Greece: Debt crisis compromises press freedom

The media market in Greece is highly concentrated. Print, TV and multi-media services are in the hands of just a few media groups and individuals. The major opinion-forming dailies have existed since the mid-twentieth century and are affiliated with political camps rather than with individual parties.

Cameramen and journalists from private TV channels protest the decision to award licences to just four channels. (© picture-alliance/dpa)
Cameramen and journalists from private TV channels protest the decision to award licences to just four channels. (© picture-alliance/dpa)
The financial crisis has transformed the Greek media. Newspaper sales have dropped sharply and several papers have had to close since the crisis began in 2010. 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. Since the crisis, critical media outlets have become more relevant than ever and new projects continue to spring up, such as the daily Efimerida ton Syntakton, which is financed as a collective.

Alexis Tsipras' left-wing alliance Syriza came to power in 2015 and made good on its election promise to revoke the unpopular closure of the state TV broadcaster ERT in the summer of 2013. ERT has been back on the air again since June 2015. Tsipras also wanted to curtail the powers of media oligarchs such as Vardis Vardinoyanis and Georgios Bobolas, but this is proving more difficult.

In autumn 2015 the parliament passed a media reform law aimed at putting an end to the corruption and numerous conflicts of interest prevalent in the media sector: for more than 25 years private stations have been able to broadcast using only provisional licences. In September 2015 the government courted controversy when it put broadcasting licences for private TV channels up for auction. Media moguls purchased all four licences.

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. Observers, however, still doubt the ability of the council to issue new licences given the considerable opposition to be expected from the media oligarchs.

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 2015 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".


Press Freedom Rating:

Reporters Without Borders: 88th place (2017)
Freedom House: 94nd place – status: partly free (2016)

Updated: May 2017
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