Thursday, December 09, 2010
Reporting in Greece getting tougher than ever.
As the economic crisis in Greece bites ever harder the number of groups wishing to protest against government policies has also grown and with it the number of situations in which the police have been used . With this has come a worrying trend of police attacks on photographers and others covering the demonstrations and marches. The latest incident happened on Monday when Demotix photographer, Maxime Gyselinck was attacked by riot police during demonstrations in Athens to commemorate the anniversary of the police killing of Greek teenager, Alexandros Grigoropoulos in 2008. Despite telling the officer that he was a photojournlist he had his arm broken in the assault. Fellow photographer Vangelis Patsialos was also assualted when he tried to help Gyselinck.
This is just the latest in a series of incidents of police violence against photographers and camera operators in Greece. Just three weeks ago Aris Messinis was punched repeatedly by a motorcycle officer who he had photographed during a march. (The reporter made a note of the number plate of the motorbike the officer was riding and it also features in a law suits for a violent police raid on a legal aid centre for immigrants in Athens according to independent news service TVXS). In October camermen and photographers were needlessly attacked and tear gassed during a police operation to clear protesting employees from the Acropolis (see video here).
And the list goes on, including many of the photoraphers who are part of the Demotix photography agency who have also been kicked, hit, and abused by police officers during the last year. In addition to running the risk of being hit by flying rocks, bottles or having your equipment smashed by irate rioters photojournalists in Greece also have to calculate the possibilities of being attacked by the police when covering any kind of violent confrontation.
Nor are many of these incidents simply over reaction by riot police units in the thick of the action but often happen after the violence has subsided and there are no possible excuses for mistaking a photographer for a rioting teenager.
I, too was also put in hospital with a dislocated shoulder in 2007 when riot police attacked me for taking pictures of them during a peaceful march and I have lost count of the number of times I have been threatened by individual officers when covering events here in Thessaloniki.
The root of the problem is that the police force (or ELAS as it is known in Greek) operates as if it were above the law and officers know that whatever legal action is taken by the victims of their violence colleagues and superiors will be more than willing to cover for them in the unlikely event of the case reaching court. As the documentary by Reportage Xoris Synora (Reporting Without Borders) on the killing of Grigoropoulos, shot by a police officer in 2008 shows they will even go as far as perjury and alteration of evidence in order to protect their own .
It's little wonder then that Greece dropped 35 places to 70th position (the lowest in the EU) in the Press Freedom Index in 2010. The organisation reported that the precipitous decline in press freedom in Greece was in large part to a series of attacks on reporter which went unpunished.
As times get harder and the government uses the police more and more to contain discontent and frustration felt by Greeks the chances are that such cases on abuse of authority will multiply so making the job of anyone wanting to cover anything other than press conferences and political party photo-ops even more difficult.
Yesterday (Sunday, December 12th) another reporter was attacked while covering a story in Kretea. A presenter for Alter TV news was beaten about the head by a member of the MAT (Greek riot police) while covering protests by inhabitants of the area over the construction of a new rubbish dump.