Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Background analysis II: Tampering with the media: editorial line and sources of information

Political influence upon the media is noticeable on how the editorial line shall be defined to ensure that only certain stories are told. Otherwise at risk is that certain key versions will no longer hold and prevailing power games shall be upset.

At no time this became most evident in Greece, than when the financial crisis started due to the extent of the deficit being made public by the Papandreou government. For the media, and not only ERT, remained muted about where all the money had vanished to.

Although Enzensberger had stated already nowadays scandals hardly matter to upset the continual existence of 'morality of no morality', it was interesting to follow how the affairs surrounding Zachopoulos were handled. Once a video about him with a woman was threatened to be released to the press, he tried to kill himself by leaping from the fourth floor in 2006. Everything connected with that was quickly put under a lid and the woman put into jail without charges, in order to keep her silent.

As such a silence can be classified as part of a general 'conspiracy against truth', some would go even as far and suggest that political practice of the corrupt elite follows similar models as practised by such organisations like the Mafia, but not only. For instance, Günter Grass kept silent about his SS-past for over 60 years. The question is why editors toe the line rather than encourage journalists to do further research?

After Germany emerged out of the war, initiating democratic practice was linked to ensuring the media would no longer be a propaganda machine as it had become under Goeppels. Above all, great importance was given to keep apart editorial opinion and factual news distinct. It was considered that the public needs to be trained every day to keep these two things apart, so that they can make their own political judgment about issues of the day.

There is great wisdom behind this insistence and which needs to be upheld at all times. Perception and interpretation of news has to rely on sources of information but also be able to hear opinions about what and why it happened. By making a distinction between the two, it means as well opinions count but not as if facts. Hence they can be discussed and questioned as more and more facts are revealed. 

Propaganda mixes the two and generates opinions as if already proven facts. In turn, this would determine opinions and leave no freedom to different interpretations. Instead confusion would reign and a plurality of opinions not given a chance so that individuals could find through that process their own opinion.

It is most disturbing that over time that this distinction has been watered down and a growing interdependence between editorial line and selection of facts which suit that line making 'freedom of the press' into sheer mockery. 

As a result the general public becomes desinterested. In turn, editors can reinforce their subtle form of censorship with comments like 'who shall read that' or else 'no one is interested in that'. The fictitious reader becomes the key alibi for the editorial line adopted over the short and long run. By mixing up opinion and facts, the public immune system against all kinds of propaganda tricks breaks down and a new kind of vulernability develops. The latter is linked to when the general public incurs a loss of memory and has then no longer a memory base to receive and to interpret things in terms of what has been said before or happened in the past.

In recent times, and especially due to events surrounding 911, a marked increase of spin doctor like reports has become fashionable. Rove as spin doctor of President Bush was a master of that. It made manipulation of public opinion into a prime task of a media asked to stay not only loyal to the President, but more so be 'patriotic' to the USA and American interests. Out of this followed a kind of typified sample of media work geared to report just good news, and therefore respond in an one sided fashion whenever American interests were threatened or in danger. The risk was heightened for the media if the US administration did not appear in the general public light as being successful. Crucial was always to have not an active, but a silent majority behind the President's decisions even if this was the outcome of manipulation of and by the media.

By itself tampering with the media is never sufficient to silence the critics, but surely goes already a long way in that direction.

Since ERT has a long history of 87 years to look back upon, its editors at the news desks can surely give an account under what constraints they worked during different time periods, and how nevertheless they managed to secure the continuity and integrity of ERT as a public TV and Radio station capable of reaching out to people in all walks of life. Since doubt have been expressed that ERT would report such things linked to the scandals which made the Greek deficit possible, this needs to be verified as to how critical ERT programs were when not only revelations about the deficit were made by Papandreou after gaining power in 2009, but also if before investigative journalism had a chance to be heard. Courageous editors is here what counts the most.

Given that ERT was very much composed of a mixture of different influential groups, the editorial line would reflect much more basic tendencies within Greek society virulent until the crisis hit. Thus how editors would relate to processes determined by formal requirements, and not reduce news as being in reality no news but just a confirmation what everyone thought anyway to be the case (the best way of creating invisible walls to protect those in power from too much public scrutiny), needs to be examined. Also when it comes to legitimize decisions and to work out accordingly the administrative procedures, politicians would resort to some ideological justiciation, but in terms of Greek and European society, the decisions were more often an outcome of a kaleidoscope of political party interests. Thus parties would organise a certain disposition to view, for example, Europe, Brussels and this often anonymous source of money in only stereo typical ways. It would have made a difference to allow for a critical thinking when it came to looking at how EU funds were handled, and not just reduced to either lack of absorption rate to highlight a typical inefficience or else some success stories like the Prime Minister opening a new road system.

If public opinion is vital for the functioning of democracy, then a public media station is obliged to highlight the art of reaching agreements. It would have to reveal what goes on within the various gremiums, for decisions made there all go well beyond a mere compromise. It would have to highlight how different the perception is once witnessing one of the parliamentary committees and what is the general impression of politics. Naturally it depends how news coverage can be linked to letting the viewer understand the political process, even if only an outsider, someone watching from the vantage point of being at home, in the living room, and yet keen to follow news.

