Protection of journalist sources at the centre of the Zahopoulos affair in Greece

Martin Belam  by Martin Belam, 14 January 2008

'The Zahopoulos Affair', despite sounding like a Tintin book, is the current scandal-du-jour enveloping the Kostas Karamanlis government here in Greece. It has developed into an interesting battleground over journalistic ethics and the protection of sources.

Just before Christmas, Greek Culture Ministry General Secretary Christos Zahopoulos resigned and then attempted to kill himself. It was, his colleagues claimed, as a result of a blackmail attempt against him. There were allegations of a sex video, and an investigation was started into suggestions that Zahopoulos had corruptly made available for development archaeological sites his ministry was supposed to be protecting.

Christos Zahopoulos

A few days later, the sex DVD emerged - from the press office of the Prime Minister himself. It had been given to Yiannis Andrianos, the head of the Karamanlis press office, who had kept it secret for a number of days, and refused to divulge where he had obtained it. He cited journalistic privilege, on the grounds that before he took the job in the government press office, he used to be a journalist.

The opposition ΠΑΣΟΚ party have dubbed it 'Maximougate' after the residence of the PM, and think that the claim of Andrianos to immunity from prosecution for refusing to testify is ludicrous, and part of an organised government cover-up on the whole affair.

However, The ESIEA journalists' union initially issued a narrowly-carried statement backing the position of Yiannis, saying that journalists have an obligation to work for the greater good according to their conscience on a case-by-case basis. This caused an outcry in some quarters, and eventually the union's ethics committee contradicted this, saying that "Journalist-political officials of any rank are not working journalists and therefore not legitimised in invoking the confidentiality of sources".

I was surprised there was even much of a debate about it. I'm fairly certain I can guess the response of the NUJ chapel at the BBC had Alistair Campbell started claiming journalistic privilege whilst working for Tony Blair on the basis that he used to write for the Mirror.

In a co-incidence, the head of the ESIEA union had his car broken into in Athens on Friday.

The position seems to have changed over the weekend though, and it looks like Andrianos may be set to reveal his source after all. That source is a currently practising journalist, so you might think that this move is not going to progress the story much further.

However, there already seems to be a concerted campaign to get the first source to reveal their source.

According to ΕΡΤ, an opposition Socialist MP, Theodoros Pangalos, has said that the Journalist's Union should expel the person who handed the DVD to the PM's office. After all, what price is worker's solidarity and journalistic safeguards compared to an opportunity to embarrass the government?

The union themselves have also stated that protecting sources "should not become an alibi for covering up illegal activities". So, it looks like the press officer non-journalist who claimed journalistic privilege will successfully pass the hot potato to the real journalist, who in turn, isn't necessarily going to be backed by the union on protecting their source.

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