Greek public broadcasting does better without government intervention
The incident has already been circulated all over the world. Here in Turkey, the media gave enough space to the despicable show of racist violence by a candidate of the extreme right Golden Dawn Party in Greece against two female candidates from leftist parties.
The seriousness of the incident itself, however, overshadowed another important element of the event; that the attack took place during a live morning TV news program, on a private channel, the one who has seen with the highest ratings for several years.
Next Sunday will be the second time the Greek media will cover a general election event since the unprecedented crisis hit the country. For almost three years they have been trying to cover the crisis, and have in theory given enough accurate information to enable Greek citizens to be able to cast their vote with full knowledge of the consequences. For almost three years the Greeks have watched enough political discussions, listened to enough economy experts, read enough political scientists’ articles and followed enough reporters’ explanations of the extent of the crisis. By now terms like “spreads” and “CDS” have become part of their daily jargon wile Angela Merkel is perhaps the face they see more than any local politician. Are they accurately and objectively informed?
The Greek crisis hit the country’s media too; several news outlets have closed down, while the ones still operating have had to impose salary cuts. Loss of advertising revenue and a fall in paper sales are being projected as the main causes. However, the owners of private media typically are also major stake holders of state projects so some their media outlet served as a platform for political pressure. Not surprisingly, the analysis of the crisis often reflected the business vision of their owners.
As the nature of the crisis was linked with the economy, economy experts became an integral part of TV discussion panels. However, as the time went by and as the austerity storm hit the society and the analysis of the crisis became a subject of fierce debates, Greek media consumers watched how some anti-memorandum economists disappeared from their TV screens, only to reappear on the plethora of alternative electronic news sites, magazines, radios and blogs that made up for the lack of information.
With ratings falling, hoards of journalists out of work and employers unhappy and interfering the remaining news media try hard to save face, but often make wrong choices in favor of high ratings or under pressure from their owners. The choice of putting together people likely to clash has been a customary practice on Greek TV, especially now with an audience whose fatigue and hardship has reduced its interest.
Recently Greece has been led by an appointed prime minister followed by a caretaker government which will take the country to elections this Sunday. This has left the country without a traditional form of government for some time. But it is precisely that very political void which allowed the Greek public media to do their job better. With no interference ‘from above” they could use their human resources properly and apply editorial principles, the principle of “fair representation of all views” was used. Even that violent candidate deputy had appeared on the main news of ERT a few days ago, but alone and tamed.
This cool and calm environment on Greek public media was also appreciated by the audience. ERT news programs show a steady rise in ratings competing with those of private channels.
That proves the much repeated, but never observed, principle that public media if left alone by the government functions much better than the private.