message: Challenges for independent reporting in Greece

Controlling the Message: Challenges for independent reporting in Greece

Today, the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) publishes the report “Controlling the Message: Challenges for independent reporting in Greece”, which details the findings and recommendations of its online fact-finding mission to Greece. The mission, involving interviews with more than thirty local stakeholders, was implemented by the MFRR together with Reporters Without Borders in December 2021. The partner organisations conclude that challenges to the independence of the media and the safety of journalists are systemic in the country. While the problems are not unique, their intensity is highly problematic and sets it apart from most other EU Member States.

The result of this crisis is that news that is inconvenient or unflattering for the government, which includes reporting on serious human rights violations, does not get reported in many outlets. This creates a significant obstacle for the public’s access to information and, subsequently, their informed participation in the democratic process.

Understanding the political polarisation and fragmentation of the media landscape requires taking the long view. The current situation has been shaped by more than a decade of severe financial and political crisis which has harmed the way journalism is understood. At the same time, there has been a deterioration of press freedom since Nea Dimokratia’s electoral victory in 2019, who are “obsessed with controlling the message” and minimising critical and dissenting voices, as we heard again and again during the fact-finding mission.

The murder of crime reporter Giorgos Karaivaz represents a low point for media freedom in Greece and drew international attention to the significant problems with journalists’ safety. The investigation progress appears slow and lacks basic transparency, which has had a chilling effect and leads to mistrust about the authorities’ ability or willingness to protect the journalistic community.

Migration policy, human rights violations committed in its implementation including pushbacks, and the humanitarian crisis that the refugee stream has created are highly sensitive topics for the government. Reporting on the issue is increasingly difficult, as journalists face obstructions including arbitrary arrest and detention, restriction of access to migration hotspots, surveillance, and harassment.

Reporting on protest is another particularly problematic area of journalistic practice in Greece. Journalists face aggression and harassment from law enforcement and from protesters. Overall, there is a lack of political will to ensure that journalists can safely report from demonstrations, which translates to a lack of adequate protection at the operational level.

Legal threats are also a significant problem for media freedom in Greece, including criminal prosecutions as well as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs). Such threats can lead to self-censorship.

In light of these findings, the MFRR has issued a series of recommendations to the Greek authorities and to the European community, including the institutions of the European Union and the other EU Member States.

The fact-finding mission to Greece was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.

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Report launch: “Controlling the Message: Challenges for independent reporting…

Report launch: “Controlling the Message: Challenges for independent reporting in Greece”

The MFRR has conducted a media freedom mission in Greece and the report consisting of findings and recommendations will be launched on 28 March, 2022 with an online event.

On 28 March 2022, the Media Freedom Rapid Response will publish the report of its online fact-finding mission to Greece that took place in December.

Under the title ‘Controlling the Message: Challenges for independent reporting in Greece’, the report reflects the mission’s findings and recommendations on:

  • The assassination of Giorgos Karaivaz;
  • Polarisation of a fragmented media landscape;
  • Reporting on migration;
  • Reporting on protests; and,
  • Legal threats.

The report will be launched with an online panel on 28 March at 2pm CEST (=3pm EEST) with:

  • Laurens Hueting, Senior Advocacy Officer of the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • Iliana Papangeli, Managing Director of Solomon
  • Renate Schroeder, Director of the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Nikos Smyrnaios, Associate Professor at the University of Toulouse
  • Anne ter Rele, Advocacy Officer at the International Press Institute

Please register for the event.

The report will be made available on mfrr.eu and the websites of the MFRR partner organisations at the time of the launch event.

For interview requests and media inquiries, please contact laurens.hueting@ecpmf.eu.

The fact-finding mission to Greece was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.

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Greece: Concern over criminal charges against investigative reporters

Greece: Concern over criminal charges against investigative reporters

The undersigned international media freedom and freedom of expression organisations today register their concern over the serious criminal charges levelled against two investigative journalists in Greece linked to their reporting on a major corruption scandal. Our organisations are following these two legal cases with utmost scrutiny given the obvious concerns they raise with regard to press freedom. Authorities must issue guarantees that the process is demonstrably independent and free of any political interference.

