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  • Writer's pictureRory O'Keeffe, Koraki

CNN wastes opportunity to speak to Mitarachis

We have low – effectively zero – expectations of the extremely limited Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachis.

But when this is the standard of its government, a country needs its journalists to stand up and do their jobs. Yesterday, CNN Greece failed to do theirs.

Given the opportunity to ask the minister searching questions, they instead allowed him to lie, and presented those lies as if they were facts.

CNN Greece has dragged the Greek media even deeper into disrepute by carrying out with Greece’s Migration Minister Notis Mitarachis an exercise which is less an interview than a hagiography.

It of course very common for Greek media to invite members of the country’s government to speak on the topic of their choice, without questioning anything they say, and then publish the results as if they were fact. This is done by the most basic right-wing rabble rousers all the way up to and including the respected but staunchly pro-Nea Dimokratia Kathimerini.

But CNN Greece is part on a widely-respected and admired international news organisation.

It has issued this interview the day after Spiegel (Germany) has published in full the OLAF report on Frontex which shows that the Greek government – and Mitarachis as its Migration Minister – has consistently and systematically broken international law by pushing thousands of people back (as well as robbing them, assaulting and sexually assaulting many, and killing some) in the last three years.

It could have asked about this, about pushbacks, about the killing of a five-year-old girl on an Evros islet Mitarachis literally lied about the status of to try to save his own skin, about the fact that the family of the girl, Maria, who was killed, and who Mitarachis claimed did not even exist, are now petitioning the Greek authorities to exhume her so she can be properly buried.

Instead, it asked nothing. It simply allowed Mitarachis on camera, to lie.

And he did lie.

He repeated his claim that ‘defending Greece’s borders’ (no interviewer asked whether it is legal to ‘defend one’s borders’ from people hoping to apply for asylum. A shame, because it is not) had reduced the numbers of people to have died in the Aegean from ‘800 in 2015 and 450 in 2016’ to ten so far this year.

This lie has been exposed as entirely false twice by us, and while we do not demand that journalists at CNN Greece must read everything we write (though they would be considerably better informed if they did), we must point out that the first time, our work was carried by EFSYN and the second by several agencies including ECRE. Surely it cannot be too much to ask that a reporter does even the bare minimum of research before an interview? And then challenges the open lies their interviewee tells on air?

So, as we noted, the 1,240 people who died in 2015-16 (in fact, 799 people died in 2015 and 441 in 2016) were out of a total of 1,030,173 who reached Greece in the same period: one in every 835 people who tried to reach Greece, died.

In 2020-21, the first two full years for which Mitarachis was in control of Greece’s arrivals ‘policy’, 14,450 people arrived in Greece. In the same period, 217 people were killed. One in 66.5 people who tried to reach Greece died.

But even if we were to focus solely on this year, even by 21 September 2022, more than 11 times more people than the ‘ten’ Mitarachis claimed, had died attempting to reach Greece: 114 people had died from 1 January to 21 September.

Mitarachis is lying about the ‘safety’ he claims to have increased: the journeys are statistically 12 times more dangerous under his ‘border guard’ policy than previously. And more than 11 times more people have died than he claimed.

This information is out there. It is easy to find. And it has been published by Greek media and international information services.

CNN Greece chose to say nothing as this lie was told. They allowed it to stand as if it were true, misinforming the Greek public.

He repeated claims that the Turkish government was ‘instrumentalising migration’, an argument which, as we have pointed out, all the available evidence suggests is untrue, not least because there are too few people in Türkiye who might wish to apply for asylum in the EU to even inconvenience the bloc, and because only a tiny proportion even of that number of people has attempted to reach the EU this year.

CNN Greece asked no questions.

He sought to characterise an extended wall at the Evros border and spending another €3.7m on border surveillance (having spent €15m just last year) to prevent people entering Greece, as ‘guarding our borders’.

CNN Greece did not ask whether our borders need guarding from vulnerable men, women and children seeking safe places to live, learn and work in the midst of a looming demographic crisis threatening to end Greece as a country, and certainly did not ask whether such a thing is legal. This is a shame, because it is not.

He claimed that the Turkish government was failing to fulfil its part of the EU-Turkey Statement and that it ‘does not guard its borders correctly’.

CNN Greece did not ask it whether in fact preventing people from leaving a country was a breach of their fundamental human rights and of international law (it is) or how Mitarachis could possibly talk about the Turkish government failing to fulfil its ‘obligations’ under the Statement when the EU – including Greece – has failed to give the Turkish government the money it promised (it promised €6bn by 31 December 2018: it has to October 2022, almost four years later, paid €4.7bn), failed to speed the EU accession process (there is good reason for this, but the EU promised to do so despite repeated warnings that it could not) and failed to deliver visa-free travel to and inside the Schengen Zone, as was another of its obligations in the Statement which it rushed to write and demand, in direct contravention of international law.

It did not ask whether the EU should perhaps fulfil its own obligations before criticising others for failing to fulfil their own.

And it failed to ask Mr Mitarachis whether it was in fact reasonable to characterise the Turkish Coastguard (illegally) preventing 87.7 per cent of people who have tried to reach Greece this year, and 56.6 per cent of those who have tried since the Statement came into effect in March 2016, from doing so, as a ’failure to fulfil’ its commitment to preventing people reaching the EU.

Which is a shame.

Because Mitarachis is not a man we believe can be other than what he is: an ill-tempered, childish, extraordinarily-limited, racist who does not mind killing people if it prevents foreign people from entering Greece.

But journalism is a real job, with actual responsibilities.

It is a privilege to be the person who gets to ask the questions the people of your country need to ask, and need to be answered.

It is an honour to stand up and demand honest answers, even if one cannot force moral behaviour, from those charged with governing us.

But it is also a responsibility. We need people to do it, and whether because of their skill or good fortune, those people are journalists.

In its abject failure and refusal to do so, CNN Greece has not only let down the people in desperate need of safe places to live, learn and work, which perhaps it might claim (wrongly) are ‘not our responsibility’, it has also severely let down the people of Greece, who most certainly are.

With just a very few honourable exceptions, it is far beyond time not just CNN Greece and the rest of Greece’s media begin to take their jobs seriously, or move over for people who will.

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