The European Parliament removed a reference to Greece’s low ranking on the Press Freedom Index

The European Parliament has told Byline Times that it removed an article from its website about a report raising concerns around press freedom and censorship in the EU as a whole and Greece in particular as “it was not in line with editorial guidelines”.

The latest Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders ranked Greece last in the EU on the issue – below Malta, Hungary and Bulgaria. 

Given that Reporters Without Borders is an official partner of the European Parliament, an article expressing concern over the ranking was posted on the Parliament’s website and tweets about it were shared on Twitter. 

But then, less than 48 hours later, the article and tweets had disappeared – with no explanation given as to why. It seemed that a discussion concerning censorship and threats to freedom of speech in the EU was itself censored. 

A new article was then posted on the European Parliament’s website – this time not mentioning the report and its findings at all, but expressing general concern and including a link to the Press Freedom Index near the bottom of the web page. 

The European Parliament told Byline Times: “The online article on Reporters Without Borders’ world press freedom report was withdrawn from the website as it was not in line with the editorial guidelines for Parliament’s communication services. According to these guidelines, editorial products should always mention a clear link to Parliament’s activities and agenda, which was not the case here.”

Despite this, similar reports by Reporters Without Borders are still on the European Parliament’s website and have not faced similar issues. 

On the surface, this incident may seem trivial. But it is just one side of a worsening situation. And the problem goes well beyond freedom to publish – it is about corruption, violence and death at the EU’s borders.


A Chilling Effect

The Press Freedom Index naturally rattled the Greek Government. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who likes to present himself as a liberal reformer, disputed its methodology. 

Mitsotakis and his spokespeople have referred to Reporters Without Borders as a “leftist French NGO” – a term which they have been using to dismiss damning reports by NGOs on Greece’s much-criticised treatment of refugees crossing into the country from Turkey. 

It has become a standard way for the ruling party to deflect, not only from well-covered reports of illegal pushbacks in the Aegean and in the Evros river, but also reports of police violence against civilians and journalists – and generally any story that might present the Government in a bad light.

Greek journalists are used to this kind of treatment. The Government, through a network of friendly businessmen, has almost complete control of the mainstream press. 

Having brought the state media under the direct control of the Prime Minister’s office and installed cadres in management, the Government’s grip on the message is almost absolute. Journalists investigating illegal push-backs or other scandals find themselves under surveillance or face exhaustive legal battles. 

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This is noted in the Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index, but it has also been highlighted by the International Press Institute and the Media Rapid Response Foundation. All of these organisations are official EU partners. 

Meanwhile, any story that portrays the Government in a bad light simply isn’t covered. The state news agency, for instance, did not mention Greece at all in its coverage of the Press Freedom Index. While there is a network of independent outlets in the country, their stories rarely break through to the mainstream. 

This has become the norm in Greece. But will the same now happen routinely within the European Parliament?

The EU appears to have no problem with what the Greek Government is doing and is happy to look the other way in exchange for Greece keeping refugees off European soil.

When contacted by Brussels-based outlet Euractiv, Maltese politician Roberta Matsola – currently President of the European Parliament – declined to comment.

Perhaps this is unsurprising as Matsola comes from the same political grouping – the European People’s Party Group – as the ruling party in Greece, and it deputy leader employs Prime Minister Mitsotakis’s son as an assistant.

The European Commission has now promised that its upcoming rule of law report will focus on press freedom in the EU as a whole and Greece in particular. 

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