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Greece, Italy, Spain

Austerity threatens Europe’s Left press

A collapse in advertising, falling sales and cuts to subsidies to have taken their toll on left and progressive newspapers on the Continent, threatening media plurality at a time when alternative views on the impact and solution to the bankers’ debt crisis are crucial.  

Italy

Published since 1991, Liberazione, the newspaper of Italy’s Communist Refoundation party, has played a significant role as an alternative voice in a media landscape dominated by billionaire media mogul and three times PM Silvio Berlusconi.

The future of the paper, which sold around 7,000 copies daily last year, is now on a knife edge after two years of an effective boycott by advertisers Mediaset (owned by Berlusconi) and RAI (the state broadcaster), also effectively controlled indirectly, via parliament, by the billionaire media magnate. The two advertisers represent some 90% of the market.

The newspaper’s problems were made critical, though, by cuts by premier Berlusconi and successor Mario Monti to state support to the press that is designed to guarantee media plurality. In 2008, the government  funding stood at Euros 560 million but this has been reduced to a tenth of that amount today.

A big effort to encourage subscriptions was launched in 2010, the cover price increased, and thanks also to support from friends from the Italian arts world, the paper managed to raise substantial funds, of around Euros 225,000. But this was insufficient. The  government subsidy cuts left them with losses of Euros 2 million.

Unlike the big capitalist families controlling the rest of the media, the party is cash-strapped, and it stopped publishing the paper at the start of the year. But the journalists under the banner “Occupy Liberazione” have continued to produce it in electronic format (PDF) and online in the hope of establishing a new fund to get the paper back onto the newstands.

Liberazione isn’t alone in its woes. A reflection of a country that once had the largest communist party in Europe, there is another communist daily, Il Manifesto, which is an independent paper founded in 1969 with 20,000 daily sales today.

Il Manifesto, owned by its journalists in a co-operative, is also struggling, as is its moderate cousin, l’Unità, founded by marxist revolutionary Antonio Gramsci in the 1920s. L‘Unità is now close to the Democrats, a regressive political evolution from the right of the Italian Communist party (that dissolved itself in 1989-91). But the paper maintains a certain campaigning edge and, like the other two Left titles, a strong following among trade unionists. 

Overall, around 100 titles are under threat and 4,000 journalist and printing  jobs are at risk. But the disappearance of Liberazione and Il Manifesto at a time of when the Government is attempting to roll back sixty years of working class gains would be the most damaging for democracy.

It would allow the news agenda to be monopolized by big business, which is still controlled to large extent by a small number of family dynasties: Silvio Berlusconi (and son), owner of rabidly right-wing il Giornale and Il Folio and three (of the largest) of the four private terrestrial TV stations; the Agnellis, owners of La Stampa (as well as Fiat); the De Benedetti family, owner of Espresso group, publisher of La Repubblica; RCS, a multinational owned by some of Italy’s largest banks  as well Fiat and publisher of Corriere della Sera; and Confindustria (Italy’s CBI), publisher of Il Sole 24 Ore.

Liberazione is currently raising funds. Donations can be made here: – click on « sottoscrivi »

Spain

El Público, a progressive newspaper launched four and a half years ago, is also at risk of extinction.

El Público gives space to left thinkers and organisations, including to communist-led United Left, trade unionists and the indignados (occupy) movement. It also stands out for its attitude to the monarchy –  on the recent corruption scandals involving the King’s son-in-law, the paper risked closure for breaking an unwritten law not to criticise the Bourbon dynasty.

On international matters, it has also provided a refreshing antidote to coverage and editorialising of the other Spanish newspapers who have been deeply antagonistic to the progressive wave of regimes that has swept Latin America these past fifteen odd years.

However, El Público’s journalists haven’t been paid since December and the paper is now under the supervision of bankrupcy court. This will allow it a small breathing space to seek additional funding and reach agreement with creditors (mainly its 160 journalists).

El Público is owned by Mediapro group, controlled by Jaume Roures, a former Trotskyist imprisoned by dictator Franco and today describing himself as a left-wing Catalan nationalist. Roures produced, among other films, “Comandante” by Oliver Stone, a documentary on Fidel Castro.

