Category Archives: Media

Happy anniversary. How about a reform?

Illustration by Manos Symeonakis http://www.cartoonmovement.com/p/6035

Illustration by Manos Symeonakis http://www.cartoonmovement.com/p/6035

It is one year to the day since Greece held its second general election in two months and third in three years. What better way to celebrate the occasion than trying to relive the uncertainty and tension we experienced during the summer of 2012? The leaders of Greece’s three coalition parties go into a meeting this evening with the future of their government less secure than it has been at any point during the 12 months. The cause of their dispute suggests that even if this crisis is overcome, deeper problems lie ahead.

The spark that threatens to burn the house down is the closure of public broadcaster ERT. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who ordered the shutdown, suggested over the weekend that the bigger picture in this standoff is that he is a reformer and the others, both in his government and in opposition, are not. But what does he really mean by reform?

His justification for closing ERT was that it was overstaffed, too expensive and a source of corruption. Greece needs a more modern broadcaster, along the lines of the BBC, it has been suggested. All of these things may be true to a greater or lesser extent but there has been no attempt by the government to back this up with any substance, just the standard smattering of platitudes.

Continue reading

Advertisements

ERT: From test card to test case for Greece

Illustration by Manos Symeonakis http://www.cartoonmovement.com/p/6035

Illustration by Manos Symeonakis http://www.cartoonmovement.com/p/6035

Having ploughed on through a number of sticky patches over the last 12 months, it would be more than careless of Greece’s coalition government to sink into the mire due to differences over how to deal with public broadcaster ERT. Yet, a year on from when a second election in June led to the formation of the three-party administration, its future seems less secure than ever.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s decision to announce on Tuesday the immediate closure of the state TV and radio service left his coalition partners, Evangelos Venizelos of PASOK and Fotis Kouvelis of Democratic Left, apoplectic and demanding a meeting, which will take place on Monday and could put the administration at risk if a compromise is not found. They had not consented to this move and there had been no debate about it in Parliament. A legislative act was signed only by the ministers from Samaras’s conservative New Democracy party and, after 75 years, the broadcaster went silent.

The problem for Samaras is that the backlash to his decision was rather noisy. ERT employees refused to comply with orders to abandon their posts and continued to broadcast with the help of volunteers who got the broadcaster’s main TV news channel, NET, back on air. Thousands of people gathered outside the service’s headquarters in northeastern Athens and opposition parties condemned the decision. Criticism soon began arriving from journalism federations outside Greece. The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) also labelled the shutdown “a damning first in the history of European Broadcasting.” In a letter to Samaras, 50 director generals of Europe’s public broadcasters said his action was “undemocratic and unprofessional”.

Continue reading

ERT off air: Thought for the day

erttestcard_390_1106One of the great moments in global radio is BBC Four’s “Thought for the Day.” Greek state broadcaster ERT is one of many that have adopted the format, giving a couple of minutes of airtime on its Second Program to the great and good musing about faith, current affairs and life in general. One can only wonder, though, exactly what the government’s thought for the day was when it decided to shut down ERT and dismiss some 2,700 staff on Tuesday.

There was plenty wrong with ERT, which had long been treated like most other parts of the public sector by successive governments who felt they had supporters to take care of and money to burn. Its 19 regional radio stations speak of an excess that was simply unsustainable. Thessaloniki, a city with 800,000 inhabitants, had three radio stations when Inner London, which has a population of more than 3 million, has only one.

There was also a lot to cherish about ERT, though. It continued to make challenging documentaries when practically nobody else in Greece did. Its stations played music that nobody else would. Even its insistence on sticking with tinny 80s theme tunes for its news and sports shows had a naive charm about it. Most of all, though, it did the job that all national broadcasters should do by being a common reference point for millions. There are few more emotional experiences one can have listening to the radio than hearing Diaspora Greeks cast to the four corners of the earth calling in to a Saturday night show on the Second Program to request Greek songs and share their memories and feelings about the homeland they left behind.

