Now that the Greeks election is over, it’s worth revisiting one of the worst incidents involving journalists, the violent attack by the Far-Right spokesperson and MP Elia Kassidiaris from the Chrisi Avgi, or Golden Dawn, party on other politicians during a live TV programme.
The attack shocked the Greek nation and beyond when Kassidiaris stood up during a TV ANT1 morning show and threw a glass a water at Syriza party MP Elena Dourou then turned to Communist party MP Liana Kanelli and slapped her three times on the face.
However shocking it was to see such an incident live on TV, the behaviour of its spokesperson should be no surprise as it fits perfectly with the pre-election mantras of Golden Dawn which can only be described as fascist.
High unemployment, the loss of economic sovereignty and the dismantling of the welfare state have created a toxic mix that allowed Golden Dawn to thrive.
Their frequent open attacks on migrants in the streets and the electoral promise to create private security companies and apply for gun licences gave party thugs a violent image that captured the imagination of a fringe of a demolarised Greek society.
Its leader, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, was proposing an end to the clear separation of church and state, the reinstatement of the capital punishment for drug dealing, a ban of trade unions, and several proposals that contravened the most fundamental rules of democracy and human rights.
He led a hate campaign against journalists in particular by lambasting them repeatedly on air accusing them of conspiracy. This encouraged his party thugs to target journalists and they did at every opportunity. On May 28th, as all media took strike action in Greece, a group of motorcyclists wearing Chrisi Avgi insignia stormed a strikers’ rally outside the ministry of labour.
Our union in Greece, the Journalists’ Union of Athens Daily Newspaper condemned the TV incident and the behaviour of Golden Dawn’s spokesperson which it calls “a bomb ready to blow up democracy’s foundations”. The union said “The essence of democracy entails respect for dialogue and the right to disagree. Spreading hate, defending race discrimination, the ‘pure race’ and practicing violent acts on their behalf the way Chrysi Avgi does, are only featured in totalitarian regimes… Once more we have proof of Chrysi Avgi not being a political party that respects democratic rule but an organization of thugs, ready to take matters into their hands.”
The incident raises important questions for journalists – should they give a platform to any organisation that peddles hate speech and acts violently against journalists and any other group it sees as opponents?
Such debates have already taken place in some of our unions like the National Union of Journalists in the UK. At several of their congresses, delegates argued over whether to “give a platform to fascists”. On one side there are those who argue that if journalists were to deny fascists a platform this would contradict the union’s position on free speech and gives the green light for anybody to deny journalists their right to free expression. The other side says that fascist parties have stepped out of consensus politics and are a threat to democracy. In practice they use parliamentary politics to give a veneer of legitimacy to hate speech and to get away with violence. These parties don’t deserve to be given a platform and treated as other democratic organisations.
What both sides agree on is that their union should give unconditional full support to any of its members who refuse an assignment to interview members of fascist organisations or carry their material. The debate tilted in favour of the union promoting guidelines among journalists that declare boldly that “the growth of facist parties pose a threat to democracy, the rights of trade union organisarions, a free trade and the development of social harmony”.
The union advises its members not to “sensationalise by reports, photographs, film or presentation the activities of racist organisations; to seek to publish or broadcast material exposing the myths and lies of racist organisations and their anti-social behaviour; not to allow the letters column or 'phone-in' programmes to be used to spread racial hatred in whatever guise; and, when interviewing representatives of racist organisations or reporting meetings or statements or claims, to carefully check all reports for accuracy and seek rebutting or opposing comments, and expose the antisocial of their views.”
Within the IFJ the NUJ joined forces throughout the 1990s with its sister unions in the Netherlands, Belgium and Finland to set up the International Media Working Group Against Racism and Xenophobia which became one of the most active structures in the IFJ. Its most important contribution was the drafting of guidelines for everyday reporting and suggestions for reporters on how to deal with assignments that involve racist or extreme right wing groups that promote racism and intolerance.
Twenty years later the incident at TV ANT 1 is a reminder that all these issues have not gone away and need revisiting again and these structures dusted up and put back to work.