Journalists protest march in October 2011, photo: Vassilis Vafidis
Three weeks before the general elections under conditions of political instability, escalating tension in the streets caused by neo-Nazi Golden Dawn’s upsurge and the frequent gloomy predictions in the western media about Greece remaining in the euro area, Greek media employees are on strike.
Despite the recent discussion about whether the strike is the most appropriate means of protest in this period of difficulties for the country, the opinions in its favour, however, have prevailed.
GRReporter contacted a member of the journalists’ union in Athens, Elias Kanellis, who said that the decision to strike was not unanimous and political interests were hiding behind it.
Mr. Kanellis, why are Greek journalists on strike today?
The reasons cited by the managing board of the journalists’ union include signing of collective labour agreements, protecting journalists' incomes and jobs and not implementing the memorandum of economic aid.
Therefore, it is a strange strike. It sets a goal that is virtually impossible to achieve. Hundreds of jobs have been lost since last year, many large and small media have been closed too. Few media companies can manage financially and most importantly, continue to pay their employees. Furthermore, there is no media company without reductions in the payment of employees with their consent.
All these things happened in a time when the journalists’ union was provoked by media owners to negotiate the collective labour agreement. The result was that board members were either reluctant to participate in negotiations or laid down wild terms. For example, the union did not agree to not increase the wages in 2009. It insisted on increases despite being aware of what was coming in economic terms. A year ago, the new management was opposed to any cuts, i.e. it insisted on having income today equal to that back in 2009.
These are the demands of the strike today, which as you can see, are completely groundless and unattainable. Media companies are at a greater risk of collapse than other companies are. They have to compete with Internet. Moreover, the state is no longer their sponsor. The majority of Greek media existed due to government protection to them.
Therefore, the way in which today's strike is organized and the conditions it imposes are unattainable. That is why, I think, I have the right to say that it does not seek the protection of labour rights, which it failed to protect the last year anyway. However, when such a strike is announced during the election period, each well-intentioned and not so well-intentioned individual might think that they have a political purpose.
Journalists from Alpha and Sky TV channels were recently threatened that they would be excluded from the journalists’ union because they had worked during previous strikes. How would you comment on that?
Yes, colleagues from Alpha and Sky TV channels were threatened that they will be facing the union's disciplinary council, requesting their exclusion. My personal opinion is that this is totally unacceptable. As we have the right to participate in the strike, so we have the right to work. Personally, I will support my colleagues. As far as I know, such a decision is legally invalid. I think that the journalists’ union would not give up these colleagues because there is still a sense of self-preservation and of keeping the organization unbroken. But this course of action that has come from the past shows that there is a problem within the journalists’ union itself.
The big problem of Greece now is its identity and its future. Elections will largely answer the question of "what will happen tomorrow?" the implications of which are whether the country will continue to be part of the euro zone and the European Union, if it will be able to reorganize and go forward or if it will go back.
I think media should not strike during any election period, because they are thus limiting the ability of all those who want to express their positions to do it as well as democratic dialogue in general. When restricting democratic dialogue, even on the base of trade union rights, you are contributing to the establishment of an anti-democratic deviation.
How do you see the future of the Greek press?
The Greek press will shrink. Jobs will be lost, because it cannot be avoided. A large part of the media, as I said, was based on the laws that were keeping their corporate interests. These are the laws requiring newspapers to publish corporate balance sheets. So, many newspapers survived thanks to this law. Advertisers were obliged to pay a fee in favour of journalists and their insurance funds. All these things are collapsing one by one.
Second, many media companies relied on their close connection with the state: direct financing, publication of materials or the opportunity to receive low-interest bank loans, which they are still owing in many cases and it is not certain if they will ever repay them. This situation is already disintegrating and it cannot continue in a regularly operating economy. So, many companies will disappear, because they will not be financed by the state. This will lead to job losses.