On January 19, Kostas Vaxevanis, a veteran investigative journalist and publisher of the newspaper Documento, testified at the Special High Court on four criminal charges of conspiracy to abuse power through his newspaper’s reporting on the Novartis pharmaceutical scandal. Under the penal code, Vaxevanis faces five years of imprisonment if found guilty, with a maximum sentence of 20 years. His newspaper has condemned the criminal charges as a politically motivated attack aimed at silencing a media critic which unveiled the scandal.

Ioanna Papadakou, a former investigative journalist and television host, is set to appear before a court on January 25 on separate but similar charges of being part of a criminal organisation which conspired to fabricate news stories about the Novartis case and the so-called “Lagarde list”, including the alleged extortion of a businessman through critical coverage. Papadakou has rejected the case as “blatant violation of the rule of law”. A Greek MEP from the ruling party and the Board of Directors of the Panhellenic Federation of Journalists’ Union (POESY – PFJU) have both expressed concern about the prosecution of the journalists. Neither journalist has yet been formally indicted.

The summons of Vaxevanis and Papadakou to testify are part of a wider parliamentary investigation into allegations of political conspiracy and abuse of power involving Greek judge and politician Dimitris Papagelopoulos, a former deputy minister in the previous Syriza government. Papagelopoulos is accused of falsely incriminating political opponents through the Novartis pharmaceutical scandal. The probe, launched by the current New Democracy government, has in turn faced accusations of politicisation.

Our organisations are closely following this case. The criminal charges against Kostas Vaxevanis and Ioanna Papadakou are extremely serious and carry heavy prison sentences. The nature of the charges, their connection to investigative reporting on corruption, and the potential imprisonment of two journalists in an EU Member State, raise legitimate concerns regarding press freedom and demand utmost scrutiny. Until commenting further, we await more detailed information from the Special Investigator about the specificities of the charges against both journalists.

What is absolutely clear is that judicial authorities examining this matter must act with full regard for press freedom standards and the function of investigative journalism in democratic societies. Moreover, given the politicisation of the wider affair, it is essential that guarantees are in place to ensure that judicial authorities act with complete independence in this case. We will continue to closely monitor both cases and have submitted alerts to Mapping Media Freedom (MMF) and the Council of Europe’s platform for the safety and protection of journalists.

In the coming weeks, the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) is due to publish the findings of our recent online press freedom mission to Greece. Our organisations are already increasingly concerned about the challenging climate facing independent journalism in the country, including vexatious lawsuits against journalists. Greece is firmly in the spotlight in terms of threats to media freedom. We sincerely hope these cases will not become a matter of major international concern.

Signed by:

  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) 
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • Index on Censorship
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
  • The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.

Greek flag Library

MFRR to hold press freedom mission to Greece

MFRR to hold press freedom mission to Greece

The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) will hold an online fact-finding mission to Greece in the first half of December to assess increasing concerns about media freedom and the safety of journalists in the country.

The online mission will be led by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) and implemented together with its partners in the MFRR and representatives from other international press freedom groups. The delegation will meet with a range of domestic stakeholders, including journalists and editors, journalists’ unions and associations, civil society and academics, and representatives of government and state institutions.

The aim of the mission is to better understand key developments and help develop solutions to the challenges media actors face. It will follow up on a host of recent concerns. These include primarily: the murder of veteran crime reporter Giorgos Karaivaz and the limited progress of the investigation into the crime; numerous attacks on journalists; interferences faced by reporters specialising in migration, including surveillance by state authorities; the impact of the recent changes to the criminal code regarding so-called “fake news”; and, problems with weak media pluralism.

A mission report with findings and recommendations will be published following the online fact-finding mission. Depending on travel restrictions and sanitary measures, an in-person advocacy mission is expected to follow in the first quarter of 2022.

