Greece: The big sell-off – Debunking Alexia Kefalas’s report for French public TV

This post, co-authored by Okeanos (@Okeanews) and Theodora Oikonomides (@IrateGreek) was first published in French on Okeanews.The weekly documentary magazine Envoyé Spécial broadcast on French public TV channel France 2 shortly before Christmas 2012 a report about privatizations in Greece. Titled “Greece: the big sell-off” (“Grèce: la grande braderie”), the report, devised and produced by Alexia Kefalas (@alexisKefalas) and Michel Tardy, is riddled with inaccuracies and oversights, and, what is more, one of the interviewees denies the role attributed to him. The result is a picture of privatizations in Greece which is entirely distorted. Here’s an analysis of what journalists should not do.

At the time of writing, the report was available on YouTube in French. If you choose a video of the entire Envoyé Spécial show, it starts at approx. 33′.

Not a single mention of the TAIPED: a beginner’s mistake? 

In 2011, Greece established the Hellenic Republic Asset Development  Fund, better known by its Greek acronym TAIPED. The TAIPED has a mandate for all privatizations in Greece under the terms of the bailout memorandum, and all assets due for privatization are listed on its site. Alexia Kefalas however seems to be unaware of its existence.

A report that fails to mention the TAIPED and the list of State assets due for privatization, which is available on its website, was bound to commit serious mistakes. Furthermore, the website is available in both Greek and English, leaving no justification for this oversight.

Greece is presented by Envoyé Spécial as a country that “won’t hesitate to part with its treasures and its heritage, such as islands, for example. 47 of them are up for sale or leasing. This list now further includes mines, harbours, palaces. In short, this is a big sell-off that attracts greed.”

Aris Kalipolitis, a member of the TAIPED board of directors, denies that the Greek State intends to sell its islands and that it mandated a real estate agent for this. In an email dated 22 December 2012, he said:

“Statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs today: ‘Greece is NOT selling its islands. Is it even possible that Greece would entrust the sale of its islands to a real estate agent???????”

[The exact quote in Greek is: “Σήμερα έχει δηλώσεις του Υπ.Εξωτερικών: “Η Ελλάδα ΔΕΝ πουλάει τα νησιά της”. Είναι δυνατόν η Ελλάδα να έχει αναθέσει σε ένα μεσίτη να πουλάει νησιά της?????????”]

But who is this real estate agent? 

Nikos Lagonikos, who is followed by Kefalas at the beginning of the report, owns a travel agency on the island of Euboea. Kefalas introduces him as both a travel agent (in a subheading at the beginning of the report) and as a real estate agent, saying: “We meet up with Nikos, our real estate agent. The State gave him an official mandate to sell these islands.” The emphasis on the word “official” is not ours but hers. In the report, Lagonikos is seen showing people around a peninsula named “the Island of Dreams”, which is equipped with decaying touristic infrastructure.

We contacted Lagonikos to find out more. He denied these allegations categorically. He specifically said:

“No, I don’t [have a mandate], how could I have a mandate for something which officially isn’t on the cards? What you are talking about hasn’t been discussed officially. In any case, one thing’s for sure, I don’t have a mandate. I’m informed, yes, but mandated, no. The TAIPED, if you call them officially, they’ll tell you that officially they don’t know anything. Because it doesn’t matter if bits of information are floating around unofficially because of leaks. There’s the kind of leaks that people allow to test reactions, but that has nothing to do with official statements. The TAIPED will tell you they know nothing of islands owned by the Ministry of Finance. As for the Island of Dreams, the TAIPED has nothing to do with it.”

You can listen to this excerpt of our interview with Nikos Lagonikos below (10 January 2013, in Greek):

Presenting private transactions as privatizations

The privatizations mentioned in Kefalas’s report either happened before the current crisis, or are not privatizations but transactions between private companies.

For example, the 35-year concession of part of the harbour of Piraeus to the Chinese company COSCO was granted in 2008. The privatization of the rest of the harbour hasn’t begun yet. Furthermore, the report states that Greek railway operator TrainOSE has already found a buyer. A quick look at the TAIPED website shows that TrainOSE is listed under “long-term privatizations.” What is worse however, Kefalas puts in her interviewees’ mouths words that are simply not there. It is understandable that the report’s production company, Upside TV, has no Greek-language interpreter. But the COSCO representative in Greece, Captain Wu, speaks English. If you listen carefully, you can clearly hear that he is not talking of buying TrainOSE, but of connecting the harbour to the railway network, which is an entirely different matter.

