ATHENS – While the New Democracy government said national security required phone bugging – but denied the use of Predator spyware – some Greek journalists said they believed they were being tracked, and especially anxious in the wake of the unsolved murder of investigative journalist Giorgos Karaivaz.
In a piece for the New York Times, Lauren Markham and Lydia Emmanouilidou, who write about Greece’s ongoing struggles to deal with refugees and migrants, outline their case that journalists are at risk.
It includes accusations of spyware, surveillance, police arresting journalists, violence against journalists and the media’s reliance on government ads to keep them online to prevent criticism of the government.
They also noted a so-called “Fake News” law that was passed to prevent the spread of misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic and anti-vaxxers conspiracy theories, but which could see journalists jailed if the stories cause “concern or fear to the public.” or destroys public confidence in the national economy, the defense capacity of the country or public health”.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said that surveillance is necessary in the national interest where justified, but his government has become the first to move to prevent the sale of spyware.
Government spokesman Ioannis Oikonomou said growing media reports about a so-called spy scandal are not warranted by the reality of what is needed to protect agencies and the public, rejecting the claims of improper supervision.
“Democratic values such as the rule of law, freedom of speech and transparency are at the heart of what the government of Greece stands for,” Oikonomou said. “To suggest otherwise is simply wrong,” he added.
Oikonomou shrugged and told the newspaper “Greece has a vibrant, diverse and open media,” adding, “a cursory look at any newsstand in Greece shows a vast plurality of titles, many of which are held by the government and the public officials to count. every day, and in the strongest terms possible.”
But the story does not disappear even if a parliamentary panel controlled by members of the ruling party that was designed to investigate the surveillance prevented any disclosure of its discussions or results, under penalty of prosecution.
Journalists have complained and told a European Parliament panel investigating the use of spyware that came to Athens and the US Journalists’ Project Committee during a media freedom mission in the country
What is most terrifying for journalists, however, is the shooting of Karaivaz outside his home in Athens in April 2021, with no progress reported in the case and media freedom groups complaining.
GOING AFTER THE MESSENGERS
He was close to the police – who were said to be investigating him for corruption – and underworld gangster figures, but they did not protect him and police said he was killed in a “contract of similar death to the mafia”.
This year two Greek journalists discovered improvised bombs outside their homes, and in early October, American photojournalist Ryan Thomas was physically attacked by riot police while covering a demonstration in the anarchist stronghold of Exarchia in Athens, which was protesting plans for a new Metro top.
Recently, Nikos Pilos, a renowned photojournalist, was arrested while covering the police hunt for a suspect believed to be behind a firebomb attack on the offices of a media company, adding to journalists’ anxiety.
Stavros Malichudis, who specializes in covering migration stories, said he first found out from the left-leaning website EFSYN that EYP was tapping the phones of those doing refugee-related work and discovered that it was one.
“I’m really scared,” he told the newspaper. “When I talked to my mother, to my friends, to my sources, I felt really exposed.” He has largely stopped using his phone, he said.
Since then, the financial journalist Thanasis Koukakis said that his phone was bugged – which EYP admitted after it was found that the service was also listening to the phone calls of the socialist PASOK leader Nikos Androulakis.
He is also a member of the European Parliament and said that analysts also found an attempt to put Predator on his phone. It is made by a North Macedonian company but now operated by Intellexa, which has offices in Athens.
Surveillance against journalists caused Greece to fall from 70th to 108th place in Reporters Without Borders’ latest press freedom report – the lowest ranking in all of Europe, the story noted.
He pointed to the irony of what he said were clamps placed on media freedom in the country that established democracy and now accused of trying to drown it for political purposes, and the disinterest among Greek society.
Eliza Triantafillou, an investigative reporter for Reporters United, who has broken spyware stories, told EU lawmakers during her visit that the main Greek media are distancing themselves from it.
“Two very small media, with very limited resources … And for all the big media – newspapers, radio, TV – the story does not exist,” he said of the efforts of his site and Documento.
According to a recent report by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, only 27 percent of Greeks said they thought they could trust the news in general and only 7 percent said it was free to the influence of the government.
It scared reporters, along with so-called SLAPP suits aimed at strangling them financially to fend off libel charges. Malichudis told the newspaper that, “When I meet someone at the bar and, over a beer, and I say that I’m a journalist, I feel that I need to explain: but I’m good. You know? I’m good