Greek media are corrupt and often act as propaganda tools
04 October 2011 / 08:10:08 GRReporter
George Pleios, Sociologist, is an Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Communication and Media Studies at the University of Athens. He graduated in sociology from the University of Sofia "St. Kliment Ohridski", where he received a Ph.D. In an interview with GRReporter, he described how the Greek media operate, their wicked relations with politics, and explained how they manage to survive despite the economic crisis.
Mr. Pleios, is there room for so many media in the Greek information arena?
No, there is no room for so many private media with national coverage. Ultimately, there is no room for so many media. This also applies to newspapers whose circulation is relatively low, largely to magazines and all other media.
The entire media sector has one common problem that occurs in any type of media in a specific way. This is the fact that the Greek media are not and have never been sustainable enterprises earning money from ads, sales of programmes or other sources. Greek media were usually stable because the parent companies or consortia to which they belong provided them with capital.
This is not a Greek phenomenon. The media worldwide operate in the same way. What is typical for Greece is that these parent companies obtained their profits from the state by undertaking the implementation of government contracts. Naturally, the media acted to win projects for the consortia to benefit from any government, whether we talk about road construction or other government contracts. Briefly, what differentiated, and still differentiates the Greek media from the financial perspective is the notorious corruption.
Of course, we should note that they had some income from advertising. Currently, we are in a situation in which, on the one hand advertising revenues have fallen dramatically and are perhaps only one third of the level they were at before the crisis while, on the other hand, the ability of the government to provide funding to the media through assigning government contracts to the parent companies is decreasing.
So, we could talk about a triple pressure on the media. The first is from the drop in advertising due to the decrease in consumer power. The second is the inability of the state to finance the media consortia in different ways: loans, government advertising and more. The third is because of the diminished ability of the consortia themselves to fund the media with the funds the state contracts provided for them.
What is the nature of the other problems of Greek media?
A common problem of the Greek media is that they do not invest in their products: the news or entertainment programs. Recently, we have observed growth in the phenomenon. The media tend to seek products on the Turkish market, which may be cheaper, rather than create their own productions as they did a few years ago. This affects not only the series but also the informing. A large part of the so-called informing is nothing more than discussions and comments on some major events that take place. This is false informing. Informing means having a continuous flow of information. On the other hand, even when they do inform, the Greek media are not doing anything special. They are based mostly on information supplied to them by the government and public enterprises. Therefore, there are more than just a few people who rightly argue that the media in Greece are a propaganda tool. And this is just one of the reasons that make the media positive to any government. The other sources they use are international news agencies. The fact that very few Greek media have correspondents in other countries proves this.
The third problem of the Greek media is drama making. Instead of looking at events analytically and offering the public a useful result, they limit themselves to relatively easy and cheap tricks: raised voice, disputes, and violent discussions. These problems are common to all media, but are typical mostly to television and private channels where they are most evident.
Another problem is the limited geographical horizon of informing Most of the news on the television, radio and newspapers relates more to what happens here in Greece. I am the leader of a group for social studies in the media, which conducted a number of studies. These showed that three quarters of Greek TV news relate to Greece and only one quarter for the rest of the world. This is a very serious problem, because ultimately the media are not able to give the audience a full picture of the events that happen throughout the world. For example, we talk a lot about the crisis in Greece, but the global crisis is less covered. Only recently, we started listening to such news, especially after the problems in the U.S. economy.
These problems are common to all media and they occur in a specific way in any type of media. In television, they occur as a drop in revenue from advertising and availability of excess staff. I should note that Greek television with its way of informing - of course there are exceptions but I speak generally - could do without journalists as had happened in the media of Silvio Berlusconi in Italy. People who are not journalists, who only pretend to be, can make news from the world agencies or a talk show. Anyway, it is a very common phenomenon in Greece to deal with things that we do not understand much.
How objective are the Greek media?
Let's be honest - there has never been any objectivity.
On the one hand, we have events and they are something that happens. Of course, there are journalists who fabricate events. They present events that have never occurred or present them as if they have occurred while the reality is quite different. I will mention specific cases we have had here in Greece. A journalist who was supposed to be a correspondent from Iraq was in Cyprus and made sounds in his hotel room to prove there were bombs in the surrounding area. Another Greek journalist who worked for German television presented a report on the PKK guerrillas, but it was not shot in the mountains in Turkey, but somewhere in the region of Thessaly in Greece. Here we are talking about fabricated events.
Most of the things television shows are real. We should not forget that we should not conceal events because this is a kind of intervention too. However, it is one thing to present events that have occurred, how we understand them is quite different. We live in a society the members of which perceive things differently. We have different political and ideological views, different interests, different religious beliefs, different lifestyles. Therefore, everyone can examine an event from a different perspective and it is impossible for anyone to reject his or her view. For example, some perceive the current crisis as a crisis, some call it "income redistribution", others believe it is a transition period that will lead Greece to better conditions, some expect and possibly even wish the Greek economy to worsen and for Greece to become a third world country. Therefore, it is almost impossible to divest ourselves of our point of view when describing an event. From this perspective, there is no and has never been objectivity.
What we can do is to respect the events. However, the problem is that the Greek media often do not even do that. First of all, they do not show all events. They only cover those in tune with the government or the opposition. I can cite an example that was mentioned in a comic show. The famous actor Lakis Lazopoulos had made the comment that TVs report the expensive prices of products in the markets, but not in the supermarkets because they are their sponsors or advertisers. No matter how simple this example is, it is real. But here we are talking about concealing an event. The same happens with international news, from which very specific events are selected. To sum up, I could say that the lack of objectivity in the Greek media is not due to the way we look at the events but to the fact that we do not want them to exist. That is why we remain silent about them.
