Konstandaras said in the 14 years he’d been with Kathimerini, he could not recall a case of failing to report news about the owner having trouble in another sector of his holdings.
“If you ignore it, others will not,” he said. “I don’t think our readers have been deprived.”
But there’s also a different kind of influence, brought about in part by the interests of the owners’ firms and the fact many reporters moonlight by working for their sources – including the government, according to Mulopoulos, the Syriza official. Whenever there’s a military purchase, media groups advocate an outcome “according to the interests of their owners and contacts with specific economic interests,” he said. Journalists received money to advocate state purchases during the 2004 Olympic Games and during the construction of the Athens subway system.
Whether it comes to power after Sunday’s election or becomes the main opposition group, Syriza says it will press to establish a new media framework. It would require greater transparency in media ownership and demand TV and radio stations be licensed through a competitive bidding process in which applicants must demonstrate economic viability. It has also called for guaranteeing labor rights for journalists to ensure their independence and for transparency in state advertising, which Mulopoulos says is now the main source of income for media.
Earlier this month, Mulopoulos called in political reporters earlier this month to demand that they “observe the rules” – not demanding friendly coverage, he later told McClatchy, but calling for fair reporting. His remarks, which might have stirred controversy in other countries, weren’t reported in the media the next day, according to an informal search.
Perhaps least controversial will be the ban on journalists receiving wages or subventions from the government. Mulopoulos estimated that 500 to 600 of the 20,000 Greek journalists are on some sort of government payroll, paid out of secret funds designated as serving “social purposes.” He said the ministries of defense, security and foreign affairs were among those paying journalists.
The Greek Foreign Ministry denied that it has a list of journalists being paid out of secret funds. “There are no funds going to any journalists,” a spokesman told McClatchy Friday. He provided McClatchy a ministry statement issued on Jan. 19 about “national funds of a confidential nature,” which said that since Nov. 11, “no disbursements of these funds have been approved.”
Konstandaris, of the newspaper Kathimerini, said he had no question the government had put reporters on a secret payroll, but described the payments not as a way to earn support for official policies but as personal favors.
As for journalists moonlighting by working for their sources, he said that has now diminished greatly.
“I found it very, very widespread, when I joined the Greek press,” said Konstandaris, who grew up in South Africa. “I was horrified. You would find someone working in the press office of the economy ministry working for a radio station as their reporter for the economy ministry.”
“That, I think, is dead,” he added. “I can’t speak for other newspapers. Here, when we started laying people off (during the economic crisis) the first to go were those with another job.”