The MFRR monitors violations of press and media freedom in the EU Member States and Candidate Countries and responds with practical and legal support and advocacy. Since the project’s start in March 2020, a number of similar missions have been organised to Montenegro, Poland, Serbia, Spain and Slovenia.

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Greece: Answers needed over alleged state surveillance of journalist

Greece: Answers needed over alleged state surveillance of journalist

Intelligence service leak reveals monitoring of investigative platform and journalist in Greece. The undersigned partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) today urge the Greek government to immediately provide clarity over allegations that a state intelligence agency conducted surveillance on journalist Stavros Malichudis and the investigative media organisation Solomon, which focuses on refugees and migration in Greece.

The revelations published by Greek newspaper Efimerida ton Syntakton (EFSYN), which indicated the government’s National Intelligence Service (EYP) had secretly been conducting monitoring of Malichudis, pose serious questions over journalistic source protection and the right to privacy in Greece, which is already facing growing questions over a decline in media freedom.

The November 14 report revealed that the EYP, which gathers intelligence on national security, had requested information on citizens, including a lawyer, a journalist, a worker for a United Nations agency focused on migration and protest organisers. The information was leaked to the newspaper by a whistle-blower. The newspaper redacted the names and private information of the journalist and others who were monitored. However, Malichudis recognised the description of events and identified himself as the journalist in the story.

The alleged surveillance relates to an article that Malichudis and the director of Solomon, Iliana Papangeli, had published in April 2021, seven months prior to the newspaper’s revelations. Their article had reported on a 12-year-old boy from Syria living in a refugee holding camp on the island of Kos, whose artwork was exhibited in a museum and then published on the website of the French newspaper Le Monde. In April, Malichudis, a freelance journalist who works for AFP, is a member of Solomon and collaborates with Investigate Europe and Reporters United, had tried to track down the boy to interview him about his artistic success and the experiences of his family reaching Europe. The journalists had not informed anyone outside Solomon of their plans.

A redacted file published by EFSYN showed that while Malichudis was researching the story, officials at EYP’s headquarters sent a request to colleagues based on Kos asking them to confirm whether the boy and his family were being held in the camp and to gather information. The request included Malichudis’s name and ID number and said the EYP had information “from a source of high reliability” that the journalist was planning to speak with the family. Solomon was also mentioned by name. It also requested information on an employee of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Greece, a source with whom Malichudis had spoken on the phone before the conversation switched to an encrypted messaging app.

The Greek authorities have yet to deny the alleged surveillance of the journalist. Given the seriousness of the allegations, and the paucity of information provided by authorities so far, our organisations urge the government to provide immediate answers to parliament as to why the National Intelligence Service had knowledge of Malichudis’s reporting before it was published. Information should also be made public about exactly how this information was gathered and the nature of the “reliable sources” the EYP had on his work. Details must also be provided about why a request was made to monitor the journalist’s confidential source, with whom he spoke only in a telephone call and an encrypted messaging app, and how the EYP had knowledge of these private communications.

The evidence provided so far indicates that Malichudis and possibly other members of the team at Solomon have had their communication illegally monitored without their knowledge and that this information was then shared with a state security agency tracking their work. In addition to raising serious privacy concerns, this surveillance would constitute a clear interference in the freedom of the press and a serious violation of the confidentiality of journalistic sources, which is protected under Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights. These rights are a fundamental element of media freedom, and confirmation of their violation would have a chilling effect on watchdog journalism and undermine transparency by discouraging whistle-blowers to come forward.

Given that the EYP’s mandate is to investigate threats to Greece’s national security, we also question why a journalist’s reporting on a refugee’s experience in a holding camp should even be justified as a legitimate target for intelligence gathering of any form. Immediate justification should be provided as to why this was the case. If such a human-interest story drew the attention of the EYP, it then begs the question to what extent the security services are monitoring the work of investigative journalists probing an issue such as illegal pushbacks. We hope this case is not the tip of the iceberg of wider surveillance of journalists by state authorities, which we have recently observed in other EU member states. The longer the Greek government remains silent or dodges questions, the longer it will invite scrutiny. The Special Standing Committee on Institutions and Transparency should examine this case as a matter of priority.

