Research Fellow, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism
The media market in Greece is characterised by very low levels of trust in journalism, high use of social media for news and extreme fragmentation of the online news market.
During the past year, the traditional media market has suffered from growing commercial pressures and confusion surrounding government plans for allocating new TV licences. For decades TV licences in Greece have been handed out on a temporary basis by successive governments in an attempt to exert influence over broadcasters. The current Greek government, in an attempt to give out permanent licences, took the controversial decision to hand out just four nationwide licences, in place of the seven television stations that had been operating. Eventually, 11 licence applications were made and four were filtered out because they did not fulfil the criteria set by the government. The remaining seven applicants auctioned for four licences, spending a surprisingly large amount of money (€246m), given the poor economic outlook and declining TV market.
In October 2016, the plan for new licences was blocked by the Council of State, which argued that it bypassed the independent National Council for Radio and Television, which is constitutionally responsible for regulating the TV market. The €246m raised by the auction was returned and existing broadcasters are continuing to air programmes while awaiting a new regulatory attempt by the National Council.
On top of the controversial licencing process, the oldest and for many years the largest commercial broadcaster in Greece (MEGA) was forced to stop producing any content due to debt problems. MEGA spent much of early 2017 broadcasting reruns of TV series, attempting to repay its debt by eliminating its running costs. DOL, a large conglomerate which is a shareholder in MEGA and owns two historic newspapers and one of the largest news websites in Greece (in.gr), is also facing difficulty in repaying its considerable debts. In June 2017, a shipping magnate and owner of the largest football team in Greece, bought DOL for €23m.
In the ΤV market, both the findings of this survey and industry TV ratings1 show that SKAI increased its share during the past year (+5%), becoming the largest broadcaster, potentially because of MEGA’s problems. Alpha and Antenna TV follow with similar shares to last year.
The decline in newspaper circulation has continued over the last year. Total Sunday newspaper sales have fallen by around 25% to 300,000 in the year to April 20172 compared to an average of approximately 1.2m papers sold in 2008.3 However, in this uncertain market, two new newspapers were launched in recent months by businesses that missed out in the process of applying for a TV licence. This further indicates that news in Greece remains largely a way of gaining political and economic influence rather than being a viable commercial industry in its own right.
While 95% of Greeks get their news online, consumption is fragmented with no brand being used regularly (more than three days per week) by more than 15% of the online population. Greeks also use more online news brands on average compared to every other country in the survey apart from Turkey. In the long-tail list of the most visited websites, alongside traditional news brands we see some news websites that regularly engage in conspiracy theories about health and political issues.
Very few Greeks are prepared to pay for online news (6%), which is not surprising given that only a handful of broadsheet newspaper websites have set up paywalls. Other reasons include the lack of credibility of news, the large decreases in personal incomes following the economic crisis, and the lack of culture of online payments in general. Ad-blockers are also at record levels in Greece (57% of Greeks below 35 use one) while high levels of offsite news consumption (69% of Greeks use social media for news) further limit monetisation opportunities for publishers. These data points portray a dystopian landscape for online news publishers in Greece.
Facebook remains the most widely used platform for news (62% use it), while 32% of Greeks use YouTube for news content. Participation via commenting and sharing news is also at high levels in Greece, an indication of the polarised political environment and mistrust in journalistic content.
Greeks have the lowest levels of trust in news in our survey and the greatest concerns about business and political influence over editorial content. An annual survey of trust in institutions in Greece shows that newspapers and broadcasters faced some of the most severe increases in mistrust compared to other institutions since before the financial crisis (2007).4