Country report: Greece

(June 2014)

Introduction

The implementation of the MPM2014 for Greece shows a medium/high risk for media pluralism in the country. The results collected by implementing the MPM in Greece, show risks in the country as follows: 44% (15) of the indicators assess a high risk; 38% (13) of indicators indicate a medium risk, and 9% (3) refer to low risk. Three indicators were not scored due to lack of data.

The pilot-test implementation of the MPM on Greece is valuable in terms of suggestions on methodology, structure and formula for the MPM’s fine-tuning.

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Graph 9: Average level of risk for each type of indicator – Greece

 

Legal Type of Indicator Assessing Risks to Media Pluralism

Overall, the regulatory safeguards for freedom of expression in the Greek legal system pose a medium risk for media pluralism. Freedom of expression is explicitly recognised in the Constitution and Greece has signed and ratified the relevant international treaty obligations. Citizens have legal remedies in cases of the infringement of their freedom of expression, and free speech is generally respected, including on the internet. However, there are interpretive problems regarding national security laws. The rules on blasphemy are also not very narrowly defined and defamation provisions abound in the Greek penal code (1-medium risk).

The right to information is explicitly recognised in the Constitution and in national laws. There are appeal mechanisms in place. However, these are slow. Moreover, the parallel existence of multiple legal provisions on the right to information/access to public documents ends by creating problems in regard to the implementation of this right. In addition, there is evidence of systematic non-compliance with the relevant rules. The score for this indicator appears to be “low risk”. In our view, the risk is higher than the one calculated by the MPM (2).

Media pluralism is explicitly recognised both as an intrinsic part of media freedom and as a policy objective. In practice, however, not all aspects of media pluralism are respected. Media pluralism is mostly threatened in Greece by the high concentration of media power and the underlying interdependence between political, economic and media elites (3-medium risk).

There is currently no licensing of journalists in Greece and access to the journalistic profession is open. However, those who want to become members of the journalists’ associations (membership is optional) need to fulfil the membership criteria set by the respective associations, which also function as journalists’ trade unions. According to the self-regulatory Code of Conduct of the Journalistic Profession, journalists should not accept money or any other type of compensation, which may affect their credibility/independence/objectivity. In principle, Greek courts recognise the protection of journalistic sources. However, the relevant variable was considered as not fulfilled, because the law was not considered to be in line with ECHR standards. The protection of press freedom also includes the protection of access to all sources. There is systematic evidence that media entrepreneurs intervene in their employees work (4-high risk)[1].

As far as the independence of the relevant national authorities is concerned:

  • The National Council for Radio and Television is fully funded by the State and its members are selected by the Conference of Chairmen of the Greek Parliament, a cross-party parliamentary college, seeking unanimity or an increased majority of four fifths of its members. The ability of the political parties that are in opposition to veto the nominations of their counterparts does not preclude nominations based on political affiliation and ideological identification. Furthermore, there is a lack of transparency in the process of nomination.
  • The Chairman and the Vice-Chairman of the Hellenic Competition Commission are elected by the Conference of Chairmen of the Greek Parliament. The remaining board members are appointed by the Minister of Finance.
  • The President and the two Vice-Presidents of the National Telecommunications and Post Commission are appointed by the Council of Ministers upon the proposal of the Minister of Infrastructure, Transport and Networks. The other six board members are appointed by the Minister of Infrastructure, Transport and Networks.

The above factors, combined, constitute a high risk to media pluralism (5). The existing policies on media literacy are only nascent and the measures taken are fragmented (6-medium risk). NERIT, the Greek PSM, is bound by law to serve the democratic, social and cultural needs of the society and to contribute to pluralism. The scarce rules regarding the accessibility of minority groups and the content of programmes seem to be complied with. However, given that the existing rules on cultural pluralism are restricted mainly to the accessibility of the disabled, one cannot safely conclude that such compliance amounts to an adequate representation of different cultural groupings (7-medium risk).

The Greek media law does not contain any specific provisions on minority or community media. In fact, there appears to be no particular policy strategy for minority media or community media (8-high risk).

Media legislation does not ensure access by regional and/or local media to platforms of electronic communication network providers. It also does not prohibit networking or affiliation arrangements between regional/local media and national media (9-high risk).

NERIT is not obliged a) to have a minimum proportion of regional and/or local communities involved in the production and distribution of its programme; b) to have its own regional correspondents; or c) to have the balance of journalists coming from various geographical groups (10-high risk).