Will all the media survive in these harsh conditions?
I am not sure. I expected that some media would be closed as a result of the crisis. They fired many journalists and technicians but they still exist. Is it not strange that, despite the lack of advertising funds from government funding or support from the parent companies, they are still here?
In Greece, there are private broadcasters who owe tens of millions, not to mention greater amounts, to the state. This money is not paid back as it should be. Some televisions owe large amounts for the social security of their employees, which are covered by the state. I would like to say that these media are still here, because corruption still exists today. It just operates differently than in the past. I have an example. When it was announced in February that Greece should sell its assets to foreign firms, the Greek media reacted very strongly, arguing that state assets should not pass into foreign hands. I.e. the problem for them was not that they would be sold, but that they would be sold to foreigners. However, after the government explicitly stated that it would not sell them to foreigners, TV stations and especially newspapers, which reacted most strongly, were more moderate in their criticism. Recently, it became clear that this national treasure will not be sold after all and will go directly into the hands of a foreign company under the Eureka plan. They started raising the voice of "national pride". This shows that corruption has not gone away. It still exists today. I believe that corruption will continue to exist even if all state property is sold. This is because it does not depend on companies but on the way the political system in Greece is structured.
What is the role of journalists in this chain and could it be broken?
It could not be broken. There are many journalists working for a TV channel, newspaper or other media who at the same time are employed in the press offices of some government functionary: a deputy, member of European Parliament, governor, mayor, etc. They do not do any special work; at least that is what the results show. They are just there to help the department that employs them reach publicity when necessary. But why not eliminate that? Why isn't any public authority or functionary prohibited from paying someone working in a medium to be his media representative?
Do you think this could happen?
I do not know. If Greece fails to avoid bankruptcy, as it seems will probably happen now, and things get even more negative, many things will change. But nobody can know exactly what will happen and in which direction things will go in a period of great and profound changes.
What is the role of electronic media in this situation? Could they replace traditional media or exert pressure for change in this direction?
Maybe they will in the future. For the moment, however, we are not at this level. There are not so many people with Internet access. In recent years, an increase in their number has been registered. Perhaps between 30 and 40 per cent of the population, but we are far behind other countries such as Britain, where the rates are very high. But, even if we assume that a person has Internet access, it is not certain that he or she will use it to be informed. Many people use the Internet for commercial purposes; others just browse and have fun and some write their personal stories on blogs. Lifestyle also determines the amount of time a person devotes to the Internet. I doubt that a person getting back home after an 8-hour workday would want to sit at the computer. Furthermore, access to foreign information pages requires knowledge of at least English and this is something that not everybody possesses.
The opportunities for disseminating information via the Internet are not just immense; they are scary. But this is different from today's reality. In this line of thought, I believe that we have somewhat overrated the Internet and its possibilities.
You mentioned blogs. Recently, there have been cases of extortion and intimidation through them. Do you think it is urgent to adopt laws on their functioning?
I think that too much importance is attached to the role of blogs as an alternative means of information compared with traditional media. Here there are serious problems to be solved. We could divide blogs into the following categories: journalistic, which belong to any traditional media or to journalists working in them but unable to publish their information; personal information, in which the authors write about themselves and what excites them; and a third category where bloggers post information published in traditional media and company blogs. I.e. we have journalistic texts in journalistic blogs, republished journalistic texts in various other blogs and comments from all other categories. Bloggers are not able to produce information themselves, because investment funds are needed for this purpose as well as organization, staff and training. The role of blogs is now quite overvalued, but in future, they could take part in informing the public. In other words, traditional media: television, radio and newspapers dominate the blogosphere, but in a different, indirect way.
As for the articles concerning specific persons, I could also say that there is exaggeration. Here we are talking about anonymity. This is not connected with the author of a text but with its content, whether the information in it is true or false. Anonymity is a right that belongs to the author; it is an international legal principle. A person has the right to write his or her name, to use a nickname or not to write anything. The problem occurs when the information published in blogs and traditional media is false. The law empowers the authorities to take measures against the person spreading false or defamatory information. In the case of blogs, they can find the author electronically. I think people who rely on this as a problem in order to make new legislation are doing it to be able to exercise a general control over the expression of a position or alternative information in the blogosphere. They are not doing it because they cannot find the authors. Ultimately, we all know that they are journalists working in traditional media.
Journalistic blogs aside, all other blogs just comment on the information published in mainstream media. Our studies indicate that publications, which comment on the privacy of individuals are few and far between. Therefore, the problem is not so serious as presented. There are legal ways for its solution. I see no reason to add new rules, because the only thing that they will achieve will be to restrict the freedom of speech.
You are a teacher. How do you see the future of your students in the Greek media?
Naturally, our students are much better educated than journalists were 20-30 years ago. Many of them had no journalistic education and became journalists through the system of apprenticeship to a respected journalist. This is not bad, but it is an outdated model and if this were enough, there would be no medical academies and technical institutes for example. Hence, there is no doubt that the new generation of journalists is much better educated.
On the other hand, students are lacking two main things. The first is that they are not very familiar with how the "closed circles" in Greece operate. When students leave university, one of the first things they should learn is how to move into an area where it is not the principles of labour market that are functioning, but the principles of closed circles. Another thing they are lacking, unlike past generations, is a strong ideological view of the events. I do not mean only the political side of things but an opinion of the world, whatever it is. Due to the lack of both these things, there is the risk that all this knowledge will not constitute a complete picture of the world and will not act as an incentive and as a lifeline, which could save you in difficult times so that you can continue your work.