The fake news industry and the independence of the judicial system in Greece and Poland

Reading some of the major Western newspapers in the past few years and even more so in the past few months, it is easy to believe that the Greek government has unleashed a relentless attack on the judicial system in order to be able to manipulate it. Actually, in several articles, Greece is compared to Poland, whose government has been accused by European Union institutions of threatening the rule of law (!) in the country.

It is worth noting that recently, during the meeting of the EU General Affairs Council, Warsaw came under strong criticism, even by First Vice-President of the Commission Frans Timmermanns. Poland adamantly rejects any such criticism.

It is quite obvious that Greece and Poland differ as much as night and day do. Therefore, all attempts to construct the image of an authoritarian government in Greece that seeks to control Justice, one of the most important institutional pillars of the Republic, can only be understood under the light of an especially sinister defamation campaign. This is indeed another cheap campaign of disinformation, just another by-product of the fake news industry, which has been working intensively against Greece since the economic crisis broke out in 2010 to this very date.

Wicked sensitivities

The main “argument” of all those media outlets seeking to attack Greece, at a time during which the country is, slowly but steadily, seeing light at the end of the tunnel of the fiscal crisis, is the case of Mr. Andreas Georgiou, head of the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) in 2010, when Greece was introduced to the constellation of memorandums; a person that was put on the stand by a significant portion of politicians hailing from all political parties for altering important data during a very critical period, but also that had several supporters both from the government of George Papandreou as well as from other circles both within and outside Greece.

From this point of view, however, until his “sanctification” by several large international media outlets, the distance is enormous. When the Greek Justice started investigating his case, and even more so, when charges were brought against him, there was a wild-storm of protests from newspapers such as the British Financial Times, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), Politico, etc.

These media outlets, as everything seems to point, do not approach the subject any objectivity imposed by journalistic ethics, but on the contrary, they behave as if they have been contracted to directly defend him no matter what. Why are they being so sensitive about it?

For example, last year, the German newspaper FAZ, in two of its articles, dated 17-08-2016 and 25-08-2016, instead of producing unbiased reports and articles on the facts of the case, tried to put forward an image of a government trying to manipulate the Greek judicial system. It wrote that: “”The populist left-wing government of Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, has once again demonstrated how much it systematically seeks to seize all positions of power in the country, including the ever more government-controlled judicial system.”

The attacks continued this year, with FT and FAZ taking the lead again. The Financial Times, from June to September 2017, produced at least six large and pointed reports on the “Georgiou case” before and during the court proceedings. The title of one of these reports (6-6-2017) gave out the newspaper’s “perception” of the entire case: “The former head of ELSTAT is being turned into a scapegoat in order to cover political failures.” But, even if that’s the case, why are they trying to influence the decisions of the Greek judicial system? In the end who is intervening in order to manipulate it, the Greek government or the various circles inside and outside Greece? The criticisms, of course, reached a climax during this past August, with Politico entering the forum of criticism by producing an article (3-8-2017) stating that “questions are being raised with regards to the judicial system after the conviction of Mr. Georgiou.”

The icing on the cake was the article published by the Financial Times (9 – 8 – 2017), entitled “Judicial Decision Causes Fears for the Rule of Law in Greece.” Kerin Hope, the FT correspondent in Athens, tried to combine the “Georgiou case”, which is undoubtedly serious for Greece, with a minor legal dispute between the current Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Nikos Kotzias, with a small Athenian magazine, a case concerning slanderous defamation against him, which began in 2010, with the sentencing from the court of first instance on the case against the magazine being delivered in 2013. That is, well before he even became a minister of state. By presenting these two “arguments”, the newspaper, by selling fake news, tried to convince that the independence of Justice in Greece is threatened. The British newspaper either has no knowledge of the shameful attacks and interventions made by previous governments at the expense of the Greek judicial system or, if is aware, is intentionally keeping them covered up and out of the public sphere.

Unacceptable comparisons

The Financial Times, though, made another serious blunder. They compared Greece to Poland and Hungary. Even though they make these comparisons – which are in effect quite irrelevant – it would be prudent for us to examine what the EU has accused Poland of and what is the response from Warsaw.

Recently, at the end of September, Frans Timmermans informed for a second time within the span of four months, the General Affairs Council (GAC) on the condition of the judicial system in the country in question. He claimed that Brussels has gathered sufficient evidence that a constant systemic threat against the judicial system and the rule of law (!) exists in Poland. He further noted that a constitutional crisis is under way, with the judges of the Constitutional Court stating that the “reform process” attempted by the Polish government is unconstitutional, and with the government withholding the publication of any relevant negative rulings on the matter – nor decisions regarding the dismissal of Constitutional Court judges and the illegal and irregular appointment of new judges, the undermining of the prestige of the Constitutional Court as protector of the Constitution, the failure to apply or publish its decisions. As well as, huge problems with regards to its operation due to new government measures.

If that is the case, then these events have caused great upheaval and have the effects of an “earthquake” with regards to the operation of the judicial system in Poland. Has something similar taken place in Greece and we failed to notice it? Moreover, how are these so-called “objective” newspapers able to parallel Greece with Poland?

If this is not done under false pretenses, a usual occurrence since the beginning of the crisis, targeting the Greek people and directly serving the interests of the country’s “lenders”, they should – at least – have the courage to apologize.

It is noteworthy, that the EU Commission on the 26th of July 2017, addressed a third recommendation to Poland concerning the lack of independent and legitimate control regarding constitutional matters in the country. Furthermore, it also called upon Warsaw to refrain from taking any measures that would apply pressure on members of the Supreme Court to retire. Additionally, according to statements made during the General Affairs Council (GAC), and despite the invitations sent out by Timmermans, on the 28th of July 2017, to enter into a dialogue with Brussels, Warsaw did not provide a response, thus no meeting between the two sides took place.

For its part, however, Poland claims that it fully respects the rule of law and that there is no disagreement with the Commission, while it states that “judicial reform” is part of the implementation process of pre-election commitments made by the current government and of the popular demand for the removal of judges serving in the Constitutional Court. Finally, the Polish government denies the existence of a “systemic threat” to the rule of law in the country, while arguing that the measures that it is currently implementing will contribute to the speedier administration of justice. During the last General Affairs Council (GAC), Hungary stood by the side of Poland and provided ample political support. For their part, Germany and the Netherlands were particularly critical, with the former expressing its deep concern about the situation in the country and calling on the Polish Government to take note of the Commission’s recommendations.

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