Likewise, the gold and copper mine in Halkidiki which is described at the end of the report was sold in 2003 (not in 2012) by private Canadian company TVX Gold to private Greek company Hellas Gold, with the Greek State acting as a middleman, for €11 million (not €2 billion as stated by Kefalas). Later on, part of Hellas Gold was sold to European Goldfields, which was in turn taken over by Eldorado Gold. This is not a privatization but a sale from one private company to another, and happened well before the crisis. This story certainly is, in other respects, a force-twelve scandal on the Richter scale, with regard to the process under which the mine was sold as well as the anticipated impact on the environment, but not in the sense described by Kefalas’s report. The area’s mayor, Christos Pachtas, is indeed under serious suspicion, but it is at least strange that Kefalas would rely on a phone interview with an unnamed Eldorado Gold “official” whose exact status remains unknown to back up her insinuations.

A report unworthy of journalism

The report indulges in practices that are unworthy of a journalist with an ounce of self-respect:

– The report doesn’t differentiate between selling, leasing and granting a concession. For example, the municipality of Eretria confirms that the Island of Dreams is not for sale. A tender will be published in the coming weeks to lease its touristic installations for a period of 25 to 30 years for €100,000 per year. The statement “First come, first served” is, of course, untrue. You can listen to this excerpt of our interview in Greek below:

– The report cheats: for example, it shows footage of the Athens airport in the section about privatization of airports, but the Athens airport isn’t on the TAIPED list. The airport of Thessaloniki and ten regional airports, however, are due for privatization. Likewise, the third sign indicating the use of European funds for the rehabilitation of the summer palace of the former kings of Greece in Tatoi has actually to do with the construction of anti-fire zones in the public forest of Tatoi, not with the palace gardens.

Conclusion: a proper sham

In short, a report that claims to deal with privatizations and the sell-off of Greece does not speak of those privatizations which actually are linked to the crisis and is riddled with false information. We only identified in this post the most blatant inaccuracies and chose to spare many, many more to the reader.

There is however matter for sensationalist reports within the limits of the realm of Greek reality in 2012-2013: for example, the TAIPED founding document is a colonial-like law which goes against tens of other Greek laws and even the Greek Constitution (the law is available here in Greek).  Similarly, Greece is preparing to privatize its water supply and sanitation companies, whereas international experience in this field over the past twenty years was disastrous in all the countries involved.

Another example: the scheming around privatizations which have already begun, such as OPAP (the Hellenic Organization for Football Prognostics, which bought the national lotteries). As a reminder, the sales price for OPAP was estimated at €1 billion, while this public company yields yearly profits of €500 million for the State. Greece is thus preparing to sell off – for real, in this case – OPAP for the equivalent of two years of the profits it generates: a very bad deal for the citizenry. Further reading here (in French; you’ll note that TAIPED is mentioned.)

A comprehensive study on privatizations was conducted in 2012 by the radiobubble team and is available here in Greek. It will soon be posted in English as well.

Instead of dealing with real problems and real scandals, Miss Kefalas seems to prefer using fanciful information and cases irrelevant to the matter at hand in order, apparently, to have something to sell to France 2.

There are scandals every day in Greece, and it takes hard work to elucidate them, because many rumours are flying about. We’ve seen in the past dodgy reports by Kefalas where facts weren’t cross-checked. But this report is a full-fledged sham that has more to do with a PR move than with journalism.

There are however a number of French-speaking journalists in Greece, either professional of citizen journalists, who are and will always be ready to prepare serious reports about the consequences of the crisis and austerity.

Okeanos et Theodora Oikonomides

Update

Translated from Okeanews

After we put online the above post, Sébastien Deurdilly, the CEO of Upside TV, the media agency that produced it, sent to us the following email:

“I wish to inform you that we will engage in legal action against you:
– for failing to respect intellectual property rights and broadcasting on your website a report to which we hold all rights,
– for defamation with regard to the points you raise in your article.
Best regards, …”

Upside TV also commented on our post on Twitter:

Translation: 

– Upside TV: Your article is false and defamatory.
– Okeanews: Which part exactly, according to you?
– Upside TV: Our lawyer will let you know.
– Okeanews: No problem, we’ll be waiting. 

With regard to the first point, we invite Upside TV to contact YouTube directly in order to take down the various uploads of the report.

With regard to the second point, our lawyer is ready for any legal action.

Okeanos and Theodora Oikonomides

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