Athens. The next time a scandal about Greece’s financial woes is broken by the country’s domestic press, spare a thought for the reporter who wrote it.
Greece’s once proliferating media sector has been hobbled by the ongoing financial crisis. Where new publications were often debuting, today the industry is grappling with layoffs, dwindling circulation and viewership and sharp pay cuts.
In a country of just 11 million people, Greeks until recently enjoyed a plethora of outlets, with about 10 news channels, more than 15 newspapers and even more monthly magazines.
But since the start of the financial crisis in 2010, many publications have found themselves on the ropes and two dailies have shuttered — Apogevmatini and To Vima — in addition to financial weekly Kosmos tou Ependyti.
The historic left-leaning Eleftherotypia is near bankruptcy, and workers at private television station Alter have gone months without pay.
In 2011, losses at major media groups reached 108 million euros ($142 million), while newspaper sales drooped between nine and 20 percent, following a drop of 25 to 30 percent in 2010.
Media watchers point to the drying up of state and private advertising revenue, as well as of previously easily-obtained bank loans.
“Employers aren’t investing and bank credits they previously benefitted from have been diverted into personal accounts,” said Dimitris Trimis, head of the Athens journalists union and a former Eleftherotypia writer.
“This leads to asphyxiation and a massacre in the profession, together with the undermining of the public’s right to information,” he said.
Journalists’ union Poesy says it has seen 4,000 layoffs and remaining staff are under constant pressure to renegotiate labor contracts with pay cuts of up to 30 percent.
Things are no better in the publicly-funded media, with workers from three channels at Net Television, as well as the semi-official Ana news agency, hit with 25 percent salary cuts and layoffs, in line with those in other public jobs.
At Athens’s Alter TV, journalists haven’t been paid for 10 months, while workers at Eleftherotypia are five months in arrears.
Beyond the immediate effects of dried-up credit, observers also point to a more underhand form of funding until recently enjoyed by the Greek media.
It’s an open secret in Greece that the government sometimes provided kick-backs to media outlets in return for the soft-pedalling of contentious issues.
“For years, we’ve been propping up this bubble,” government spokesman Pantelis Kapsis recently said in a radio interview.
“Journalists aren’t responsible, but rather the whole political and media system,” he said.
Broadcast outlets are also somewhat dependent on the government for the renewal of licences, which are only awarded on a temporary basis.
“Audiovisual broadcast licences continue to be temporary and rules for distributing advertising are foggy,” said Athens University media professor Manolis Hairetakis.
Over the past two years, journalists have staged several strikes including one on Jan. 17-18 that kept Greeks in the dark about crucial government debt negotiations.
Mobilization would have been greater still were it not for opposition from journalists who hold jobs in more than one outlet, including positions in ministry press offices, unionists say.
“The media are directly controlled by the government,” Hairetakis charged. “But since the collapse of the economy, the decline in advertising and a 10 percent drop in demand, the bubble has become obvious.”
“The people and the economy can no longer support dozens of money-losing media outlets, Kapsis said.