Top Greek newspaper absent from newsstands

Athens (AFP) - Greece's best-selling daily newspaper Ta Nea was absent from newsstands on Thursday in the latest evidence of the crisis facing its debt-ridden publisher Lambrakis Press Group (DOL).

Aside from the occasional suspension due to strike action, "this is the first time that the newspaper has not come out" since Greece's return to democracy in 1974, its director Panagiotis Lampsias told AFP.

The management said it had decided to suspend publication due to financial constraints following a court ruling on Tuesday in favour of its creditor banks, leaving it with no funds to pay for the publication of its flagship daily.

As one of Greece's largest media groups, DOL also owns the To Vima weekly as well as numerous magazines, websites and the Vima FM radio station. But it has racked up debts of nearly 100 million euros, warning on January 28 it would be forced to halt publication of its two flagship papers.

Lampsias said the move did not necessarily spell the death of Ta Nea, which was set up in 1931 and has a daily circulation of 14,000.

"We will file suit later today" to try and reopen a funding channel, he said.

Despite the crisis, the group's 500 or so employees who have not been paid for six months, have continued to publish the newspaper's online version as well as maintaining the company's websites.

"If we can pay for it, Ta Nea will come out," Costas Delezos, one of the paper's union officials, told AFP.

- 'Harsh blow' -

The group is hoping to launch a political initiative to bring about its rescue, with the Panhellenic Federation of Journalists' Unions launching a parallel appeal on Wednesday.

Both Lampsias and Delezos claim the group has fallen victim to financial "mismanagement" by its president, Stavros Psycharis, who has been charged with tax evasion and money laundering.

They also believe that Ta Nea, which has taken a particularly critical stance towards leftist premier Alexis Tsipras, is a victim of the government's desire to see the newspaper muzzled.

Tsipras's government's has previously said it intends to "reestablish transparency" in what it calls a sector "of oligarchs".

To its critics, the formerly all-powerful DOL media empire was the embodiment of decades of collusion between the media, the banks and the government which Tsipras has promised to shake up.

Late last month, European rights commissioner Nils Muiznieks warned that the likely closure of the two papers would deal "a harsh blow to media pluralism in Greece" and would reduce "the diversity of sources of information available to citizens."