With respect to universal coverage, NERIT’s coverage is the entire geographical area of Greece.

Greek regions participate in the operational programme “Digital Convergence”, which seeks to promote the use of ICTs. The Rural Broadband infrastructure project aims to reduce the digital gap in rural and remote areas. The Greek print media is supported by considerable indirect state subsidies in the form of distribution subsidies (11-medium risk).

Different ownership rules apply to electronic (TV and radio) ‘information’ media and electronic ‘non-information’ media (12-medium (for the most part)). There are also some restrictions on the ownership of the printed media, depending on type and geographical reach. The media legislation does not contain specific thresholds or limits to prevent a high level of horizontal concentration of ownership and/or control as regards ISPs (12.3-high risk). However, it has introduced media-specific competition rules to curb a high degree of cross-media ownership (13-medium).

As far as transparency of media ownership/control is concerned, newspapers and magazines must indicate their owner, publisher and director. They must also indicate the director of the undertaking responsible for printing. The capacity of owner, partner, main shareholder or management executive of an information media enterprise is incompatible with the capacity of owner, partner, main shareholder or management executive of an enterprise that undertakes works towards the public sector. In order to be licensed, TV and radio undertakings must submit to the NCRT a statement on their shareholders. Any transfer of ownership (above 1% of the capital of a licensed TV or radio undertaking) has to be notified to, and approved by, the National Council for Radio and Television (14-medium risk).

Concerning political reporting, according to Art. 15(2) of the Constitution, state control over public and private radio and television ‘shall aim at the objective and on equal terms transmission of information and news reports’. As regards PSM in particular, NERIT shall serve the democratic, social and cultural needs of the society and contribute to pluralism. Art. 15(2) of the Constitution also provides for the mandatory and free-of-charge transmission of the electoral campaign messages of the political parties. In pre-election periods, the PSM and the free-to-air commercial channels, as well as the providers of radio and television subscription services of any kind are required to make time available for the transmission of messages from political parties free of charge. “Access to airtime on PSM (and commercial channels and services during election campaigns) for political parties is determined on the basis of their performance at the previous elections. The extent to which these rules promote political pluralism is questioned as they are, each time, determined by means of the agreement reached by a cross-party committee”[2] (high risk). The interpretation of the data for this indicator shows that indicator 15’s formula needs to be fine-tuned for future implementations and that the risk should be assessed as lower.

On the issue of excessive political control of the mainstream media, the Constitution renders incompatible the duties of member of Parliament and those of owner/manager partner or shareholder or governor or administrator or member of the board of directors or a deputy thereof, of an enterprise that either publishes a newspaper of country-wide circulation or engages in radio or television broadcasting services. The aforementioned duties are also incompatible with the duties of a Member of the European Parliament. As regards PSM in particular, the duties of a member of the Supervisory Board and the Management Board of NERIT are incompatible with those of member of the Ministerial Council, Deputy Minister, Secretary (General and Particular) of a Ministry or Secretariat, Member of Parliament, Mayor and Deputy Mayor, Head and Deputy Head of a region and civil servant (16-high risk). It must be stressed that the interpretation of the data provided for this indicator show that the score coming from the application of the MPM is too high. The text of the indicator should be fine-tuned to include the assessment of the constitutional level of regulation. Moreover, when the report was finished (June, 2014), it was not possible to assess how the PSB’s incompatibility rule was going to be implemented[3].

With respect to PSM appointment procedures, these are for the most part transparent (17-medium risk).

There are currently no specific must carry rules in media legislation guaranteeing distribution of public interest channels on cable, DSL and/or satellite platforms (18-high risk)

Concerning PSM financial resources, NERIT enjoys financial autonomy and derives income through a mandatory licence fee, advertising and other sources. The level of the licence fee is determined by the Minister of Finance and the Minister responsible for NERIT upon proposal of its management board. NERIT’s yearly budget is subject to approval by an inter-ministerial committee (19 -high risk).

There is no regulation on net neutrality in Greece. Nevertheless, the National Communications and Post Commission, the regulator on electronic communications networks and services, monitors developments on net neutrality at the European level and has declared a commitment on coming up with a five-year action plan (20-medium risk).

