Soon after being propelled to international fame for publishing the Lagarde list and facing prosecution for it, journalist Costas Vaxevanis wrote in an opinion piece that “democracy is like a bicycle.” As Greek MPs debated the merits of which politician to probe in connection with the handling of the depositors list for 14 hours on Thursday, democracy began to look more like a unicycle, ridden by a giant clown.
There have been many jaw-dropping moments in Parliament since this crisis began. For instance, who can forget becoming part of a parallel universe as the world waited for George Papandreou to receive a vote of confidence in late 2011 just so he could resign a few days later? Votes on midterm fiscal plans, bailout packages and new austerity measures – Greece has seen it all over the past few years. But none of those moments could match the sheer futile hysteria of Thursday’s debate.
The acquittal of journalist Costas Vaxevanis has been hailed by some as a victory for press freedom in Greece. It is certainly a success for Vaxevanis and the Hot Doc magazine he edits, and goes some way to vindicating his decision to publish a list of some 2,000 Greeks holding accounts at the Geneva branch of HSBC. Whether it strikes a decisive blow in favor of press freedom in Greece is open to debate.
The unusual amount of international attention this story has received and the prominence that some media around the world have afforded it has led to dust being kicked over the nuances involved. Context has suffered as much of the coverage fed the understandable human urge to look for heroes and villains. Goodness knows we have been short of heroes in Greece. Goodness knows we have had more than our fair share of villains.
However, the reality is that this story is not about a crusading journalist who blew a corruption scandal wide open. It is more complex than that. It is the story of an incompetent and, to a large extent, compromised system that was unable or unwilling to carry out one of the many basic functions it often fails to fulfill: to check if its citizens were cheating. Insult was added to injury when officials produced pathetic excuses to explain their failures. Addressing this problem will take much more than a magazine article. It requires a prolonged, consistent effort from the media and citizens to ensure failing institutions finally fulfill their designated role. If the media instead attempts to fill the position of these institutions, rather than targeting the vested interests that prevent their proper functioning, the situation will only be made worse.
Posted in Greece, Greek politics, Media
Tagged Corruption, Greece, Greek media, Hot Doc, Kostas Vaxevanis, Lagarde list, oligarchs, press freedom, structural reforms, tax evasion
“News is something somebody doesn’t want printed, everything else is advertising,” one of the USA’s most famous publisher’s, William Randolph Hearst, said. The incompetence and wilful neglect that Greek authorities have shown over the last few years with regards to investigating a list of Greeks with large amounts deposited in the Geneva branch of HSBC suggests that it contains information some people don’t want to be printed.
Journalist Costas Vaxevanis and his Hot Doc magazine have decided to test this theory by publishing the list of names supposedly on the CD given to the Greek government by French officials in 2010. That the details provided on the CD were not investigated for more than two years is a scandal. It is compounded by the fact that two finance ministers – Giorgos Papaconstantinou and Evangelos Venizelos – failed to ensure that the data was utilized and that two heads of the financial crimes squad (SDOE) – Yiannis Diotis and Yiannis Kapeleris – failed to ascertain whether there were any tax evaders on the list.