Our organisations stand in solidarity with Stavros Malichudis and the journalistic team at Solomon, which is a current grantee of the Investigative Journalism for Europe (IJ4EU) fund led by the International Press Institute (IPI), and whose work documenting the stories of unaccompanied minors in Moria’s refugee camp was nominated for a major European journalism award. Moving forward, we will continue to monitor this case closely and will demand concrete answers from the government on this issue during an MFRR media freedom mission to Greece later this year. In the meantime, we also urge the European Commission and European Parliament to seek immediate responses from the Greek government about these extremely serious allegations.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.

INGEBORG BEUGEL, the dutch journalist targeted by greek media for exposing the Prime Minister's lies Library

Dutch journalist forced to leave Greece after threats and…

Dutch journalist forced to leave Greece after threats and intimidation

The IPI global network today expresses regret over the involuntary departure of Dutch journalist Ingeborg Beugel from Greece, after she faced physical and online threats following a heated exchange with the Greek prime minister over refugee pushbacks in the Aegean Sea. IPI stands in full support and solidarity with Beugel and calls on Greece to provide a safe working environment for all journalists.

On 17 November 2021, Beugel, a Dutch freelance correspondent, revealed she planned to leave the country over fears for her safety after she experienced an aggressive smear campaign online and in pro government media following her questioning of PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis on 9 November over allegations of his country’s illegal pushbacks.

During the joint press conference with the Dutch PM Mark Rutte, Beugel openly asked the Greek PM when he would “stop lying” about the pushbacks, to which Mitsotakis responded: “Look, you will not come into this building and insult me. Am I very clear on this?” The exchange was shared widely on social media, garnering both praise and criticism.

Beugel was then targeted with insults and accused of spreading Turkish propaganda. She was also the focus of attempts to discredit her by numerous media in Greece, including comments which accused her of spreading lies and being a “pro-Turkish” agent. Other reports delved into her personal life. Recently, she was hit by a stone thrown at her by a man in a dark street, who called her a “Turkish spy”.

“The threats and violence against Beugel, as well as her involuntary departure from Greece, are unacceptable”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “Journalists fulfilling their watchdog role and asking uncomfortable questions – however pointedly – about a matter of clear public interest should never face such extreme intimidation. The shameful and coordinated attempt to discredit Beugel work and bully her out of the country raises yet more worrying questions about press freedom in Greece. IPI stands in full solidarity with the journalist and will offer practical assistance through the Media Freedom Rapid Response project.”

Since the press conference, the threats directed at her have become increasingly severe, Beugel told IPI. “I cannot return to the island of Hydra where I have a house, because people will throw stones and tomatoes at me, and I will be attacked. I cannot leave the house unaccompanied anymore. Some newspapers now write multiple negative stories about me each day. My life here has become very unsafe.”

Beugel, who is a permanent resident and has lived in Greece for 40 years, said that the online harassment and threats she was facing had made it impossible to remain in the country. “People write that my head should be shaved, that I should drown together with the refugees, that I deserve to be tarred and feathered. Many of the comments are very sexist. I cannot read it anymore.”

Beugel said the harassment was part of a wider campaign to silence critics of Greece’s migration policies. “They intimidate, demonize and criminalize aid workers and NGOs that help refugees, and all those who question the policies and the pushback of migrants”, she said. “Many journalists on the Aegean islands are arrested and interrogated, their material is taken from them and from TV crews. Many get slapped with court cases. I have two court cases against me. The only goal is to make people afraid and to have a chilling effect on others to speak out.”

