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Greek tax conflict threatens free press

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by Kassandra Parisi

If a reporter publishes an article that names people whom have been cheating on their taxes, then he may be considered a hero.

However, what if this exposure makes it almost impossible for a struggling country to get the financial aid they so desperately need? Is he still a hero?

Absolutely.

This is not what the politicians of Greece thought when Mr. Kostas Vaxevanis made public in his newspaper a list that named 2,059 Greeks with accounts in a Swiss bank (a Geneva branch of HSBC).

The Greek police arrested Mr. Vaxevanis, editor of Hot Doc magazine, on Oct. 28. According to the Greek media, he was taken into custody on misdemeanor charges concerned with violating the privacy of those who were named on his list.

In other words, Mr. Vaxevanis was arrested for exposing higher up officials who were sucking Greece dry, and getting rich while the rest of the country was left to suffer.

Luckily, Mr. Vaxevanis was released just hours later to a cheering crowd waiting outside. But this does not change the fact that he was wrongfully arrested in the first place.

Mr. Vaxevanis was doing his job as a reporter. He was digging to uncover a story that would expose a massive injustice that was being committed by the so-called authorities.

Why was he arrested?

Mr. Vaxevanis was arrested because he published something that shook up the comfort that the corrupt officials of Greece had been enjoying.

He published something that would alert the public to the wrongdoings of people who were given responsibility over the country. The people he named in the list were trusted. It included powerful people such as a former culture minister.

Many employees of the Finance Ministry and business leaders were included as well. To make matters worse, Mr. Vaxevanis uncovered that the list had been known about since 2012.

Christine Lagarde, who, at the time the list was created in 2010, held the position of the French Finance Minister, originally passed down the list to the Greek government.

The list had been created with the intention of cracking down on Greek tax evasion to begin stabilizing the economy. No such action was taken.

Many excuses were given as to why nothing was done, including claims that the names on the list were obtained through illegal measures.

The chief of Greece’s financial crimes unit, Ioannis Diotis, defended that he had not been instructed to investigate the list. The rampant corruption in the government was not a secret to many. However, it was a secret to the people who mattered most; it was a secret kept from the people who were suffering from it.

The argument can be made that the public would have been better off without the truth. Due to this list going public, Greece may not receive the 31.5 billion euro loan it was going to get.

This money would have kept Athens from plunging into bankruptcy. The already unstable government has been shaken even more over these events. Perhaps, in this case, people can indeed argue that ignorance could have been bliss.

But even if Mr. Vaxevanis had not done this digging, Greece would still be in a bad spot. It can be assumed that the most powerful officials would have become even wealthier if not for the list surfacing.

This is not to say that they will lose their accounts now, or even be investigated, yet the fact is, one reporter had the guts to go out and uncover this awful corruption.

Only because of one reporter who did his job the way he was supposed to, the public of Greece is now privy to the fact that they have been lied to over and over again.

While Mr. Vaxevanis did not necessarily put an end to the secrets and suffering, he exposed it, and because of his newspaper, the people of Greece are now aware that the honorable leaders of their country aren’t so honorable. However, critical questions were raised as a result of this controversy.

Mr. Vaxevanis was exercising his right of press freedom while covering this story. How is it appropriate that he was arrested for something that he theoretically had a right to do?

Why is it acceptable to punish someone who was doing their part to protect their society?

A journalist’s job is to report the truth, no matter how scandalous, and that is what Mr. Vaxevanis did.

This is yet another instance of press freedom being put at risk. Greece is not the only place in which journalists are jailed for reporting truths that have the potential to harm corrupt officials.

It happens all over the world. The ugly facts are that once a journalist is condemned for uncovering a scandal such as the one Mr. Vaxevanis did, there is a high probability that he or she will be jailed for life.

Hopefully there are still a handful of reporters who are willing to take this risk.

This is what makes the fact that people are being punished for these actions so unjust. Journalists are putting their integrity and their careers on the line to keep the public informed, and it is absolutely unfair and ridiculous that they are continuously punished for it.

However sad this truth, it is a tribute to journalists who continue to do this work and fight for the right that is constantly trying to be taken away.

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