The resignation of Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz amid a corruption probe has sparked a political row in Greece as main opposition SYRIZA accused the government of blocking scrutiny efforts in public opinion polls published in Greek media.
On Sunday, SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras unleashed an attack on the government claiming that the government majority in the parliamentary Committee on Institutions and Transparency has been blocking efforts by opposition MPs to place under scrutiny what he alleges are politicized opinion polls published in Greek media, polls that blatantly violate all limits of credibility and common sense.”
“Kurtz is being investigated and resigning for approximately 1 million euros while more than 30 million euros of public money has already been given to the Greek media by [Prime Minister Kyriakos] Mitsotakis, and everything is fine,” Tsipras said.
He said further that “Kurtz’s resignation is a sign that the checks and balances work in Austria while deafening silence prevails in Greece.”
Government spokesman Yiannis Oikonomou reportedly responded to Tsipras’ criticism saying that SYRIZA’s leader should “refresh his memory” on politicized opinion polls by looking at publications friendly to his own party. Oikonomou attached a headline published a few weeks before the July 2019 elections to SYRIZA which featured an opinion poll suggesting that SYRIZA was polling much closer to the eventual winner New Democracy than the eventual 8.5% difference on election night.
Head of SYRIZA EP delegation, Vice President of the European Parliament, Dimitris Papadimoulis, recalled that PM Mitsotakis had held the speech and handed over to Kurz an Award for Press Freedom.
“Kurz resigned because he was giving public money to influence polls. Double irony: Greece is on 24th position on issues of media freedom, the awarded is accussed of corruptuin,” Papadimoulis posted on a tweet:
But the issue has a …long tail.
Upon Kurz’s resignation, many Greeks recalled the so-called “Petsas-List” that granted mostly government friendly media 20 million euros to display slogans urging citizens to “stay at home” in the first wave of the coronavirus.
The controversial funding with public money riggered an outrage with critics claiming that such health advertising should be free of charge.
What follows was an extraordinary positive reporting about the government actions by mainstream media in the country. On lifestyle website there were several posts on the elegance of the Prime Minister and his wife.
The much less funding of government critical media outlets had the issue reach Media Transparency centers in Europe.
“Several critical media outlets have been excluded from the governmental financial support provided through a €20 million public health advertising campaign during the COVID-19 crisis.
The Media Freedom Rapid Response calls for transparency and objectivity in the distribution of public advertisement funds to media,” the media Freedom center wrote in a letter to then government spokesman Stelios Petsas.
The International Press Institute noted that the Covid-19 crisis highlighted the media problem in Greece.
“The highly partisan way in which funds were distributed by the Greek government during the pandemic, reveals that freedom of the press is in a dire state in the country,” the IPI noted in an article, among others.
Sebastian Kurz stepped down after pressure triggered by a corruption scandal and an inquiry into allegations that he used government money to ensure positive coverage in a tabloid newspaper.