Leafing through the European press over the last few days, it looks as if the doomsday scenario of the collapse of the Greek and Italian economies have given way to a curt intellectual discussion about the merits of technocrats, such as Italian prime minister designate, Mario Monti, and Greek PM, Lucas Papademos, being parachuted into the top jobs. There is not a day that passes by without editorials and comments agonising about the democratic deficit or the rise of the technocrats. “Is technocracy better than democracy?” seems to be the stunning stuff that excites writers of all ilk. However very few ever enquired about how the current meltdown is affecting the state of the media in these countries.
I attended a rally in Athens organised by the IFJ Greek unions precisely to unravel what is going on (see picture). It was a shocking eye opener. Greek media is in such a down spiral that the unions have little faith that journalism will still be able to play a role in informing Greek citizens about the parlous state of their economy or the grand designs of the technocrats now in charge of saving the country.
To start with, over 25% of journalists are unemployed today. The majority of those remaining in employment have not received any wages for 3.5 months on average. As one journalist put it “if before the crisis, journalists have to juggle with three jobs to earn a decent income, now their work packet provides mere pocket money”.
Many medias, whether newspapers or broadcasters, are in such dire straight that they simply have not got the cash to pay their journalists. Eleftherotypia has not paid its workers for the past 3.5 months. Those working at Private TV Alter, which filed for bankruptcy, received nothing for over five months. Avriani and sports newspaper Filathlos are the worst culprits, having paid nothing since January.
Some managements like at Skai, a private television, or Pegasus, the publishers of the daily Ethnos, simply forced their staff to sign private contracts bringing their work conditions well below the signed collective agreement. Others like business daily Kerdos or Sentra FM dismiss journalists at will.
Outside Athens things are even worse. Cities like Cities Heraklion, Patras, Thessaloniki, Volos and Larissa) which traditionally sustained five daily newspapers now have no more than two.
The toughest battle is being fought at public service broadcaster ERT which announced the closure of ET1, one of the three public channels, the merger of regional radios and, in the process closing down 958 Thessaloniki public radio and Radiotileorasi. Journalists’ salaries have been reduced by 30-40% with the austerity squeeze announced in the public sector. Worse still, the Greek government took the unprecedented decision to change the status of journalists which are now considered as civil servant.
Who knows what this bunch of new technocrats would dream of as they scramble to enforce more and more austerity measures? One thing is certain, our Greek unions will not roll over and die. The rally in Athens showed that journalists are ready for a fight back. The whole of the Greek labour movement has been battling for many months to resist the vicious attacks unleashed on them and their families day after day. Our Greek journalists unions have been part of this battle. They are also turning to their sister unions in Europe to support them reverse these plans that would only decimate their medias.