Greek news coverage has not been that bad as made out to be. The demise is a part of the justification strategy to shut down ERT. Rather it would be important for political debates making it clear what are editorial and what are political decisions. Neither are formed along well established rules but they go about in very different ways, in order to find out what the issue is all about and according to which laws and practical judgement would be the wisest decision. For instance, a politician may get the spleen to promote all of a sudden gulf courses as if this would help tourism, when in fact such a project is hardly compatible with the Mediterranean landscape. But before all arguments are heard, there need to be made clear the ramifications of such proposals, and this over and beyond being a mere fashionable buzz word within a setting suddendly transformed and electrified since a potential investor has suddenly showed up. Public awareness for the impact of these proposed projects is more than just being caught by the wind of rumors. There is a need to refer at all times and to adhere to what is in the interest of the public, and this should never become an empty claim or even worse a mask to hide private interests.

Certainly a public media and its editorial line has to ensure that the plurality of opinion can contradict any time an idea claiming to be the totality of all possibilities, and therefore by necessicity the only options as if no other alternative exists. The compulsive nature of the system can and does set into motion certain arguments as if this is the only plausible reality. To counter this convincing power or persuasion by coercive reasoning, there is needed a respected public space in which public truths about these matters can be discussed openly. As a matter of fact, openness and honest is the best defense against ill contrived reasons put forth when politicians would want to realize something specific, and in reality end up but favoring one sided and more often harmful interests. 

In any public media like ERT an editorial line is set up, in order to know what has to be taken into consideration and what counts in order to solicit the most comprehensive insight into what moves current and past events. As this entails a constant anticipation as to what shall follow, the editorial line must include a continous checking of all sources of information and seek to get the best possible opinon on this specific matter. That includes opinons about the parties in power as much as of those in opposition. To make understand the political process itself, the editorial line should defined clearly the problems faced by the government, review what information is made available officially with regards to these issues, and what is needed to countercheck this in terms of what counts most, namely 'public opinion'. It entails asking the citizens for their opinion and a validation of the information out there by leading experts in the field. It is also well known that the time given to any particular issue - editors talk here about 'exposure' - matters in how the general public shall view this matter. Priorities alter in relation to what matters the most in the opinion of the public. Hence news reports have to provide insights into the process of deliberation and categorize which opinions are expressed in favor or against about pending decisions.  Alone by drawing attention to this issue, it alters perceptions as well as can influence the positions taken by those involved in the decision making process.

In short, the influence of the media is tremendous, just as all parties involved have their own strategy on how to deal with the media. Any official body like a government or for that matter the European Commisison considers this to be of such great importance, that they give resources to have a press speaker, and an overall public relations department which ensures the press is fed in a certain and definite way. Since everything can influence the outcome of the negotiations nothing is left to chance on how the press is being informed from the official side, and through the public media the general public.

It should be in the interest of the editorial line to ensure that the best outcome is secured, and this by having taken care to hear all opinions, even the most critical ones or those being agaings the pending project. How crucial this is can be easily demonstrated by how the media in America influenced the public once Henry Ford has made his first car. The public debate was about the two options or priorities: more public transportation or private means of moving about. Since the media was heavily influenced by business interests, and linked to them by certain political parties, the illusion was created as if the majority wished the private car as future means of transporation. Little did this debate regard what impact it would have on the future of cities. Bascially that decision in favor of the car destroyed American cities and made plausible the expansion out to the suburbs. Today Detroit is a waste land and governed as if under military law since bankrupt. Had at that time editors found the courage to withstand the temptation to jump on the bandwagon in favor of the car, the worst consequences of that decision might have been avoided or at least be modified, insofar as care would have taken to make sure all cities have installed means of public transportation systems, and do not rely soley on the car for getting about.

If the editorial line is to benefit only certain parties, then ERT or any other public radio and TV station would lose out in the end. In a certain way, ERT has already since the closure is such a heavy censorship, that the resistance mounted by journalists working now 'illegally' shall not be enough if their work is not recognized as a contribution to upholding the public good and interest. Only with such general recognition can it be ensured, that some basic truths about the state of affairs shall be articulated.

Whatever the outcome, it has to be shared with all. This is not the case right now with ERT. Instead endless negotiations about necessary reforms obscured the reason why no clear outcome was achieved. The list of reasons for this is endless. But if incompetence and failures to agree are then papered over by what amounts to a false generalization about the state of affairs at ERT, this would not do either. As usual in many cases of Greek politics, all participants end up agreeing to disagree at this point. It allows them to argue the outcome is such that further studies are needed or why objections of the others could not be taken into account at this moment in time. This sets off usually a new round of negotiations.

Anything approaching the status of being a true agreement has to be questioned. In the end only false truth are claimed as if this is something supposedly shared by all. It is a false claim to legitimize the obscurity of the decision not made, but is masked by an elegant formula to express denial of the reality everyone supposed to be suffering under. Common pain, but oddily enough no common sentiment for the other. The rules for deliberations are so much fixed and ingrained that nothing can be done about them. It leads to resignation or rather to a specific work apathy and amounts to a tacit agreement that the real outcome was but one thing for sure: no real change! Business as usual!


Practical analysis:

It is said that since ERT journalists continue to broadcast despite the government's order to shut down this public media, and they do so via Internet, all programs and news reports have improved tremendously in quality. This is an expression of both extraordinary times but also what the newly found freedom from political appointees and their increasing influence, so that editors had to toe the line, can bring about. This will certainly set new standards, and can be used to compare what the real difference between an independent press and a media dependent upon political support amounts to.

For live streaming of ERT programs go to


EBU is hosting the broadcasts but takes not responsibility for the editorial content.

Also ERT can be heard at Antimnimonio http://antimnimonioblog.blogspot.gr/

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