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It's Christmas time! Go buy a ship!

Nikos Fotakis' big fat Greek week of news

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Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras delivers a speech during a signing ceremony between European Investment Bank (EIB) and the Greek government, in Athens, Greece, 22 December 2016. Photo: EPA/ALEXANDROS VLACHOS.

23 December 2016

This has not been a good week for Alexis Tsipras. The Greek Prime Minister was caught on camera banging his hand on a table and shouting at representatives of the farmers' union in Crete (where he was in discussions to resolve their their ongoing issues), urging them to leave the discussion room if they're to turn the matter into a TV show.

This was an odd behaviour on his part: usually, the Greek PM is - unjustifiably - high-spirited, as if savouring every moment of his premiership, despite (or maybe because of) the fact that he deals with complex, pressing matters.

The official explanation was that his outrage was not addressed to the farmers; no, this was just another attack upon the media circus, the Syriza government's beloved target.

-- The governing party's relations with the media are so strained that even an unrelated event was seen as something that Tsipras and co had a hand in. The issue in question is the closing of one of Greece's seminal media groups, DOL. The parent company behind two of the staples of journalism, daily newspaper Ta Nea and Sunday paper To Vima, has been in financial dire straits for quite some time, unable to pay back the massive loans granted over a number of years (with the help of a series of governments, of course, and pretty much using the papers' histories and respectability as collateral).

Newspapers and the print media are a dying business, of course. All over the world the industry is undergoing a kind of slow, painful death, defeated by their online and social media counterparts. In a toxic economic environment, such as crisis-stricken Greece, there is very little hope of recovery.

DOL employs more than 600 people, who have been unpaid for more than seven months. Staff had announced a strike, but then the company managed to pay Christmas bonuses, which turned out to be a ray of light.

The same glimmer of hope shone over the challenged households of pensioners in Greece, as the government paid pensions, benefits, subsidies, Christmas bonuses and allowances, ensuring that the most fragile part of the population - the elderly, and especially those on a farmer's pension - can breath during this time of year.

In order to be able to go through with this action (and especially the Christmas bonus which was blocked by the European Stability Mechanism), Greece's Finance Minister, Euclid Tsakalotos had to submit a written statement to the Eurogroup Working Group, pledging that this was a one-off payment and not part of a broader policy of payments for the disadvantaged. As if this was not humiliating enough, Tsakalotos further pledged that any future policy of this kind would have to be approved by the country's lenders and not be a unilateral decision.

Adding insult to injury, the International Monetary Fund issued a report on Greece's economy on its blog stating the need to further impose cuts to its "generous pension system", as well as the need for a more inclusive taxation system that will not allow whole industries to avoid taxation.

All this should be part of the second bailout program evaluation, which is further postponed until the end of January; once again putting Greece in a limbo of financial and political uncertainty.

Which explains, in part, the PM's short fuse. Tsipras is in bad need of a snippet of good news - and the fact that opposition news outlets are closing down does not make the mark. Because as much as his government is at war with the traditional staples of Greek journalism, the last thing it needs is an army of unemployed journalists turned against it.

Ironically, the only snippet of good news came out of the one industry that is flying below the tax radar: shipowners. According to Allied Shipbroking, 2016 was a good year for Greek shipping magnates and their ventures in second-hand vessels, as they managed to get their hands on 269 used ships, at the price of A$3.46 billion.

In case anyone was wondering, there is no footage of the PM banging his hand on the table in a meeting with shipowners.

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