While sales and online eyeballs have been in constant increase the paper has been victim of a 50% fall in advertising across Spain since launch in 2007. With 87,000 copies sold, it is the fourth largest newspaper after formerly pro-Socialist El País – controlled, via global media conglomerate PRISA, by two foreign financiers Nicolas Berggruen and Martin Franklin (they also owns a chunk of France’s Le Monde) – and traditionally right-wing titles, El Mundo (controlled by Italy’s RCS medi group) and Abc (controlled by Spain’s Grupo Vocento, a multinational communications group).

The loss of El Público would be all the more unfortunate because the radical press is weak in Spain. For example, El Mundo Obrero, the historic organ of the Spanish Communist Party that was founded as a daily paper in 1930 now only publishes monthly.

At a time of devastating austerity being pushed down the throats of middle and working classes in Spain by the new Popular Party government, trade unions and leading progressive figures from the world of arts and entertainment have rallied to support El Público. The hope is to keep this essential alternative voice alive.

El Público cartoons on why it needs to survive

Greece

Eleftherotypia, the bête noir of successive right-wing and socialist (Pasok) governments since the return to democracy in the mid-1970s, closed at the end of last year and hopes of its staying in the game are not high.

It was the country’s second most widely daily distributed paper with 30,000 copies per day and 85,000 on Sundays. But just a few days ago Mania Tegopoulou, the paper’s publisher and daughter of its founder, Kitsos Tegopoulos, lodged a file with Athen’s bankruptcy court, ending the any hope of employees of seeing payment of the traditional ‘thirteenth month’ Christmas bonus, as well as of any back-pay due since August.

Eleftherotypia now has two options: draft a restructuring plan acceptable to its creditors and hope for the unlikley scneario of a new investor to restart publication, or let Eleftherotypia close down for good.

Blaming financial problems, the publisher has not paid any wages to its employees since mid-August. A preliminary accord was agreed in September between Mania Tegopoulou and Alpha Bank, belonging to financier Ioannis Kostopoulos. The building containing the paper’s offices and a plan to cut its staff of 850 journalists and print workers by 50% were the price for securing the loan. However, in October the bank withdrew the loan: according to Mania Tegopoulou, the “personal intervention” of former socialist leader Giorgio Papandreou was behind this refusal.

But Eleftherotypia was not just a thorn in Pasok’s side. A critic of the socialists’ handling of the crisis but also the new coalition government under Lucas Papademos, Eleftherotypia has been most outspoken against the extreme right Laos party, which it accused of Nazi sympathies, anti-Semitic views and containing former members of Greece’s military junta.
 
Eleftherotypia was the first new newspaper to appear in Greece after the fall of the Colonels’ regime on July 21 1975. It soon came to be nicknamed “the paper with 80 editors in chief” as it was taken over a few months after its founding as a cooperative by publisher Tegopoulos.

Jobs, pay, terms and conditions under threat in Athens

Greece’s Union of Journalists (Eshea) has been supporting Eleftherotypia journalists  in court as well as its members more widley against new bankruptcy laws that “eliminate a number of workers’ rights”, Dimitri Trimis, union president, told Italy’s manifesto newspaper.

In Athens alone 487 professional journalists out of work, out of a total 5,500 signed up union members in the capital.

“Almost 2,000 professional journalists haven’t received a wage in months, hundreds of others have seeking recognition of their rights through the courts and thousands have seen pay cuts imposed by the publishers,” he says.

“The economic conditions and the defence of journalists’ rights represent the basis of not only the freedom of the press but of all citizens.

‘Publishers are trying to destroy national agreements and to cut wages. If they manage to do this within the newspapers, then it will be easy for them to eliminate rights of citizens to a free and independent press. They will eliminate the capacity of journalists to find out what is happening, to make their own decisions and protect their own interests.”

About revoltingeurope

Writer on Europe's Left, trade union and social movements @tomgilltweets or @revoltingeurope

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