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Greek media struggles to survive financial crisis

Greek journalist Dimitris Trimis never imagined himself heading Athens’ journalist union. But things changed for the veteran reporter after he found himself locked out of his newspaper when the publisher suddenly declared bankruptcy.

Trimis is among the growing number of journalists grappling with layoffs and sharp salary cuts as the once-thriving media sector is crippled by the financial crisis.

“Ideally, I should be out there reporting on the economic crisis, but instead I am trying to help other journalists, like myself, who have found themselves to be victims of the crisis, said Trimis, who was speaking from the union’s offices in central Athens.

Until recently, this small country of 11 million people was home to a whopping 11 television channels, 71 radio stations, more than 22 national newspapers and countless weekly and monthly magazines.

But since the start of the crisis in 2010, 30 per cent of journalists are now unemployed, and many dailies, such as Apogevmatini and the weekly financial newspaper Kosmos tou Ependyti or Investor’s World, are now out of print due to dwindling circulation.

At the country’s second most widely distributed paper, left-wing Eleftherotypia, 135 journalists, among them Trimis, have not been paid since August and are in immediate danger of losing their jobs after its owner filed for bankruptcy in an Athens court, citing debts of more than 50 million euros (65.3 million dollars).

The situation is similar at smaller newspapers like Avriani, Express, Xenios, Epikinonia, Kitrinomavri Ora, sports daily Filathlos and private television station Alter, where hundreds of journalists have not received paychecks in the last six months.

“Can you imagine 650 people not being paid for the past 12 months?” said Vasilis Tzimtzos, a journalist for Alter.

The journalist union said staff at other private media outlets, such as private television and radio station SKAI and Ethnos newspaper, are under constant pressure to renegotiate labour contracts with pay cuts of up to 30 per cent.

“Our employer is asking us to renegotiate our contract and is demanding that our salaries be slashed by nearly half to 450 euros a month,” a journalist, who asked not to be identified for fear of losing her job from the financial daily Stock Market, told dpa as she waited to meet with legal advisers at the unions’ offices.

Things are no better at state-run media, with workers from NET television and radio as well as the semi-official AMNA news agency hit with layoffs and a 25-per-cent salary cut in line with those in other public sector jobs.

People like Trimis worry that the effects of the crisis on the media could limit the public’s right to information.

“We are seeing a growing trend of journalists now working as freelancers, with very low salaries and no benefits,” he said, adding that the union has offered more than 340,000 euros in aid and food to journalists since the crisis began.

Some observers say the decline of Greece’s media sector is a result of the drastic downturn of private and state advertising revenue, as well as previously easily obtained bank loans.

Others insist that publishers or business consortia, which often used media outlets to pursue their own interests, are no longer providing them with capital.

Journalists at the now decommissioned Apogevmatini newspaper have filed a complaint with tax officials against the newspapers publisher, a businessmen, who reportedly benefited from years of lucrative state construction and road contracts.

“We have issued a complaint against the publisher on suspicion of money laundering and diverting funds into offshore accounts,” said Viki Samaras, one of the 55 journalists who remain unpaid since July 2010.

Until recently, the media also received considerable funding from the government in the form of bribes, often acting as their propaganda puppets, insiders note.

Television and radio broadcasters were also dependent on the government for the renewal of licenses, which were only given on a temporary basis.

“The whole system was made up of this bubble and it has suddenly burst -the journalists were not at fault,” said Trimis.

Despite the bleak outlook, many journalists remain determined to press on with their profession aside from holding news blackouts and strikes.

Employees at Eleftherotypia have managed to print and successfully sell two issues of the paper despite pressure and threats from its publisher. Meanwhile, several other independent publications have popped up in recent months in an effort to provide the public with an accurate account of the financial crisis. -Sapa-dpa