A startling headline in Newsweek last year— April 29, 2015 to be exact— left a marker in my mind that hasn’t left since then.
“Greece Sees Largest Decline in Press Freedom in the World” the story read, referring to a new report from a media think tank called Freedom House which ranked almost 200 countries for their freedom of the press.
Greece received an abysmal score and the report also noted that the birthplace of Democracy had the biggest decline of any country in the past five years, according to the report.
It’s important to note that this particular report tracked Greece’s previous government— that of Antonis Samaras center-right New Democracy party which lost power in January of 2015.
Another media watchdog, Reporters Without Borders had similar findings, ranking Greece at #89— the worst in Western Europe and most of South America.
The report points to a climate of political interference, monopolies and ownership by a very small number of business owners who used the power of media to pressure the government and position their main industrial interests positively.
“Press barons in Greece, as in other developing countries, use the media to promote their business interests,” he says. “The biggest media owners in Greece have it as their secondary job. They have business interests in construction, public works, contracts, oil imports, and media is usually the platform to promote their interests,” Paul Anastasi, a reporter from the UK’s The Telegraph told Newsweek in their article.
Conditions for the free and independent flow of information under the Syriza government of Alexis Tsipras haven’t gotten any better. In fact, many will argue they’ve gotten worse, both because of government actions, as well as the deteriorating financial situation of the country.
There’s an awkward connection between media unions and the government, which I experienced first hand last weekend while visiting my family on Crete.
I was in a room with aunts and uncles— retirees living on fixed monthly pensions; and, cousins who have seen their salaries cut drastically over the past few years.
I was on my iPhone, following developments happening both inside and outside the Greek parliament— when the nation’s lawmakers were deliberating and voting on the latest austerity reforms that were being demanded by European creditors in order for Greece to get the next round of funding.
At one point I saw images and video of riots getting violent with molotov cocktails being thrown at police patrolling the Parliament.
My family was watching a cheesy music show called “Your Face Sounds Familiar” which puts impersonators on a stage, mimicking their favorite singing stars.
Bad impersonations of Madonna, Peggy Zina and Kalomira flashed on the screen while Greek lawmakers argued about cutting pensions even more and adding more taxes to an already over-taxed society.
I mentioned something to my family about the incidents in Parliament, including the big fight that took place between the Parliament Speaker and members of the Golden Dawn representatives.
My uncle grabbed the remote control and tried finding something on TV.
My cousin then explained to me that “coincidentally,” the media union had called for a strike over the past few days— effectively crippling the flow of information taking place inside the parliament to the average citizen who may not have live-streaming capabilities or a smart phone at their disposal— much like most of my family in Crete.
The coincidental media strike during this most crucial time in Greece led me to the place where information is truly free and independent— the internet, where I found a series of articles about a fledgling campaign for independent media in Greece called Athens Live.
I reached out and spoke extensively with Tassos Morfis, a journalist and co-founder of the project who confirmed my worst concerns:
“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,” Tassos told me.
“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 in Greece.”
Athens Live is trying to accomplish what most people will say is IMPOSSIBLE in Greece— to create a truly independent media site which will allow for an unfiltered flow of news and information about what is happening in the country we love so much.
They’ve turned to Indiegogo to crowd fund their first few months of operations, which includes equipment and the creation of a website. In the meantime, they’ve hit hard at the news, using Facebook, Twitter and Medium to reach their audience.
In the few short months they’ve been in operation, they’ve already accomplished some pretty impressive numbers and breaking news, including an exclusive interview in which Greece’s ex-finance minister Yanis Varoufakis revealed some pretty interesting things during his tenure.
Ironically, the Varoufakis interview is the only mention of Athens Live in Greece’s entrenched media. No one is covering the initiative to bring Athens Live to realization— expect the foreign media.
But no one in Greece has except a small newspaper in Hania, and a fashion magazine.
If you genuinely care about Greece and what is happening to the average citizen of this country we all love so much— Athens Live deserves OUR support.