Continue reading

From austerity to Ottocracy: Rehhagel’s return

Illustration by Manos Symeonakis

Illustration by Manos Symeonakis

Otto Rehhagel has proved throughout his long career as a soccer player and coach that he has many qualities. Diplomacy was never one of them. “Everyone’s free to say what I want,” he once told journalists. His tendency to gradually assume total control of the German clubs he managed even merited its own term – Ottocracy.

Yet, at the age of 74, Rehhagel is being called on by his homeland to show tact and sensitivity on a mission to Greece, which was his adopted home between 2001 and 2010 when he coached the Greek national team. Bild newspaper provided the rather surprising news on Wednesday that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had chosen Rehhagel to go on a goodwill mission to Athens in a bid to give relations between the two countries a boost and ensure that German tourists give the Greek economy a lift over the summer.

Although Rehhagel will reportedly meet with President Karolos Papoulias and Prime Minister Antonis Samaras during the visit, his assignment appears to be the latest attempt at low-level micro-diplomacy between Germany and Greece.

Continue reading

A strange kind of freedom

The acquittal of journalist Costas Vaxevanis has been hailed by some as a victory for press freedom in Greece. It is certainly a success for Vaxevanis and the Hot Doc magazine he edits, and goes some way to vindicating his decision to publish a list of some 2,000 Greeks holding accounts at the Geneva branch of HSBC. Whether it strikes a decisive blow in favor of press freedom in Greece is open to debate.

The unusual amount of international attention this story has received and the prominence that some media around the world have afforded it has led to dust being kicked over the nuances involved. Context has suffered as much of the coverage fed the understandable human urge to look for heroes and villains. Goodness knows we have been short of heroes in Greece. Goodness knows we have had more than our fair share of villains.

However, the reality is that this story is not about a crusading journalist who blew a corruption scandal wide open. It is more complex than that. It is the story of an incompetent and, to a large extent, compromised system that was unable or unwilling to carry out one of the many basic functions it often fails to fulfill: to check if its citizens were cheating. Insult was added to injury when officials produced pathetic excuses to explain their failures. Addressing this problem will take much more than a magazine article. It requires a prolonged, consistent effort from the media and citizens to ensure failing institutions finally fulfill their designated role. If the media instead attempts to fill the position of these institutions, rather than targeting the vested interests that prevent their proper functioning, the situation will only be made worse.

Continue reading

News or ad break?

“News is something somebody doesn’t want printed, everything else is advertising,” one of the USA’s most famous publisher’s, William Randolph Hearst, said. The incompetence and wilful neglect that Greek authorities have shown over the last few years with regards to investigating a list of Greeks with large amounts deposited in the Geneva branch of HSBC suggests that it contains information some people don’t want to be printed.

Journalist Costas Vaxevanis and his Hot Doc magazine have decided to test this theory by publishing the list of names supposedly on the CD given to the Greek government by French officials in 2010. That the details provided on the CD were not investigated for more than two years is a scandal. It is compounded by the fact that two finance ministers – Giorgos Papaconstantinou and Evangelos Venizelos – failed to ensure that the data was utilized and that two heads of the financial crimes squad (SDOE) – Yiannis Diotis and Yiannis Kapeleris – failed to ascertain whether there were any tax evaders on the list.

Continue reading

Maintaining momentum in the climate change debate

I have been fortunate to take part for the past two days in the 6th Asia-Europe Journalists’ Seminar in Szentendre, Hungary, which has been organised by the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) in conjunction with the 10th ASEM Foreign Ministers’ Meeting.

Our main topic of discussion has been the climate change debate and the role that the media can or should play in it. The meeting has provided a fascinating insight into the often different but sometimes converging views and experiences of climate change in Europe and Asia. It is clear that the need for action on both continents is becoming more urgent by the day. It is equally clear that the media has to play a role in informing the public about the growing challenges and opportunities that are emerging on both sides of the globe.

Continue reading