Beugel made the decision to leave the country after security advice from the Dutch Foreign Ministry and the Dutch embassy in Greece, as well as the Dutch Journalists’ Association NVJ. “They all told me my safety is not guaranteed here”, she said. “Then the only right decision is to come home for a while at this point.” She said she would return home for an “indefinite period” and one day wished to return to Greece.

The journalist will file a complaint with the Greek police over some of the threats she received. When exactly she will return to the Netherlands has been kept a secret for her safety. She was previously arrested in June 2021 and is currently facing trial in Greece on charges of illegally hosting an Afghan refugee in her house, which carries a 12-month prison sentence and fine of €5,000.

Despite the threats, her questions at the press conference have also led to some positive development, she added: “After my remarks, a fierce debate has finally exploded in Greek society about the close government involvement in the media”, she said. People tell me that I have brought both matters – lies about pushbacks and the quality of journalism – on the political agenda with just one question.”

IPI is concerned about Greece’s deteriorating state of press freedom, after multiple violations against journalists occurred this year. On April 9, the Greek journalist George Karaivaz was brutally murdered by unknown individuals in a suburb of Athens. More recently, parliament voted to approve a vaguely-worded legal amendment to the criminal code which allows journalists to be prosecuted and jailed for publishing “false news” deemed capable of causing “concern or fear to the public or undermining public confidence in the national economy, the country’s defense capacity or public health”. On November 15, the Greek journalist Stavros Malichudis was reported to have been secretly surveilled and monitored by the National Intelligence Service over a report about a refugee child from Syria.

 

This statement by IPI is part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.

Hellas Gold SLAPP Greece Library

SLAPP lawsuit in Greece underscores need for swift EU…

SLAPP lawsuit in Greece underscores need for swift EU directive

The undersigned partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) today express serious concern over a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) targeted against the small independent media outlet Alterthess and its journalist Stavroula Poulimeni by a Greek gold mining executive convicted of serious environmental crimes. Our organisations note that this case again underscores the need for a swift European Union directive and Council of Europe Recommendation to protect journalists and media outlets reporting in the public interest from this kind of abusive litigation.

On 19 October 2021, the cooperative journalistic website Alterthess in Thessaloniki received the lawsuit filed against them by Efstathios Lialios, an executive at the firm Hellas Gold. It demanded €100,000 in damages over an article the site had published on 27 October 2020, alleging it had illegally processed his “sensitive personal data”  when it reported his criminal conviction. It argued the plaintiff’s names should not have been published and that Lialios’s reputation was damaged as a result, jeopardising his ability to find new work. The lawsuit also threatened Poulimeni with criminal sanctions.

The article, ‘Two high-ranking executives of Hellas Gold were convicted of water pollution in North Halkidiki, reported the first instance conviction of Lialios and a colleague, the then CEO of Hellas Gold, for the company’s responsibility in the systematic pollution of the local water in Halkidiki with heavy toxic metals and liquid waste. The pair were accused of failing to monitor, control or report to authorities the pollution of surface water, which vastly exceeded the legal limit and caused serious environmental degradation. Hellas Gold is a subsidiary of the Canadian Eldorado Gold Corporation.

The article by Poulimeni reported the initial verdict, which was made by the Court of First Instance of Polygyros. The Court of Appeal of Thessaloniki later confirmed the verdict on 1 September 2021, with the two executives handed a suspended sentence. Shortly after this second decision, Lialios filed the lawsuit:  a full year after the original article was written. The legal case against Alterthess and Poulimeni is due to be heard in court on 25 November 2021.

Rather than aimed at settling a legitimate legal dispute, our organisations believe it is clear that this lawsuit is aimed at silencing Alterthess and Poulimeni by forcing them into a time-consuming and costly legal battle, draining them financially and discouraging them from further reporting. For the last decade, Alterthess and Poulimeni have documented the impact of Hellas Gold’s mining operations on the environment and the local community. The extortionate financial demands seem to be an attempt to intimidate the publication and drive it to financial ruin. We therefore consider this a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP).

