NEWS

The mass media often exaggerate in their reports of crimes committed by foreigners compared with Greeks

When a foreign car driver caused the death of a Greek motorcyclist two years ago, young Greeks took to the roads at night and attacked any person of color whom they chanced upon. Journalists reported the incident with a discreet sympathy and understanding for the insurgent Greeks. When an Albanian helped children to get out of the bus after the fateful accident that occurred on the notorious Maliakos stretch of the Athens-Lamia national road a year and a half ago, the media did not consider his action worthy of a report. The «good» migrant does not sell – or maybe the media do not want to sell it to public opinion. Distortion As criminology professor Kathleen Spinelli notes in the foreword to the study «Criminology of Migrants,» supervised by criminologist Alexandra Moschopoulou, who works for the Ombudsman and deals with the issue of the daily press, the press «negatively distorts the image of the migrant contribution to the rise in crime in Greece.» In the book, Moschopoulou writes that the press «creates a different reality of expiatory victims using the commercialization of crime news and thus generates fear.» The impression created that crime is rising generates panic and fear. Society is seen to be contaminated and danger and exclusion prevail. This results in a policy reversal, from one aiming at social integration to one against crime. Thus the right to citizen security takes precedence over safeguarding citizens’ rights. According to the book, «migrant criminality receives excessive media coverage in a way that stigmatizes and misrepresents.» As a solution, the so-called «criminology of news coverage» is proposed. Criminologists, and more generally social scientists, should be called upon to provide a more faithful presentation of crime news. According to the 2001 census, 762,000 migrants live in Greece (8.5 percent of the population). However, the real figure, according to a study carried out by Panteion University and the Institute for Immigrant Policy (IMEPO), is estimated to be 1.5 million (10.3 percent of the population). The reason for such a large difference is illegal immigration, the chaotic nature of the three immigration laws, incompatible data from different ministries, and the problem of repatriated Greeks. From figures released by the ministries, the number of immigrants has increased fivefold between 1988 and 2004. Of these, 56 percent are Albanians. In 1988, migrant criminality stood at 0.6 percent of total crime; by 2003 that figure stood at 5 percent of total crime. Thus the contribution of foreigners to crime has increased by a factor of eight. Thefts and robberies In 1993, thefts recorded by the police included one theft per foreigner for every 8.6 thefts committed by Greeks. By 2003 the ratio had fallen, with one theft committed by a foreigner to every 2.8 thefts committed by Greeks and one robbery per foreigner for every three robberies committed by Greeks. The number of really dangerous foreign criminals in Greece is not more than 5,000 to 6,000, according to Athens Law School professor Nestor Kourakis. But the number of registered foreign criminals amounts to 22,963, whereas the total number of offenders is 173,298. This is because foreigners are often caught for infringements of immigration law – such as illegally entering the country, working illegally, or related offenses such as possessing illegal documents. In her book, Moscholopoulou writes that 50 percent of the crimes of which foreigners are convicted concern infringements of immigration legislation. This means that foreigners are often arrested for violations that have minor social or moral content. According to police figures, the overwhelming majority of drug and theft offenses are committed by native Greeks, whereas most begging offenses and infringements of migrant law are committed by foreigners. However, the majority of the inmates of penal institutes are foreigners. In 2000, over half of the convicts at the Avlona branch were Albanians (155 out of a total of 204). Foreigners constitute some 45 percent of the prison population. Why is this? The police conduct checks on migrants 15 times more frequently than on Greeks. Most of them, because they are foreigners, are presumed guilty. They are also unable to hire a lawyer. Due to language difficulties they cannot actively take part in the judicial process and defend themselves satisfactorily. They often do not have money to pay for their bail and are imprisoned for committing trial offenses.