AthensLiveIn 2015, Greece took 91st place in the World Press Freedom Index, establishing it as the second-lowest ranking for a country inside the European Union. Open Society Foundations has stated that Greece is the EU member state in the most acute journalistic crisis.
However, under Syriza, journalists are not facing the violent suppression by the government and police that has been characteristic in the past. The abysmal state of the Greek press is more complicated than that. Our censorship is self-censorship. Our crisis is a crisis of capitalism. A new independent media project called AthensLive sets out to address these issues.
As a collaboration between Greek and international journalists, including the visual journalists of FOSPHOTOS, AthensLive is building an alternative to a Greek press that is corporate-owned and bound to established political interests. AthensLive will provide English-language reporting, analysis, and commentary on the situation from Athens and throughout Greece. Independent and crowdfunded, its work will be accountable to its readers and no one else.
Nothing like this has existed in Greece before. Whether censor, owner, or subsidizer, the political elite has controlled Greek media for years, and clientelism has only worsened with six years of economic crisis. The media organizations, their owners (often key players in other industries), and the political elite function in mutual interdependence. Extensive consolidation of ownership spanning both print and electronic media guarantees that the few remaining owners and their political interests are the only perspectives represented. Structural pluralism in journalism simply does not exist here.
Under New Democracy and PASOK, the role of political interests intervening in the coverage of controversial issues is clear. Anti-austerity opinions were simply not published. Leading up to the 2015 Greek bailout referendum, if you only read mainstream media, you would have been sure that the Greek public was in support of the continuation of austerity measures. Instead, bailout conditions were rejected by a majority of over 61% to 39%.
In the aftermath, it became evident that a memo was sent by influential members of New Democracy to key media outlets indicating the way the controversial vote should be covered.
However, it is not just political parties utilizing the press to their advantage. Strict editorial control is used to uphold corporate interests as well. A particularly noteworthy case is the reporting on the 2014 Luxembourg Leaks. Controversy arose when Ta Nea was given exclusive access to the names of a number of influential Greek firms implicated in the tax avoidance scandal as the only official partner with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in Greece.
Yet, they refused to publish all but a small article, without the naming any of the companies. Across the board, mainstream Greek media created a self-imposed media blackout. The Greek press is little more than an instrument of political parties and corporations, and the people know it. While literacy and education rates are high in Greece, only 53 in every 1000 people read the news. This isn’t lack of interest; this is lack of trust.
Greece’s English-language media has the same political and corporate ties as their Greek-language counterparts. International media outlets are an alternative, but they have no commitment to telling the Greek narrative. Only riots or major banking incidents will bring their attention, and the result is a poor caricature. AthensLive is different: we live here, we know the whole story, and we think the world needs to know it, too. Greece is more than their selective coverage of the refugee crisis and political turmoil. Through all of this remains a vibrant culture unseen by the rest of the world.
The stifling economics of the Greek media landscape extend down to journalists’ work conditions as well, with an average monthly income of €581 or €490 for those under 25. Even that is considered fortunate. According to the Journalists’ Union of Athens Daily Newspapers, 20% of their journalists are unemployed, while 30% go unpaid altogether. With the financial crisis, there have been extensive layoffs and combined with strict editorial control, self-censorship is the only way to remain in the industry.
Journalists who want to work outside these constraints see no options. Without the backing of these media conglomerates, in addition to already poor working conditions and low pay, there are increased risks of accusations of defamation (with the associated financial burden of court cases), blackmail and threats, and an untenable lack of resources.
With AthensLive, we want to provide journalists with what they need to explore controversial issues fully and pay them fairly for their labour. Our readers are not interested in a regurgitation of corporate-owned news. The value of our journalists is tied to their desire to tell unconventional and difficult stories.
We see digital media as an opportunity for pluralism and independence, but so far it has offered little other than low quality output, gossip, and blatant plagiarism. Additionally, without an alternative funding model, there is no way to avoid replicating the issues seen in print and television when digital journalists eventually do foray into areas such as investigative journalism.
Remaining separate from political interest groups not enough. Relying on public contracts and the banking system through advertising and loans, as mainstream Greek media has historically done, is unsustainable.
AthensLive draws support from a range of fundraising techniques that have been tried and proven on other crowdfunded, subscription-sustained European media projects, with whom we directly collaborate. With this model, we hope to make Greek media truly independent, accountable and accurate to Greece today.