Greece: new oligarchs in the media business

In Greece the print, TV and multi-media services are in the hands of just a few media groups and individuals. The left-wing Syriza government under Prime Minister Tsipras had pledged to destroy the intricate web of connections between media and politics, but has had little success so far.

Ivan Savvidis, a Greek-Russian oligarch and owner of the football club PAOK Thessaloniki.
Ivan Savvidis, a Greek-Russian oligarch and owner of the football club PAOK Thessaloniki.
In the last two years, new oligarchs have risen in the media sector who allegedly have close ties to the government: the Greek-Russian businessman and owner of the football team PAOK Thessaloniki, Ivan Savvidis, acquired the newspapers Ethnos and Imerisia in the summer of 2017. In May 2017, the heavily indebted media group Dimosiografikos Organismos Lampraki (DOL) was sold to Alter Ego, the company of shipowner and proprietor of the Olympiacos Piraeus and Nottingham Forest football clubs Evangelos Marinakis, for 22.89 million euros.

Yet in the autumn of 2015, parliament had passed a law to reform the media landscape. One of its aims was to put an end to the chronic cronyism and corruption. Because private television broadcasters had been broadcasting without a licence since they first went on air in the 1980s. They were eventually issued "provisional" licences without having to tender for them, but the oligarchs, with their ties to the various governments, seized the opportunity and bought up the TV channels. Determined to put an end to this, Syriza decided to limit the number of private channels to four and auction their licences.

In September 2016 the four licences were sold for 246 million euros in total – to the four highest-bidding oligarchs who had already operated television broadcasters. They had launched legal proceedings against the procedure even before it was initiated. Then in October 2016 the Supreme Administrative Court in Athens ruled that the auction was unconstitutional and that the Greek National Council for Radio and Television (ESR) should have sole responsibility for issuing licenses. This body was reconstituted in November 2016 after the government and opposition had spent a year squabbling over the appointment of its members but failed to reach an agreement.

At present seven television licences are to be auctioned off once more by the ESR after four private TV broadcasters asked for an injunction on the grounds that the auctioning procedure didn’t comply with Greek and European law. The Supreme Administrative Court was to present a final decision at the start of May 2018.

In May 2018 15 reporters on the island of Lesbos complained in an open letter about a rise in the number of verbal and physical attacks against journalists by perpetrators from the far right scene. Members of the far right allegedly tried to spread fake news to escalate the conflict between the thousands of refugees stranded on the Aegean islands and the islands’ inhabitants.

Greece’s print market has been particularly hard hit by the crisis. Newspaper sales have dropped sharply and several papers have had to close. Hundreds of journalists have lost their jobs but have continued working either unpaid or for minimal wages. Many newspapers and media groups are mired in debt or still in business only because their employees forego payment for months on end. The importance of alternative critical media has greatly increased and new journalistic projects have emerged, such as the daily paper Efimerida ton Syntakton, which is financed as a collective.

Greece slid a long way down the Press Freedom Index during the debt crisis. Between 2009 and 2014 the country fell 56 places in the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index. In 2018 it made a slight recovery on the Reporters without Borders list. The US NGO Freedom House currently describes the Greek press as only "partly free".

Rangliste der Pressefreiheit (Reporter ohne Grenzen):
Rank 88 (2018)

Last updated: May 2018
Media search

Media from Greece at euro|topics

Media search