Tania Bozaninou, Journalist, To Vima Newspaper | Greece
JeniTania Bozaninou is a journalist from Greece working since 1997 for To Vima on Sunday, as its Editor-in-Chief. Ms. Bozaninou covers a variety of topics, from diplomacy, foreign affairs to human rights and migration. She has reported from several countries in the Middle East, including Afghanistan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories, and Europe. After completing her studies of Economics at the University of Athens, Tania Bozaninou received an MA in Journalism and Communications Policy from City University in London.
|Event Title: SDGs Conference 2023||Date: Sept 20, 2023|
In the 25 years I have been working for To Vima, in Greece, the last six as an editor-in-chief, I have been in a position to witness the developments in journalism, some good and some bad, but also the undeniable decline in press freedom.
I will begin my speech by giving you two definitions of press freedom, not because I think you do not know what press freedom is, but because I want to show you the evolution of the definition of freedom of the press through the decades. The first one is by George Orwell, who lived in the first half of the 20th century: “Freedom of the press means the freedom to criticize and oppose” – as simple as that.
Definitions of the 21st century, such as the latest one from Reporters Without Borders, describe press freedom as “the ability of journalists to select, produce, and disseminate news independent of political, economic, legal, and social interference and in the absence of threats to their physical and mental safety”. The definition of press freedom had to be broadened in this century in order to encompass the more complex threats that journalists face today.
I come from Greece which ranks in the worst position of all European Union countries concerning press freedom. According to this year’s World Press Freedom Index, which evaluates 180 countries, Greece is in position 107. Unfortunately, my country is not an exception but it is the norm: the environment for journalism is bad in seven out of ten countries in the world today, and satisfactory in only three out of ten.
According to an analysis by UNESCO of data on freedom of expression, around 85% of people live in countries where press freedom has declined over the past five years. Several of the most populous countries have declined from very bad to atrocious, such as China, Egypt, Turkey, and Russia.
The entire American continent, including the United States, no longer has any country where press freedom is deemed good. In the Asia-Pacific, there are some of the worst countries regarding press freedom. In Africa, nearly half of the countries are problematic. Last in the regional ranking is the Middle East and North Africa, which continue to be the world’s most dangerous region for journalists.
Europe continues to be the best continent to work as a journalist, but even there the situation is problematic in some cases. I suppose you have heard of Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta, Jan Kuciak in Slovakia, and Giorgos Karaivaz in Greece, who were all murdered in the last six years because they were doing their job. They were investigating corruption and they were murdered because their investigation displeased the corrupt networks.
Even in Germany, which has a good ranking in the Press Freedom Index, number 21 out of 180, a record number of cases of violence against journalists were recorded last year. In Greece, just in the last five weeks, two journalists were beaten up in public places, one in a restaurant where he was eating with his family and one in a sports stadium. The second one is a colleague of mine. He was physically attacked by a businessman and his bodyguards, who were displeased by one of my colleague’s articles. In both cases, the journalists sustained non-life-threatening injuries. But the point was not to kill them. The point was to threaten all journalists in Greece not to mess with these particular people.
Everything I have mentioned so far concerns the “traditional” threats that curtail press freedom: murder and attacks. Unfortunately, there are many more modern threats that might not harm journalists physically but they do harm press freedom.
For example, in 118 out of the 180 countries in the Press Freedom Index, politicians are involved in massive disinformation or propaganda campaigns, which results in blurring the difference between true and false. This is made possible thanks to new technology. But apart from new technology, those who want to mess with press freedom have many other tools at their disposal. I would like to introduce just two of them.
One is media capture, which describes the way politicians and businessmen collaborate in order to control the media. Instead of a government directly controlling or closing down a newspaper or a TV station because they are too critical of its policies, it colludes with friendly businessmen who buy the newspaper, the website, or the TV station. Under the new owner, the news medium stops being critical of the government, and the journalists who do not comply are simply fired.
Media capture is one of the gravest and most intractable new threats to press freedom around the world. In country after country, collusion between governments and wealthy media owners has become the preferred method of control over the media. In countries such as Turkey, Hungary, and Russia it is already the dominant form of media ownership.
The second new tool used to curtail press freedom I would like to mention to you is SLAPPs, which stands for Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation or, more simply, intimidation lawsuits. These are lawsuits against journalists with the purpose of censoring, intimidating, and silencing them by burdening them with legal costs.
In a typical SLAPP, the plaintiff does not even care to win the lawsuit, because the goal is to exhaust the journalists financially and psychologically with mounting legal costs so that the journalists themselves decide to stop being critical. SLAPPs are a very real threat to press freedom even in places where journalists are generally respected, such as in Western Europe.
The people who want to control an “annoying” journalist are mostly politicians or public servants. They use strategic lawsuits often based on overstrict libel laws or vaguely drafted privacy rules, and more often than not they succeed in silencing their target. This form of harassment is used mainly against reporters and human rights defenders.
I would like to end on a positive note. In an effort to stop such misuse of the legal system, the European Commission drafted an anti-SLAPP directive which will hopefully be adopted next year – things go slowly in the European Union. Canada, Australia, and more than 30 American states, including New York, have anti-SLAPP laws in place.