 

Economic Type of Indicator Assessing Risks to Media Pluralism

There is a high ownership concentration in television, radio and ISPs and a medium ownership concentration in newspapers (21-high risk). It should be noted, however, that in Greece there is no data on the total revenue of media outlets. Market shares are calculated on the basis of imputed advertising expenditure (i.e., sales of advertising space/time by media outlets to advertisers).

A medium level risk to media pluralism stems from audience/readership concentration. In particular, there is a high audience concentration in television and subscriber concentration in internet service provision, and a medium readership concentration in newspapers. There is currently no available data on the audience shares of radio outlets (22).

The concentration of media ownership across the different media sectors cannot be scored due to the non-disclosure of data as regards ISPs (23).

Both fixed and mobile broadband penetration is lower than the respective EU average penetration (this is a high risk to media pluralism). Concerning the two variables that assess the national average fixed internet speed measured in Mbps in download/upload compared with the respective EU average (24), Greece scores low risk in upload and high risk in download.[4]

None of the questions concerning minority and community media (25) can be answered. This indicator provides for the scoring of the ratio of television channels/newspapers/radio channels, which are dedicated to ethnic/linguistic/national minorities to the total number of domestic television channels/newspapers/radio channels. First, the only recognised minority in Greece is a religious minority (the Muslim population of Thrace). Second, there are no television/radio channels/newspapers of national range formally recognised as minority media.

Similarly, the indicator concerning the centralisation of the national media system (26) cannot be scored due to the non-availability of data.

 

Socio-political Type of Indicators Assessing Risks to Media Pluralism

With respect to indicator 27 Guarantees for universal access to media regarding special needs groups, policy-making bodies are aware of the issue and have started taking measures, but the existing policies are only nascent and the measures taken are fragmented. The risk is therefore evaluated as a medium one.

On the issue of universal coverage, addressed by indicator 28 Guarantees for universal coverage of PSM and broadband networks regarding geographical coverage, NERIT, which only started operating in May, 2014, is bound by its law to have a 100% geographical coverage. However, this aim has not yet been achieved. As a result, currently there is no effective coverage with PSM transmissions. The rural coverage of DSL is higher than 95%, but availability of cable internet is rather low. Based on all this, the risk for indicator 28 is evaluated as high[5].

Another indicator with a score of high risk is indicator 29 Representation of political views in the media. The content analysis exercise has shown that Greek media are deeply politically biased. However, it needs to be noted that this indicator has been applied within a rather constrained methodological frame and the issue needs further exploration.

On indicator 30 Political control over media and distribution networks ownership, the connections of media owners with political elites in the country have formed the object of substantive investigation by journalists and media activists. Rather than disclosing media owners’ allegiance to specific political parties, reports have focused on the interplay of the media with politicians, and the development and evolution of interconnecting interests between the media, the government and the business sector. The lack of sufficient transparency and data however, prevents addressing and reflecting on these concerns in the scoring of the indicator.

With respect to indicator 31 Political control over media funding by advertising, despite the fact that there are clear and transparent rules regarding the distribution of public advertising, their actual implementation does not portray an equally transparent environment. The lack of readily available and reliable statistical data across the different media sectors prevents the proper evaluation of this indicator.

Concerning indicator 32 Presence of professional associations providing advocacy for editorial independence and respect of professional standards, vying for editorial standards and editorial independence, the unions of journalists have been quite active in campaigning on matters related to journalists’ employment conditions. At the same time, however, they have proved ineffective in enforcing the Code of Conduct of Journalists, which is the reason for the less than perfect evaluation of the risk here. However, the indicator itself needs further specifications and fine-tuning of the descriptions of the different ways and degrees of professional associations’ involvement, in order to better reflect cases like Greece.

On indicator 33, measuring the Level of independence of PSM considering the mechanisms of its financing, Greece scores a high risk. The reason for this is that the government decides on the licence fee of the PSM without any public discussion.

High risk to media pluralism is also demonstrated by indicator 34 Independence and ownership of news agencies, as there is only one Greek-based national news agency. In addition, ANAMPA (the only news agency) is owned by the government, and the government is involved in the personnel appointment and/or editorial policy.

 

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Graph 10: Level of risk for each risk domain – Greece

[1] The formula of this indicator should be fine-tuned for further applications, as it is too strict.

[2] Source: MPM implementation Greece.

[3] CMPF

[4] This variable has been assessed by the CMPF according to the guidebook, suggesting the use of the centralised available database offered by “Ookla”.

[5] The country correspondents provided the elaborated data, but the CMPF team assigned the indicator score.