Does rude journalism work?
These days a serious debate has been taking place regarding the proper practice of journalism especially in periods of political and economic crises. In particular about the fine line between journalism as a tool to provide correct information to society and the effort of the political power to prevent it from doing so.
An interesting incident occurred in Greece a few days ago involving Michael Martens, the Istanbul-based correspondent for the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), who tried to interview the leader of the leftist Greek main opposition party of Syriza, Alexis Tsipras. The German journalist wanted to interview Tsipras because he had arrived at the conclusion from the comments of the young opposition leader quoted by the Greek press that Tsipras’s rhetoric was irresponsible. “I thought that this man was fooling his people. So I decided to bring him face to face with some of his own statements and to see whether he means what he says. I wanted to understand who is the person behind these words,” said Martens to TA NEA newspaper.
To try to extract the real man behind the public image of a young popular politician who feels he is about to become the next prime minister is not easy.
The only method, I know of is a tough style, a well-prepared list of questions, good evidence to counter-argue and not accepting half answers.
The interview started with a difficult question. The journalist showed a cartoon published on the Syriza party organ, Avgi, showing Angela Merkel talking on the phone to Hitler and saying, “We are indebted only to you.” Tsipras defended the freedom of satire which, by the way, German tabloids have been using extensively against the Greeks. The journalist continued his attempts to corner him. He became provocative quoting statements by Tsipras blaming the Germans for siding with semi-fascistic politicians. He tried to get the “king” drop his clothes. Eventually, the inevitable happened. Tsipras lost his cool, disrupted the interview and told the journalist that they should finish this conversation in “another life.”
Martens was demonized by the pro-Syriza press but also by other Greek journalists who attribute his tough style to a biased anti-Greek attitude reflecting the general atmosphere among the German press. Martens apologized for one comment only, defended his case and added more details claiming that Tsipras’s press officer asked him after the failed interviewed whether he had been “helped” with his questions by the editor of a pro-government Greek newspaper.
“I have interviewed many PMs, presidents and ministers, but in Russia, Serbia and Turkey never did any press officer call me to interrogate me as to whom I met in order to prepare my questions,” he said.
As we were not present we cannot judge as to what extent the journalist did his job or was biased.
But one thing we should say: A journalist’s job is to “extract” the truth when the truth is not obvious. They are neither supposed to be pleasant nor to be a promoter of people in power.
Unfortunately unpleasant journalists are a rare phenomenon these days. Sending lists of questions to press officers in advance is a common practice. The politicians are speaking much more than in the past, they are much more exposed and promoted. But do we learn the truth? I doubt it.
It is in these days that I look back with nostalgia to the guru of Anglo-Saxon “rude” journalism, Sir Robin Day, who made politicians leave his live TV show in desperation.