ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek state television journalists accused the government of censorship and began a series of work stoppages on Tuesday after two well-known presenters were suspended for criticizing a government minister.
Their removal came on the same day an editor went on trial for printing a list of 2,000 Greeks with Swiss bank accounts, prompting outrage at the swift pursuit of journalists in comparison to the sluggish crackdown on suspected tax evaders.
State NET TV yanked Marilena Katsimi and Costas Arvanitis’s morning show after an on-air exchange on Monday in which they said a medical report supported allegations of police torture and asked if the public order minister would resign over it.
Arvanitis said the decision to suspend him and Katsimi appeared to be politically motivated and an attempt to muzzle the media.
“This is not about us anymore, this is about censorship in state TV,” Arvanitis told Reuters in an interview. “Will we be given a list of words and comments that we are allowed to make, from now on?”
State television said the two were suspended for making “unacceptable allusions” about the minister, Nikos Dendias, and for failing to give him a chance to respond to the charges.
Dendias has denied the medical reports showed evidence of torture of protesters during anti-fascist rallies, as alleged by a newspaper. Arvanitis said state TV’s position was wrong.
“When a journalist makes a comment on air or in text, he doesn’t need to have the response of the politician,” he said.
“We would also like to say that we are sorry because yesterday we also commented on the U.S. elections but we didn’t think to call (U.S. President Barack) Obama to get his view on the issue.”
Many in Greece, including opposition parties, have already been angered by a separate decision to quickly arrest “Hot Doc” editor Costas Vaxevanis after he published on Saturday the so-called “Lagarde list” of Greeks with Swiss accounts.
He was arrested on Sunday, and his trial began on Monday before it was immediately adjourned - drawing indignation from some quarters over the rush to go after the journalist rather than those on the list.
The list was given to Greece by French authorities in 2010 for checks on possible tax evasion but testimony by two former ministers in parliament has suggested little was done to investigate those on it since it landed in Greek hands.
Greek authorities say there is no evidence that those on the list have broken the law, but the apparent inaction on the list as it was passed from one senior official to the next has become a symbol of the political class’s reluctance to pursue the wealthy elite while the poor suffer under austerity.
The Athens Bar Association said it was surprised at how quickly authorities moved against Vaxevanis.
“These ‘choices’ send a message to society that democratic institutions in Greece, or whatever remains of them, are applied now to protect the system in power,” it said.
“Instead of focusing on investigating the validity of the so-called Lagarde list ... they focus on the prosecution of a journalist who, in doing his job, dared to publicly reveal information that allegedly is included in the list.”
The list of 2,059 Greek account holders at HSBC in Switzerland features dozens of prominent business figures including a handful of shipping tycoons, companies and two politicians. It also includes a painter, an actress and many listed as architects, doctors, lawyers, and housewives.
It was named after Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund who was the French finance minister when it was handed over. Greek officials have said the list originates from data a former HSBC employee, Herve Falciani, passed on to French authorities.
Writing by Deepa Babington; Editing by Giles Elgood