Government influence on the media can be subtle. All nine of Greece’s nationwide television channels operate year-to-year without paying license fees, said Pleios, who directs an institute that studies the nation’s television media.
“They depend on the goodwill of the government,” Pleios said. “It is a means to control the television landscape.”
The lack of licenses amounts to a government subsidy, but the official largesse doesn’t stop there. The Greek state also buys TV advertising and radio as well as print outlets in a non-transparent manner and contracts with other enterprises owned by the same industrial or shipping magnates, Pleios said. He calls it “diaploki,” a Greek word meaning intertwining interests.
“The media…win support for political leaders. In exchange they give public works contracts to the mother companies,” he said. “It’s a kind of high-level corruption between the state and the companies. Formally, it’s legal.”
Vassilis Mulopoulos, Syriza’s head of communications, used the same term to describe cronyism among media, political and business interests. He cited a major industrialist whose media support the government in power and whose construction interests obtain most of the major infrastructure projects.
“There are severe limitations in press freedom,” Mulopoulos said. “We understand the role the media plays in society in the Anglo-Saxon world. In Greece the situation is quite the contrary. Here information and opinion are often misrepresented or misused.”
Mulopoulos has inside experience. He was editor-in-chief of the newspaper To Vima for five years before becoming a member of parliament from 2009 until last month.
At Kathimerini – which co-publishes the New York Times-owned International Herald Tribune with its own English edition – editors acknowledge the thrust of Mulopoulos’ charges.
“The game of influence between politics, business and the media is very much a part of our system here,” Konstandaras said. He said a common model for newspapers is: “I press for government contracts and state advertising; in exchange I promote some people and I don’t promote others.” He said his paper is an exception because owner Aristides Alafuzo, a shipping magnate, has no business interests in Greece.
But Mulopoulos said that when Alafuzos’s son, Ionnis, was on trial in the mid-1990s for oil-smuggling, the then leader of New Democracy, Miltiades Everts, testified on his behalf. After a lengthy judicial proceeding, Alafuzos was acquitted.
In its worldwide press freedom rankings, Freedom House, the New York-based non-governmental organization, ranks the Greek media as “free,” but in 65th place among nations, in a tie with Israel and at the edge of being “partly free.” It cited self-censorship on sensitive ethnic issues, police attacks on journalists and the difficulty of sustaining media in the current economic downturn. It did not address the internal political links, which add to government’s enormous influence.
There are other topics the Greek television deals with gingerly, if at all, including shipping accidents, the country’s Muslim minority and right-wing violence committed against illegal immigrants, Pleios said.