TV channel banned from airing report on Farmakonisi drownings, parties react

A Greek judge on Thursday banned a leading private TV station from airing an investigative report into a deadly migrant boat accident, claiming it could compromise the secrecy of the ongoing official investigation.

The ban prompted an outcry from opposition parties and junior coalition partner PASOK.

Judge Antigoni Stamoleka warned Mega TV of «severe legal sanctions» if it broadcasts the report — or even continues to screen advertising spots for it — before her investigation is concluded.

Mega TV said the order was an unacceptable act of censorship, and insisted it would complete and air the report as planned during next week's episode of the popular "Protagonistes (Protagonists)" show.

"It would be a sad state of affairs if journalists had to secure judges' permission to investigate a story," said reporter Stavros Theodorakis, who presents the program.

The January 20 sinking of a boat trying to smuggle immigrants into Greece from the nearby Turkish coast left six dead and another six presumed drowned near Farmakonisi islet in the eastern Aegean Sea.

The vessel was under tow by a coast guard speedboat. Survivors accused officials of trying to illegally return them to Turkish waters and botching the rescue effort — both which the Greek government denies. The European Union and international rights groups called for an independent investigation.

The order by Stamoleka, who is based on the Aegean Sea island of Kos, near Farmakonisi, came a day after international press watchdog Reporters Without Borders dropped Greece 14 notches in its 2014 global press freedom index, which Finland leads.

Greece now ranks 99th among 180 countries. The watchdog voiced concern at attacks on journalists by the Nazi-inspired Golden Dawn party, as well as the Greek government's closure last year of state ERT broadcaster.

Reacting to the ban, SYRIZA MP Dimitris Papadimoulis called the move “unacceptable,” adding that investigative journalism aids judicial inquiries.

“Attempts of preventive censorship do not fit in with a democratically organized state,” noted socialist PASOK in a statement calling for the show to be aired.

Democratic Left also called for the ban to be lifted arguing that such practices were incompatible with freedom of the press. "Media, both print and digital, are not the enemies of justice," the statement read.

[AP & Kathimerini English Edition]