The grounds for the lawsuit are baseless. Court reporting by journalists and media is legally protected because of the importance of informing the public at large how justice is done. The trial was held in open court, without reporting restrictions, and the verdict was publicly available. Given the seriousness of the environmental crimes, publishing the names of the plaintiffs was both standard journalistic practice and overwhelmingly in the public interest. We cannot avoid the conclusion therefore that this lawsuit is an effort by Lialios to shield himself and Hellas Gold from critical coverage and punish Alterthess for its reporting.

This lawsuit is not a proportionate or principled attempt to seek legal redress. We therefore urge Mr. Lialios to withdraw the claim and refrain from trying to weaponise civil law in the future. If the case ends up before a court, our organisations hope that the court will take into consideration the European Court of Human Rights standards on article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Concerningly, this is not the first time that Hellas Gold has used the threat of legal action to bully those critical of its operations. This is, however, the first time that a media outlet has been the target.

This case is yet another reminder of the need for an EU Anti-SLAPP Directive that creates preventive measures and procedural safeguards to better protect journalists from abusive lawsuits by rich and powerful individuals. The overwhelming adoption by MEPs on 11 November of a report on SLAPPs was a timely reminder of the seriousness and urgency of this issue, one that sends a clear message to the European Commission that far-reaching legislation is needed. Our organisations stand by to assist the Commission and are preparing our submission to its public consultation on anti-SLAPP regulation.

With such a Directive in place and legislation implemented at the national level, we hope cases such as this involving Alterthess will be immediately dismissed or avoided altogether. Until then, the MFRR expresses our full support and solidarity with the affected journalists and all other battling abusive gag lawsuits. We will continue to monitor this case closely, have reported the lawsuit to the Council of Europe’s platform for the protection of journalism, and will provide immediate financial support to help fund Alterthess’ legal defence.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.

Athens, Greece - Murder of Greek journalist Giorgos Karaivaz in Alimos Library

Greece: Probe into killing of Giorgos Karaivaz remains in…

Greece: Probe into killing of Giorgos Karaivaz remains in “darkness”

Authorities remain tight lipped on status of investigation into murder six months on

By IPI contributor Stavros Malichudis

“The chain is tightening around his killers” ― that’s what Greek media reported back in early May. 

This is what was reported in July, too. But fast forward to early November and no light has yet been shed into the assassination of prominent 52-year-old journalist Giorgos Karaivaz on April 9, 2021. No suspects have been publicly identified and no arrests have been made, while public information about the status of the investigation remains scarce.

“For the moment, we remain in darkness. After all these months, we have received no update whatsoever on the case”, Apostolos Lytras, the family’s lawyer who was also a friend of Karaivaz, told the International Press Institute (IPI).

On the day of the murder, Lytras had met with Karaivaz. It was approximately half an hour after they said goodbye that the experienced crime reporter was gunned down outside his house in Alimos, a southern suburb of Athens.

His execution in broad daylight with ten bullets ― two of which struck Karaivaz in the head, to “finish the job” ― was quickly deemed a “mafia-like death contract” killing by police experts. Karaivaz, after all, had covered extensively the so-called “Greek mafia” and their operations in drug dealing, money laundering and selling ‘protection’ to businesses.

Karaivaz’s assassination is believed to be the 45th killing in Greece between 2009 and 2021 linked to the country’s different organized crime groups, which are currently locked in an ongoing battle for battle for supremacy. Over the last four years, approximately one assassination has occurred every two months.

Reporting on crime

Karaivaz was raised in the wider area of Drama, a city with a rough 45,000 inhabitants, not far from the northern land borders with Bulgaria. At age 21 he left his hometown to seek a career in journalism in the capital.

In a career spanning over three decades, he mainly worked for national TV channels ― the biggest part of his career for ANT1, the last four years for Alpha ― and newspapers, always on the crime beat. His most in-depth reporting, though, was published on bloko.gr, a website he ran, which specializes in the coverage of issues related to law enforcement. It is in these articles that the police have reportedly been looking into for leads that could explain the apparent contract killing.

