Greek reporters struggle to cover unpopular IMF

Greek reporters struggle to cover unpopular IMF
IMF Managing Director Lagarde shakes hands with Greek Finance Minister Varoufakis during an extraordinary euro zone finance ministers meeting.

It's another "troika" bound up in Greece's debt drama, with their own set of torments.

The three Greek reporters assigned to the International Monetary Fund in Washington are supposed to cover dispassionately what the Fund says.

But amid deep hate back home for the institution which, together with the European Commission and European Central Bank, foisted a brutal austerity on Greece, the three journalists are tested daily to keep their own anger in check.

It's not an easy job for them, a constant presence at IMF press conferences since their country turned to the lender troika for a financial rescue in 2010.

"The hardest thing for me is to become the mediator between an institution blamed for the austerity measures and Greek society. Often people think that you endorse the position of the Fund just because you report on it," said Lena Argiri, correspondent for the public television channel NERIT.

Her colleague Michail Ignatiou, from the privately owned Mega TV, opts for a frontal-assault strategy when reporting on the IMF.

His questions at regular IMF press briefings come loaded with critiques of the Fund and test the limits of the Fund spokesman's cool.

"I'm a fighter," Ignatiou, a 15-year resident of Washington, told AFP.

"Every time I ask a question I want to remind the IMF of the suffering of the Greek people. I have to tell them what the simple guy in Greece cannot say." The tactics of Ignatiou, 50ish with a salt-and-pepper beard, sometimes give the briefings the air of a political enquiry.

After the electoral victory of the leftist, anti-IMF Syriza party in January, he encouraged the Fund to listen to Greek voters.

"The Greek people... sent a message, that they don't want any more austerity. They want growth," he told the Fund spokesman.

"What is your answer? What is your message to the Greek people?" - Trying to stay neutral -

A correspondent for the centre-right newspaper Kathimerini, Katerina Sokou is more conciliatory, striving to not over-simplify the debate about the IMF's role in Greece.

"I've resisted the urge to ask tough questions and express my resentment just because I'm Greek. Actually I want to report on the issue as any other journalist would," she said.

Her newspaper is one of the few that support the tough reform programme that the lender troika has pressed on the country.

That allows Sokou, in Washington for two years now, to maintain a more balanced approach to the IMF. She points out that the Fund has acknowledged mistakes in its approach to helping Greece, unlike the other two institutions of the troika.

"If it were known better and explained to the people, there wouldn't have been such a demonization of the IMF to begin with. The demonization is also the result of the political portrayal of the institution." The three reporters have personally felt the impact of the budget cuts and grinding recession that have marked the IMF bailout.

Ignatiou said his salary has fallen by nearly two-thirds since the crisis erupted.

"It's very difficult to survive as a Greek reporter in DC," he said.

Argiri was technically laid off from her job when her broadcaster suddenly lost funding from the government in June 2013 as part of required spending cuts.

"The entire public sector has been affected and our wages have been cut down," she said.

Even so, she added, "I try to stay neutral. There's not a person in front of me at the podium that I can blame," she added.

While Sokou said she too had felt the effects of the crisis, "What is tough for me is not my personal situation but seeing the lower-middle class falling into poverty" back home.

"I still try to analyse it, not as an outsider, because I have stakes in the game obviously, but as an analyst who is concerned about what this means for the society and politics of Greece."

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