Greek private media join forces against Tsipras

Greek private media join forces against Tsipras

For technical reasons this column was written before the announcement of the results of yesterday’s critical referendum in Greece. By now Greeks will have given their verdict on whether to continue with even more austerity measures after a (failed) five-year austerity program, but in exchange for a new batch of aid from their country’s creditors. Hopefully that would lead to the opening of their banks and put the rest of the public services back into a state of normalcy. In the case of a “no” vote on the grounds of “national pride” and financial exhaustion, they hope to persuade their creditors to restructure their country’s huge debt, under a new austerity agreement. 

The decision for a referendum was taken unexpectedly by leftist Prime Minister Alexi Tsipras. He took a huge risk by leaving the negotiating table with the eurozone leaders and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) at the last moment and, as he said, he was faced with a wall of resistance to all his proposals. In a move that stunned his partners in Europe, he decided to go back to Athens and appeal directly to his people while trying to hold his uneasy party together. 

In this solo attempt for political survival, he had to put up a tough fight with the opposition parties, powerful business circles and private media, who mobilized a fierce antigovernment campaign predicting catastrophic consequences from a “no to more austerity” vote and promoted a “yes, at all costs, in order to stay in the eurozone” vote.  

By now, of course, we all know the results and hopefully also know if capital controls will be lifted and if normalcy will return to peoples’ lives. 

But what I could add as a comment to this highly polarized and few-days long campaign for yesterday’s referendum is the role of the Greek media, and more specifically, the role of private Greek television channels. In an obvious state of panic they had to use their staff on a “national duty” to persuade the public that the only choice ahead, their only salvation from a national catastrophe, was to vote “yes,” implying that Tsipras’ choice to call for a referendum at a crucial moment was an attempt to “divide” the society.

Greek private TV channels have an interesting past, since the deregulation of the media in the 1980s.  As Greek Prof. N. Leandros wrote, they have presented a picture of an “interdependence between political and media elites and strong clientelist relations.” There is a high level of ownership concentration that has allowed a handful of business tycoons operating in other industry sectors to become media barons too, allowing them to act as a strong tool for the manipulation of the audience. 

The short period that led to yesterday’s referendum in Greece proved to be one of the worst examples for keeping fundamental rules of journalistic ethics. All rules were set aside, as commentators, guests and reporters were pushing the “yes” option. Even the Greek election law that all political discussions which may influence the voter stop on the eve of the referendum was beached by one of the private channels. The public broadcaster – ERT - recently reopened by the Syriza-led government after being closed down for two years by the previous government, tried to keep some balance but could not help, however, siding with the government. 

All through the pre-referendum period, the main privately owned channels openly campaigned in favor of “yes” to a degree unseen ever before in Greek media history, media experts said. 

“Such an escalation of one-sidedness, prejudice and breaching of basic rules, I do not think has occurred ever in the past... Most media outlets owe their existence to banking loans and are worried about any new loan procedures, because it is not sure whether they would be able to secure the loans they used to get before. This may mean their end,” said Greek media Prof. G. Pleios, who added that private media’s unpaid fees for the frequencies they have been using since the 1980s amounts to a staggering 2 billion euros.