On November 29, 2021, as part of a joint investigation by Solomon and Reporters United regarding the allocation of European funds for the accommodation of asylum seekers in Greece, reporter Kostas Koukoumakas emailed questions to the NGO Hopeten.
[In January 2021, Solomon had published an extensive report on NGO when it was still called Hopeland.]
On December 6, 2021, Hopeten replied to the email by inviting the journalist to a meeting at their office. The meeting took place a few days later, on December 10, 2021, and was attended by the Hopeten public relations manager Ms. Mara Samara, the director of the company Mr. Nikolaos Vlachos, as well as Solomon journalist Fanis Kollias.
Hopeten requested that the interview not be recorded, but agreed to let us take notes. During the interview, Hopeten’s representatives answered many of the questions we had emailed to them.
Ten days later, on December 20, 2021, and without any further communication between the two sides, Hopeten served Solomon and Reporters United with a legal notice. Hopeten, represented by attorney Nikolaos Agapinos, protested against our behavior towards the NGO which they described as “unethical, biased and in bad faith” and called on Solomon and Reporters United to “immediately refrain from any action that could damage the NGOs prestige and reputation”.
Apart from their characterizations of our work, they also questioned whether Kostas Koukoumakas (a member of the Journalists’ Union of Athens Daily Newspapers, with many years of experience in Greek and foreign media) is indeed a journalist, additionally, there are extensive excerpts in the legal notice that raise sincere questions. More specifically, references are made to:
- the former mayor of Athens and current KINAL MP, Giorgos Kaminis,
- the former Deputy Minister of Health and current SYRIZA MP, Pavlos Polakis,
- billionaire George Soros,
- another NGO Solidarity Now,
- the “country’s performance in managing the refugee crisis” which “recently have improved significantly”, raising questions about whether the legal notice was drafted by representatives of civil society or by the government.
The full text of Hopeten’s legal notice can be found here (in Greek).
In our response, Solomon and Reporters United made it clear that our position will remain solely in the context of our journalistic function. We contacted Hopeten again, asking them to reply to the questions we had previously submitted to them –questions that are a matter of public interest. The full text of our response can be found here (in Greek).
March 2021: Hopeten offers us a collaboration…
In the year and a half of our coverage of the issue, this is not the first time that the NGO has served us with a legal notice, urging us to refrain from covering and reporting on its activities.
Exactly one year ago, in January 2021, Solomon published a report on the allocation of significant funding from the Ministry of Migration & Asylum to the newly-established (at the time) NGO Hopeland (which was later renamed Hopeten) to house thousands of asylum seekers.
The case of this NGO was clearly of journalistic interest to us, as within a short period of time since its establishment (and without having any previous experience in the field) Hopeten had secured more than €7 million in funding for a period of fifteen months!
Shortly after the report was published, in March 2021, Hopeten’s public relations manager, Ms. Samara, repeatedly contacted Stavros Malichudis, the Solomon journalist who wrote the report, and asked to meet with him.
During the meeting, which took place at Solomon’s offices, Ms. Samara presented a proposal. She suggested that Malichudis and Solomon might be interested in cooperating with them to create a Youtube channel, which would post videos of Malichudis interviewing beneficiaries of Hopeten programs.
Expressing the general feeling of his colleagues, Stavros Malichudis rejected the offer, explaining that such cooperation would violate the rules of journalistic ethics, given the previous report that Solomon had published.
July 2021: The first legal notice
On July 14, 2021, Stavros Malichudis, on behalf of Solomon, addressed further questions to Hopeten, requesting information regarding certain data on the NGO which had become public and was posted in the Ministry of Digital Governance’s Registry of Subsidized Bodies.
Based on the published data, Hopeten had conducted financial transactions in the hundreds of thousands of euros in total with a company based outside of Athens.
However, our journalistic investigation revealed that the company in question had received money from Hopeten before the company had even entered into legal taxation status. In other words, at the time, based on the Registry data, while the company appeared to receive significant amounts of money from Hopeten, the company was (literally) non-existent.
We, therefore, considered it our duty, in the context of journalistic ethics, to address relevant questions to Hopeten by email. The director of Hopeten, Mr. Nikolaos Vlachos, replied that the data which was published was “inadvertently wrong” and that no problem arises, since this “mistake” had now been corrected, possibly thanks to our research and findings.
By their director’s response, Hopeten urged us to refrain from any “untrue” and “defamatory” report that may offend the company’s “reputation, credibility, work and solvency, in order to serve selfish and unfair third-party interests” −without specifying what those “interests” are.
We continue our coverage
During the same investigation on the allocation of EU funds for the accommodation of asylum seekers in Greece, Hopeten was not the only one to try, through legal action, to prevent the publication of our report.
On November 30, 2021, in response to questions about the same issue that journalist Iliana Papangeli had emailed to a Greek real estate company, we received a legal notice, through the company’s lawyer, which urged us to refrain from “any slanderous and defamatory report” as well as from “any reference or association of the company with the refugee issue, with refugees in Greece and the NGOs active in this field” otherwise they “will take legal action and appeal to the justice system”.
In Europe, more and more instances of journalists being served with legal notices and being sued, by those involved in a report −(before a report is even published), in an attempt to prevent the publication of information that they may find incriminating− are being recorded.
Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) target journalists who challenge big interests, but the purpose of such lawsuits is not always to win the court case itself.
This is not the first time we have been confronted with this abusive practice. In January 2021, the company Rewarding Packaging Recycling, active in the packaging recycling sector in Greece, sent a legal notice through its lawyer Alexis Kougias against Reporters United and reporter Thodoris Chondrogiannos in response to the journalistic questions we had sent to the company, before we even publish the report. (Read more on the case here.)
International journalist unions have sounded the alarm regarding incidents where big interests have launched legal proceedings against journalists and independent media outlets in order to cause their financial, psychological, and moral destruction.