Greek television screens went blank for two hours Tuesday as media professionals protested the sacking of two chat-show presenters who mildly criticized a government minister.
Marilena Katsimi and Kostas Arvanitis were ditched from their talkshow “Morning Information” on state broadcaster ERT, after they discussed a government minister’s failure to act on a threat to sue a British newspaper that had reported allegations that Greek police had tortured anti-fascist demonstrators.
Katsimi observed that public order minister Nikos Dendias had failed to sue the London Guardian newspaper over reports that 15 anti-fascist protestors arrested by police had been subjected to torture because “findings” showed there was “indeed a felony.”
In the discussion that followed between the two presenters, Katsimi said she thought the actions of the minister were “strange,” but doubted he would apologize or resign over his accusations against the paper.
The remarks were characteristic of the informal morning news chatshow, which goes out on ERT’s NET TV.
That did not stop Aimilios Liatsos, ERT’s general director, from swiftly sacking the pair.
He said the remarks were “unacceptable insinuations” against a government minister who was not present to defend himself, and “violated minimum standards of journalistic ethics.”
Greek journalists see it as further evidence that the government in Athens is responding to the worsening economic crisis there by cracking down on the media.
A reporter for ERT channel 3 was removed from a live broadcast last week after stating that there was a “strong police presence” outside a church in Thessaloniki where the Greek prime minister and president were attending a mass.
Journalists at ERT voted to walk out for two hours Tuesday and hold rolling 24 hour strikes until the two presenters are re-instated.
In an interview with The Guardian, Katsimi said she and her colleague had been dropped from the show within an hour of the incident.
“The style of the program is very informal. It is a morning conversation over a cup of coffee, and it is very popular with high ratings,” she told the paper.
“We have been critical of ministers in the past from all parties, and there have been complaints to the management before, but this is new. This is a threat to public and private media.”
The incident comes as another Greek journalist faces prosecution for revealing a list of wealthy Greeks with Swiss bank accounts.
Magazine editor Kostas Vaxevanis went on trial in Athens Monday after publishing a list of 2,000 Greeks with Swiss bank accounts the government has failed to investigate for tax evasion.
The list was passed to the Greek government two years ago by Christine Lagarde, then French finance minister and now head of the International Monetary Fund. It had been seized from a former HSBC bank employee in Geneva, who was suspected of trying to sell it.
The list, which names prominent politicians, artists and business people, was published without details of the size of the account holdings.
Vaxevanis, who has been charged under Greek data protection laws, defended his action saying: “I was doing my job in the name of the public interest. Journalism is revealing the truth when everyone else is trying to hide it.”