In its letter to the Speaker of the Hellenic Parliament, the Parliamentary Group of SYRIZA demands that the repeated acts of public opinion manipulation by the Mitsotakis government be investigated.

The Parliamentary Group of SYRIZA, in accordance with the right bestowed upon the opposition following the latest constitutional amendment (pursuant to article 68 par. 2 of the Constitution and article 144 par. 5 of the Standing Orders of the Hellenic Parliament), calls today for the establishment of a parliamentary investigation committee to assess the repeated acts of public opinion manipulation attempted by the government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis through the money of the Greek taxpayers, who themselves were subject to said manipulation.

In particular, it calls for the investigation of the criteria according to which about €42 million were distributed to certain media outlets, through the 1st and the 2nd Petsas list, the failed vaccination campaign of the Ministry of Health, the funding of EnterpriseGreece for the government’s international promotion campaign, as well as the public financing of the owner of the polling company OpinionPoll, the polling results of which the government majority, within the Special Committee on Institutions and Transparency of the Parliament, has refused to inspect, despite the relevant request and the unarguable evidence provided by the official opposition.

“Following the corruption scandal that shook up Austria, where it was revealed that Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who just a few months ago was awarded the Media Freedom prize with a special honoring speech by Mr. Mitsotakis, was secretly financing government-affiliated media in order to receive positive articles and favorable polls in return, and especially following his forced resignation, the contempt that the European public opinion and institutions show towards such practices becomes evident once again ” SYRIZA-Progressive Alliance stresses.

The complete letter to the Speaker of the Hellenic Parliament, K. Tassoulas

Athens, October 11, 2021

Proposal for the establishment of an investigation committee to investigate the political manipulation of public opinion, the trivialization of institutions and the squandering of public funds. (articles 68 par. 2 of the Constitution and 144 par. 5 item b of the Rules of Procedure of the Standing Orders of the Hellenic Parliament)

The resignation of Sebastian Kurz as Austrian Chancellor, following the investigation by the judicial authorities of the allegations of a financing scandal, in which the government is reported to have distributed €1 million to certain media outlets in exchange for laudatory articles and fabricated polls, is unfortunately reminiscent of the practices exercised today in Greece by his kindred spirit, K. Mitsotakis.

At the outbreak of the pandemic, the Greek Prime Minister, on the grounds of the existing ”emergency situation”, grabbed the chance to “generously” bestow unprecedented amounts of funding to the media – about €42 million – notably through “fast track” procedures and completely opaque processes, without objective, non-political criteria (direct award contracts, without publicity, invitations for bids lasting only a few days, etc.).

In particular, the Joint Ministerial Decisions no. 227/2020 (Government Gazette BD 948 / 21-03-2020) and no. 337/2020 (Government Gazette BD 1583 / 25-04-2020) provided for a total expenditure of €20 million for communication and information services to the citizens, concerning the protection of public health against the new coronavirus (“Petsas List No1”). This was followed by the Joint Ministerial Decision no. 840/2020 (Government Gazette BD 4754 / 27-10-2020), which also concerned the provision of communication and information services to the citizens for the aforementioned purpose, providing for an expenditure of €2 million (“Petsas List No2”). Subsequently, the no. GOP oik.83285 – 24/12/2020 Decision of the Minister of Health Mr. V. Kikilias, provided for an expenditure of €18.5 million for the provision of communication services to the citizens regarding the prompt vaccination against COVID-19, with disappointing, as it turned out, results. After being established, the above method was further applied by the government to other sections of public policy (for example, the recent signing of a € 1 million contract with ENTERPRISE GREECE for the provision of planning services, strategy implementation, and management of Greece’s relations with the International Media).

As a direct consequence of the above, throughout this whole period the criticism of the country’s dominant media towards the government was directly related to their financial support, in the midst of the pandemic and the shrinking of their advertising revenues, leading to their constant attempt to create a positive image for the Prime Minister personally, and for his government as a whole.

The above phenomena are not only of particular financial interest, but also greatly concern politics and especially democracy. The objective information of the citizens, investigative journalism and constructive criticism of the government are the soul of democracy, and whoever opposes these vehemently opposes democracy as well. The government, indeed, for a long time, and even today, has been incessantly planning and executing a Press-manipulation strategy, in the context of which hefty packages of funding and state advertisement are used as a weapon against the voices of opposition media and as a reward for friendly relations with the government or conveniently silent journalistic pens. It is no coincidence that the Greek government’s example is mentioned separately in studies on the political utilization of the pandemic for the control of the media (see for example the relevant research by the International Press Institute, https://ipi.media/wp-content/uploads/2020/ 12 / IPI-FNF-Monitoring-Report-Media-Freedom-in-Europe-in-the-Shadow-of-Covid-19-Dec11.pdf).