Karaivaz’s website didn’t seek glory in its design. What mattered was the reporter’s unparalleled access to information. In a simplistic, WordPress-style setting, Karaivaz used a personal tone to write about police corruption. His articles aimed to shed into light onto connections between “four sides”, namely, “police and organized crime, businessmen and politicians”.

Karaivaz highlighted the involvement of top ―serving and ex― police officers in organized crime, and their decisive role in keeping the balance among different interests. He wrote about officers on duty who simultaneously worked as personal security for top mafia leaders. And he insisted on the role of National Intelligence Service agents, who, according to his reporting, carried out illegal phone tracking, spread false information to discredit honourable officers who were their targets, and went as far as to plot murders to protect the mafia’s interests.

For this access to information, Karaivaz had been criticized for getting too close with his sources in the world of organized crime. Writing at bloko.gr, where he allowed himself to refer by first name to a former criminal who had become his source, after the latter was assassinated, he didn’t try to hide these personal connections. After all, it was through them, he wrote, that he had been granted the opportunity to realize the real depth of corruption in the top police ranks.

Greek crime reporter Giorgos Karaivaz

Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Case is “absolute priority”

Responding to IPI’s request for an update on the case, a representative of the Greek police said no update could be given as the case is still at the preliminary examination stage.

“My personal estimation is that the police might not want to leak information on the case, even if their investigation has in fact progressed”, lawyer Apostolos Lytras commented.

On October 7, 2021, the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued an alert with regards to the case, according to which “the search for the perpetrators of the assassination of George Karaivaz has been and still remains an absolute priority for the Hellenic Police and its various Agencies.

“The competent investigative authority is conducting a systematic and in-depth investigation of this crime”, the alert said, adding that new information gathered can’t be disclosed, as “under Greek relevant legal framework (the Greek Code of Criminal Procedure), preliminary investigation is confidential”.

The alert also quotes the Greek Prime Minister, Kiriakos Mitsotakis, as having requested from the minister of citizen protection that relevant procedures for solving this case proceed quickly. However, back in April, Mitsotakis had been criticized for taking over 24 hours to make a public statement on Karaivaz’s murder.

Media freedom challenged in Greece

In the board of the Journalists’ Union of the Athens Daily Newspapers (ESIEA), the largest trade union for journalists employed in Greece, sit members who were friends with Karaivaz. They worked with him and, although they asked not to comment on the case for the moment, as the investigation is ongoing, they state that he had been beloved among his colleagues. “So, this is also personal”, a representative said.

Following Karaivaz’s assassination, ESIEA’s president, Maria Antoniadou, said that “those that think that they can close the journalist’s mouth with such actions are wrong. We are 6,099 more and we will reveal, altogether, who the perpetrators were and those who hid behind them”.

Karaivaz’s murder was the second journalist assassination since 2010, after the killing of Socrates Gkiolias.

But “apart from cases of brutal violence resulting in the murder of journalists, reporters in Greece face a wide range of pressures aimed at killing either their stories or themselves as journalistic entities”, Thodoris Chondrogiannos, a prominent investigative journalist, told IPI.

“There are lawsuits from large corporations, anonymous threats against them and their families, the warning of violence and damage to property in order to intimidate, the risk of dismissal by a publisher who wants to get rid of a ‘troublesome’ reporter, character assassination operations by armies of trolls and anonymous accounts operating on social networks”, he added.  “All of these”, he concluded, “are ways to silence journalists, often leading them to self-censor themselves, before they can even be possibly censored by their editor”.

Solving the Karaivaz murder, on its own, will not end these others threats to journalism. But not solving it – and sending the message that those who attack journalists can get away with it – will undoubtedly put Greek journalists at even greater risk.

