Thodoris Chondrogiannos 16 • 02 • 2021

Public broadcaster ERT censors coverage of Prime Minister’s violation of coronavirus quarantine measures

Thodoris Chondrogiannos
Public broadcaster ERT censors coverage of Prime Minister’s violation of coronavirus quarantine measures
16 • 02 • 2021

In February 2021 it was revealed that public broadcaster ERT had censored news reports of the Prime Minister’s trip to Greek island Ikaria, during which he violated the government’s measures to deal with the pandemic.

On February 8, 2021, a memo from ERT management (the Greek public broadcaster) was leaked. The note explicitly told the producers and journalists of ERT not to broadcast photos and videos of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis that had been taken whilst visiting the house of fellow New Democracy MP, Christodoulos Stefanadis in Ikaria on February 6-7. Mr. Mitsotakis had been photographed in a gathering of 40 other people, in violation of government mandated restrictions aimed at containing the spread of the pandemic.

The statement went on to point out that the news bulletins which were ultimately broadcast by ERT can be compared to prove the intervention. Whilst earlier bulletins showed video of the incident, later bulletins showed only a photo, and then no visuals at all. The incident was played down by almost all the private channels, but as they point out, ERT does not belong to shipowners or private business interests. The demand for institutional and functional independence comes not only from ERT employees, but also from Greek society.

In accordance with paragraph 2 of Article 15 of the Constitution, ERT aims to provide a public broadcasting service and is also “an institution of democracy and culture that contributes to ensuring pluralism, the independent transmission of information and news and the promotion of works of literature and art.” ERT is independent from the state, public and private bodies, and political parties. In the context of this independence, ERT should be able to decide what to broadcast without intervention. The practice of controlling the news that is broadcast with instructions such as those contained in the above memo, (instructions in this case aimed at mitigating criticism of the Prime Minister for violating the pandemic quarantine measures) is an attempt to control the public broadcasting service, in violation of its official mission and constitutional role.

On behalf of ERT, Fotis Kafarakis denied the accusations of censorship, “As the General Director, I must respond to allegations circulating on the internet that the transmission of photos from the Prime Minister’s visit to Ikaria were banned. Here, then, is the controversial photo that was supposedly cut by ERT, as it was broadcast yesterday in the noon bulletin at 12:00, at 15:00 -in which the video was also shown-, but also in the main news bulletin at 21:00 (note: Mr. Kafarakis incorporates three snapshots from the news bulletins, as shown below). I note by the way that ERT was one of the few channels that broadcast this story.”

On February 10, the Journalists Union of Athens Daily Newspapers (ESIEA) issued a statement regarding the incident, denouncing “any attempt to manipulate information.”

Where is the problem with the rule of law?

According to the requirements of its mission, ERT must present the news with objectivity and independence, without influence from public or private authorities, political parties or the government.  

However, in this case, the above principles of providing this constitutionally guaranteed public broadcasting service were violated, after instructions were given by its management on how to cover the story of the violation of the pandemic quarantine measures by the Prime Minister during his trip to Ikaria.

This led to the censorship of journalists and producers, as well as the manipulation of information.

Thodoris Chondrogiannos
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