A direct result of the government’s practices of manipulation and coercion, is that the media representation of the opposition, official and minor, and their activities are limited to restricted, marginalized and short-lived publicity or perfunctory reports. Media reports on noteworthy political interventions, important social phenomena, protests and mobilizations of major political interest are definitely scrappy. The government’s mistakes, contradictions, and delays in dealing with the pandemic, as well as their dire consequences for the Greek citizens were heavily ignored. The opposition’s proposals for the reinforcement of the National Healthcare Service and support services to the victims were not sufficiently promoted. There were no complaints about the rampant scale of corruption, especially in the section of sanitary supplies. There was an absence of reports on government responsibilities in relation to national disasters, such as the summer wildfires. All of this just so that the perfect image of Mr. Mitsotakis is not tarnished.

It is beyond any doubt that the government is building its political image by spending public money and that it is constructing a framework for imposing specific political opinions on Greek citizens. The cycle of manipulation, which opens with the financing of the media, closes with the deception of the citizens regarding the development of political tendencies. For this exact purpose, the funds of the state coffers are used once again and public money is directed to custom fabricated polls. A relatively recent and noteworthy example is that of the polling company “’OpinionPoll”, whose owner, while conducting polls ordered by the media, is also undertaking “projects” and is being paid by GRNET SA (National Infrastructures for Research and Technology). Through the use of such practices, the government eventually manages to covertly order polls through third parties, which act as its proxies, to friendly polling companies, completely disregarding any notion of ethics, reliability, and scientific deontology.

SYRIZA has reacted to this situation from the very beginning, both institutionally and politically. At every possible opportunity, we have repeatedly denounced these practices and brought them into Parliament and to the public eye. Specifically, on 17/12/2020, on the occasion of the President of the Court of Audit being present in the Parliament, the Leader of the Official Opposition requested, in his letter to the Speaker of the Parliament, that the process of media financing by the government under the pretext of the pandemic become a separate object of auditing by the Supreme Financial Court of the country. Back then, the MPs of the governing party stood together and frantically asked for the rejection of our request. Moreover, the Official Opposition requested that practices like those of the aforementioned poll company, especially concerning the way the polls are conducted and the way the electoral tendencies are presented, and even the stance of the public opinion on the internal processes of opposition parties, are brought and discussed in the Parliament, in the Committee on Institutions and Transparency, in accordance with the Standing Orders of the Hellenic Parliament and Law 3603/2007. In July 2021, the governing majority did not even allow the issue to be discussed in the above committee, attempting to close it in a hurry – or so they thought.

Public media are a social good and their objectivity is a prerequisite for democracy. The governing majority can not continue to hide the institutional paradox that is maintained due to their own responsibility in our country, especially since this example is already denounced and looked down upon in other European countries. The opposition has an obligation to exercise one of the extraordinary rights granted to it after the recent constitutional amendment.

In light of all the above, we propose the establishment of an Investigation Committee, according to article 68 par. 2 of the Constitution and article 144 par. 5 item b΄ and following of the Standing Orders of the Hellenic Parliament, to investigate:

⦁ all instances of outsourcing of communication and information services, carried out in the context of the implementation of the campaign for the protection of public health, of measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and the participation of citizens in the vaccination program, without respecting the principles of transparency and without objective criteria, namely the “Petsas List No1”, the “Petsas List No2”, the vaccination campaign of the Ministry of Health, as well as the above-mentioned assignment to ENTERPRISE GREECE.

⦁ any instance of public money distribution by the government to the polling company “Opinion Poll”, which conducts polls beyond any ethics with the sole purpose of serving the political goals of the government and manipulating citizens, as well as the existence of other polling companies whose owners conduct parallel activities, through which they directly or indirectly receive funding from the Greek State and the wider public sector.

The findings of the committee, along with all the collected evidence, will be forwarded to the competent authorities for further evaluation.

Since this proposal is signed by the required number of MPs (according to article 68 par. 2 of the Constitution and article 144 par. 5 of the Standing Orders of the Hellenic Parliament) and since the required conditions are met, we request that the Plenary Session of the Hellenic Parliament be convened in order to make a decision on the establishment of an Investigation Committee with the proposed, as analyzed above, investigation topics”.