A handful of major Greek media Wednesday released an background conversation with an EU official who had made comments in private regarding the negotiations with the troika. The official had suggested there were “miles and billions” separating the two sides and a final decision might not come until after the “skiing holidays”. Greek media such as Ethnos (frontpage in greek) and To Vima (link in greek) identified the official as Thomas Wieser, president of EU’s Economic and Financial Committee. Wieser’s comments were made during a background briefing on a condition of anonymity with the Austrian official asking the journalists to attribute the statement to a “senior Eurozone official”.

Leading Kathimerini journalist and Brussels correspondent Nikos Chrysoloras alleged that the government has been putting pressure on Greek journalists and their editors to routinely air off-the-record  statements so that eventually no officials in Brussels trust greek journalists and thus speak to them. The endgame is that “negative” information from Brussels does not reach the greek public.

(Translation: …Because if you talk to foreigners, they might dispute that Samaras “met with Merkel for 20 minutes”. This is why they breach off-the-record, so that they [foreigners] don't talk to us.)

According to sources both in Athens and Brussels, this latest act was no accident and should be put in context of a broader strategy by the Greek government, to undermine the reporting by Greek correspondents.Though the allegation that the government actually asked some of the media to break the off-the-record cannot be corroborated, there is no doubt that this is yet another indication of the  pressure put on Brussels correspondents on how to report.

Correspondents in Brussels, among them Christina Vasilaki, the TPP correspondent, have already cited a series of such incidents. Following the latest Euro summit, the government leaked to the “friendly” press that Greek PM Samaras and German Chancellor Merkel held a 20 minute long meeting, only to be contradicted by Brussels correspondents who were aware that the meeting lasted a couple of minutes and was purely a formality.

Till October, the Greek government had been claiming that there would be no funding gap in 2014, contrary to what journalists in Europe knew from their contacts with the troika. Furthermore, Athens has been asserting that since September there has been significant progress in the talks with the lenders’ representatives and that the evaluation report was close to conclusion. Wieser’s comments clearly contradict this assertion. Moreover, officials in Brussels tell Greek correspondents that the figures advanced by the ministry of finance in the 2014 budget are preposterous and science fiction.

Pro-administration news outlets have been reporting that the troika is solely asking for tax increases. Sources close to the troika, on the other hand, have been claiming that at the same time the troika has been requesting cancellation or reductions in certain taxes but Athens refuses to comply in order to serve vested interests. Meanwhile the Greek government has been asking the country’s media to cover EU summits with “embedded” journalists sent from Athens in order to bypass correspondents in Brussels.

In a final act that has the sour taste of revenge, Greece decided to suspend the press clipping service of the Belgian / EU press that was compiled by the General Secretariat of Press in Athens and sent via email to all Brussels correspondents. (The same service is still sent to correspondents in Washington). A Brussels correspondent reacts: “Is this their idea of punishment? What were they thinking? As if we were on the same level, doing reporting based solely on translations from the international press”.