This article is part of IPI’s reporting series “Media freedom in Europe in the shadow of Covid”, which comprises news and analysis from IPI’s network of correspondents throughout the EU. Articles do not necessarily reflect the views of IPI or MFRR. This reporting series is supported by funding from the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom and by the European Commission (DG Connect) as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response, a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.

IPI as part of MFRR
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Greece: Justice Ministry must withdraw amendment on ‘false news’

Greece: Justice Ministry must withdraw amendment on ‘false news’

The undersigned partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) today urge the Greek government to withdraw proposed amendments which would introduce fines and jail sentences for journalists found guilty of publishing “false news”. We believe the draft law’s vague definition and punitive sanctions would undermine the freedom of the press and have a chilling effect at a time when independent journalism is already under pressure in Greece.

The proposed amendments to Article 191 of the Criminal Code, brought forward by the Ministry of Justice, would include penalties for those found guilty of disseminating “false news that is capable of causing concern or fear to the public or undermining public confidence in the national economy, the country’s defense capacity or public health”. It adds: “If the transaction was performed repeatedly through the press or online, the perpetrator is punished with imprisonment of at least six months and a fine”. The publisher or owner of a media outlet responsible would also face prison and financial penalties.

Our organisations understand the serious threat that misinformation poses to Greek society and other states around the world. Globally, online falsehoods and conspiracy theories are distorting reality, undermining democracy and jeopardising the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. Social media companies, individual citizens and governments themselves all have a role to play in countering the spread of harmful misinformation online.

However, the passing of heavy-handed legislation by governments which grants regulators or prosecutors the power to decide true from false and levy punitive fines on the press is not the correct response and would result in more harm than good. As we have seen around the globe, subjective interpretation of such vaguely worded laws can open the door to censorship of legitimate reporting. Media in Greece already face threats from abusive litigation and jail sentences for criminal defamation. Strengthening Article 191 would only create an additional avenue for journalists to face prosecution and jail time. Even when not applied directly, the potential for self-censorship under such legislation is enormous.

Like other similar legislative proposals around the world, the amendment contains no clear definition of “false news”. The term is ambiguously defined, broadly applicable and open to misuse. Particularly problematic is the sanctioning of reports “capable of causing concern” or which “undermines public confidence” in state authorities. Journalism which holds power to account naturally shakes the public’s trust in government, just as investigative reporting causes legitimate public concern or anger. Under such a vaguely worded law, this kind of vital watchdog journalism could be targeted by political leaders intent on limiting criticism of their policies. Journalistic unions in Greece have rightly criticised the amendment, warning it could lead to journalists being jailed or fined for reporting on issues such as the pandemic.

Rather than improving the existing Article 191 of the Criminal Code, which is already problematic, the government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis would take a major step backwards if this law were eventually passed and send a worrying signal about the administration’s commitment to media freedom. Within the European Union, similar knee-jerk reactions to tackling misinformation during the pandemic were attempted in Romania and Bulgaria: both were either vetoed or withdrawn after staunch criticism from EU institutions. The only country to press ahead was Hungary, which criminalised the spread of misinformation deemed to undermine the authorities’ fight against Covid-19 with fines and prison sentences.

We urge the Greek Ministry of Justice to withdraw the amendment immediately and, should the government decide to press ahead, call on lawmakers to reject the proposal. In an era where politicians increasingly accuse critical journalism of being “fake news”, in the wrong hands such a law would be extremely dangerous. The Ministry of Justice should meet with Greece’s journalist unions and international media freedom organisations to listen to their concerns. Ultimately, the best way to address misinformation is not through government regulation. Rather, what is needed is a strong, professional, pluralist and independent press which can provide the public with reliable sources of information. If the Greek government is serious about tackling the spread of false information, initiatives to protect the safety of (investigative) journalists, develop media literacy and ensure a strong and vibrant media market with a high degree of pluralism are far better places to start.

 

Correction: This statement was changed to reflect that the proposed amendments pertain to the Criminal Code and not the Civil Code

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)