Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Background analysis V: "No" to over commercialization of the public media

Politics, if not handled well, has a tendency to unravel in a bad way.

In the case of the closure of ERT, no one knows really what is going to happen to the 2 700 people who have been employed there. Definitely even the promise to keep at first 2000 and then reach over time the target of 1000 says something about the reductionist approach taken once austerity measures are applied.

As pointed out in the press declaration by Europe's Council of Music, the cited number includes three orchestras and a choir. Alone that composition differs from simple numbers of employees as they have been playing and performing together and thereby contributed greatly to the cultural diversity in Europe. It would be a mistake to erase these existing creative units and reduce them to a simple number of so many people. What would, for instance, Hector Berlioz say, if he wanted to perform with four orchestras at the cross section of a cathedral? In short, who is to dictate the number of people required to serve in the interest of the public cultural diversity and plurality of the media? 

Even though the government has announced the possibility that some shall be re-hired once the new unit is set up, the political influence upon the selection process shall be greater than ever before. A special minister has been appointed by Samaras after the DIMAR party left the coalition government, and a cabinet reshuffle had to take place, but whether Kapsis as new minister will be capable of handling the situation, that remains to be seen. His first announcement after being appointed and sworn in on June 25 amounts to the following promise: “We have the chance to make a leap forward and create a new broadcaster which matches the expectations of the Greek people and is free of party politics and interventions.”

How he will come to terms with true resistance within ERT remains to be seen. Journalists have continued to broadcast since 11th of June when the announcement was made that ERT shall be shut down. Will it come to a clash once the ERT building will be taken over by pro government forces? It is hard to imagine that violence can be avoided, if it does not come to some kind of sensible understanding in which direction to search for a viable solution. At least the union representing the ERT workers, POSPERT, stated already that its members have no intention of abandoning the ERT building in Aghia Paraskevi. Moreover in terms of real costs of this economic war fare, the trade union representatives have figured out, compensation for sacked employees, the cancelling of contracts for TV and radio programs and the loss of revenues from coverage of events that had been paid for would end up costing the government 300 to 500 million Euros. Obviously someone had not made his calculations when doing that lonely decision to shut down ERT.

In short, a messy situation has been created. The shut down signalled that in reality the state and therefore Greek society is governed no longer in accordance with democratic principles, but while this impression had already prevailed before, now it has become more certain in the minds of many more people. Such break down in trust will have unforeseen consequences because the ruling consensus cannot be maintained any longer.

As for political consequences, DIMAR's withdrawal exposes as well the remaining two parties of the coalition government. After all both have been responsible for all the mess. Since they are now solely in power, but shall rule with the slim majority of just three seats (153 seats in a 300 member chamber), they will have to try even harder to uphold the illusion of being still in control, and therefore able to govern. If they will commit any further grave errors which shall undermine any legitimacy they may have still left, it would prove to be disastrous not only for them but for any government in Greece in near future.

Given the difference between use of coercive powers to control and governance by democratic, i.e. rational and discursive means, a lot will fore tell on how the newly re-established Ministry of Culture the sub-minister for broadcasting, Pantelis Kapsis from PASOK will proceed to resolve the situation at ERT. From the analysis so far,

In short, not politicians should impose standards for journalists and editors, but a discursive practice between ERT and the general public be allowed to give shape to a new social contract. It would need to be carefully worked out in order to have in place safeguards against possible political influence. The ethical vision should be the basis of that social contract already prevailing as long as Greek tax payers cover the main operational costs of ERT.

Needless to say ERT is not just as any other public body but rightly so brings about a media culture of a different i.e. non private order. Hence many more journalist and public duties and interests have to be taken into account than what would be the case of a private channel operating according to its own interests.

Critical is the financial aspect. Even the best public broadcaster can be driven into the wrong hands and direction, if obliged to finance themselves like any private channel. That would be the case if all programmes and work done has to be financed by means of obtaining advertising revenues. This is, for example, already the case in Canada with the third programme of CBC, famous for its cultural quality, is now obliged by the Harper government to transmit no longer free of any advertisement, but to base its economic viability on this source of revenue. As this shall alter the public interface, it will affect public and private taste, and therefore give way to a commercial culture.

Rightly so the European Commission had initiated in 1996 the Article 10 ERDF program to finance pilot projects which examine not only if culture can create jobs, but what can be done to avoid over commercialization since the latter threatens cultural identities and cultural diversities. Still the support of public media has been missing when the EU Commission has set priorities for potential linkages between economy and culture. Instead much has given way to this ever more commercialization of culture with creative hubs, creative cities, cultural and creative industries etc. being a part of the pseudo new galaxies to convince member states that something is being done to uphold cultural diversity in Europe.

It is important to take a closer look as to what happens once the media is taken over by private channels and even public funded outlets required to finance themselves through allowing for advertisements throughout their programmes. For sure, it will affect listeners and viewers in a most adverse way. Consequently they will look for alternatives and disregard at the same time what is made available public i.e. free of charges, and this for the sake of providing access to culture. It is like British museums allowing free entry. Something like that guarantees that people can relate to something which they share as something in common, namely an interest in culture, history, and ongoing reflections as part of the ongoing memory work being done in various ways. This means outstanding work is being done when it can be shown who contributes to common life, and not to further some private product which means in turn extra profits for the one producing and selling that specific item. Developments have come dangerously close to a perversion of the entire public sphere but without free access, the public trust in public truths cannot be sustained. It means also that many important contributions will not be recognized and remain largely in the social unknown.

If the sociologist Berger had spoken at the time when this social scientific field came into its own about the need to image society in real terms, then this is impossible when there is not this link between public truth and public space. And without imagination freely flowing in between all people, there would be no more free movement nor the freedom to take pleasure when seeing others do something different. Mass conformity is brought about in the absence of such differentiation made possible by the imagination kept alive at all times. Like the permanent flame or the Big Ben ringing all the time to signal that the continuity of existence in freedom is still guaranteed by all institutions, it matters how people reflect these institutions and what they give back in turn.

Hence it all depends upon what is conceived to be for the public good and what shall retain the model of being a public entity. 'Public' as a term is one of the most abused ones due to present circumstances of an economic war fare being waged. Still, going public, has retained some validity, even though it should not mean as in the case with Wikileak and more recently with Snowden, to be then treated like traitors. To safeguard the public against abuse of power, including still further intrusions by governments into private lives, is one of the most important tasks of the media. Likewise threats to public interests by illegal deals called 'legally' privatization measures, such as drilling in the Artic, remain contentious since nature does not have the voice. The same goes for the silent majority. Here remains a lot to be done, even though Michel Foucault warned about lyrical protest or overt political challenges covering up rather than revealing the reasons for having gone silent. Media culture is made up too often by outspoken critis while there remains hidden the public at large.

The best indication of this negative trend is when governments in a coalition with private interests deprive the public of any validity or right to say its opinion in a pluralistic manner. It goes with the right to know as to what is going on and what decisions are going to be taken. Public interest is all the more at stake especially if these decisions are going to affect everyone's lives. Public opinion has to be taken serious. If everything was to be done alone in the name of private interests, then there would be no such critical measure. Public opinion would be all but manipulated and pre fabricated lies, something no one could trust anymore. Consequently the demand on any government has to be to state what is its public policy. Therefore, people can relate through the media to the government once it is known which measures this government wishes to enact upon, in order to safeguard and to uphold the freedom and independence of the press.

Hatto Fischer

Athens 26.6.2013

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