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Towards a new media strategy

The failure of media strategies do not pertain solely to Greece, but is a world wide trend. For instance, someone who worked for Indian-English TV for more than a decade started to experience in the last couple of years how jaded it has become as an industry. The result is that any media reporter has to fight endlessly to produce 'meaningful' content, for it has become an advertiser's world and (in India) cinema and politics take precedence over all else.


The failed media strategy

The shut down of ERT on June 11th 2013 implies a definite policy shift. Whether out of sheer desperation or merely the consequence of Samaras becoming ever more 'radical', it signals as well a long standing failure to develop a new strategy for the public media. The latter is not perceived as of yet as being the true cause for all the unrest and equally delay in coming to terms to a new media age. Rather the problem is right now reduced to being just a matter of finding the political courage to finally start cutting jobs in the civil service of Greece.

For sure, during its first year in office, the Samaras government failed to reform ERT. But instead of taking the responsibility for that, blame is attributed to ERT itself, and if not to the trade union of the employees of ERT, then to the former Minister for Public Works who came from the smaller coalition partner, the DIMAR party. Although everyone knew the prospect of cutting any civil service job as demanded by the Troika was impossible for that party to comply, he had been given that post to this member of DIMAR with the consequence, that nothing was done. It was simply the red line which that party would not cross.

As to the justifications given by his spokesman for the sudden closure of ERT, it indicates that the public media shall not be treated any better in future. Instead of relating as to what is at stake if an independent public media is shut down, he refers to the need to become more efficient. Presumably it means instead of a conscious policy needed to uphold the public media since essential for the democratic functioning of the state, the new broadcasting unit will reflect an overarching digital strategy for handling information flows under the surveillance of the government. After all, governments have to face the challenge of the new media which digital technology has made possible. Recent unrest throughout the world have demonstrated that social media can become a most potent weapon used by protesters against efforts by governments to stay in control.


The role of the new social media

Already the social media showed in Egypt and elsewhere the ability of protesters to organize themselves. It has made governments around the world aware what power this connection possibility at horizontal level entails. Hence the need for governments to take appropriate measures, in order to resume again control over public opinion. Naturally one of the best ways is co-opt any protest movement. It is done by not exerting so much influence by putting public media under stricter regulation, but by reforming it with the help of social media.

For instance, the BBC has organized already several such public forums, in order to see how news provided by its journalists can be complemented, but also be circumvented by what is passed on via Twitter, Facebook and the rest. It follows that the network of local correspondents which the BBC kept till last, is no longer needed, while different language services are scrapped in favour of one high-tech digital TV broadcast. That is itself an indication of an economic war being more advanced in the use of digital tools. Also digital images are used far more effectively to advance, hide or manipulate the strategies deployed to claim resources or to outdo any competitor. Spying itself has reached another level when China hacks into US security computers or surveillance techniques of the US security agency cover by now the entire globe. It alters both control mechanisms and news reporting once data flows can be tracked so easily. All that necessitates an adaptation of the public media to such a world becoming ever more interdependent, and, so it seems, ever more a virtual world which includes star wars.


The media and Greek reality

But back to Greek reality: ERT has come under attack due to the government wishing to kill two birds with one stone: demonstrate to the Troika that civil service jobs shall be cut and signal to society and trade unions even such an important institute as ERT is no longer off-limits. In both cases, the government succumbs to the austerity measures. They are still being sold as if the best path towards reform when their path is really one of destruction fore mostly of dreams people had.

For sure, there is a huge difference between a careful deliberation process by which 2000 civil service jobs are cut and the shut down of the entire public media in Greece. Whatever the reasons, the Samaras government had not done enough to assure that a proper implementation of the austerity measures as agreed upon with the Troika, was on track. It was not. Due to unnecessary delays and circumventing always the need to act until the final moment, the Greek government has to resort to such a crude measure as the closure of ERT, in order to safe face and still be convincing to the Troika that it is in control. It is the usual game, so it seems, not to do anything till it is almost too late and just before the Troika arrives for the next round of negotiation, then something is done but in haste. Crude measures are taken without having given it much thought as to all the implications. Apparently Samaras wanted to convince, symbolically speaking, by axing in one stroke 2 700 jobs but in so doing he went much further than he could ever imagine.

The grave side of his lone decision is that his government demonstrates in fact little concern that a public media is needed at all times to safeguard democracy. Once public truths cannot be aired, the government can do what it likes for one simple reason: many shall not even notice it. In no uncertain way, it signals again a drift towards the autocratic type of governance as being practised already, for instance, by Prime Minister Harper in Canada, or what was demonstrated likewise when Greece had the non-elected technocratic Papademos in the post of an elected prime minister. Papademos replaced Prime Minister Papandreou after the latter fell out by proposing to put an already agreed upon bailout package for Greece to the test of a referendum. That was in late 2011 and it cost Papandreou the job.

Nearly two years later, and still no serious reform of the civil service having been realized, it can be supposed that things simply reached a point when everything can over-boil. As to the new broadcasting unit, presumably the envisioned structure will have to fulfil what the current government considers to be 'efficient'. It may even force the unit to make a profit although as a public institution it should be non profit orientated. If so, it would have tremendous repercussions on how news and information would be handled. For once public media has to operate just like any other business enterprise, thereby profit making the sole motive, programs with substantial content will no longer matter. Rather advertisement and popular success stories will dominate. It amounts to a cheap sell-out to just one overriding message, namely that only the intricacy between power and financial world shall lead to success. If such a media production came about in order to uphold a fictitious world, it will ruin public taste and critical judgement as to the difference between public and political truth.


Towards a new media strategy

Since this is such a serious matter, and goes way beyond simple media manipulation, the negative technique behind such a concept of media has to be put in philosophical and political terms:

Conditions for content production and good programs

The failure to realize a new media strategy does not pertain solely to Greece; it is a world wide trend. For instance, someone who worked for Indian-English TV for more than a decade started to experience in the last couple of years how jaded it has become as an industry. The result is that any media reporter has to fight endlessly to produce 'meaningful' content, for it has become an advertiser's world and (in India) cinema and politics take precedence over all else.

Only where serious and quality content is made available via public media, can the commercial trend towards new propaganda techniques be countered. If a media strategy is to be based on a participation by people and their cultural prisms, then following aspects should be taken further into consideration:


Code of ethics

News, comments, opinions, criticism etc. do not take place in a void, but form altogether a context in which it is self understood no one has the Right to incite hate. As this touches upon free speech or the freedom to express one's opinions, critical self assessment but also review boards are needed to monitor the news reporting and programming process. In the UK, there have been attempted a new model but it is not working to the satisfaction of everyone, insofar as there was a definite breach in ethics of journalism.

Journalist do need to follow a code of ethics but be free as well in their work from any political or any corruptive influence i.e. financial pressures. The freedom is needed if journalists are to stand as to what they report. Kevin Cooper, a photo journalist in Belfast, supported many journalist when they came under pressure not to have that photo printed or to suppress that news item. That attempt to influence what gets out into the press has always been a pressure cooker but today with Twitter and other sources of information, it is even more important to know how to validate the truth of a story and not to compromise when telling a story the substantial content.

However, upholding a minimum of ethical standards does not necessarily have to mean everything must be revealed. Ethical reflection is a matter of digression. For instance, a reporter for BBC went up to a coal mining town to report about the tragic death of many school children who were buried during a heavy rain by a mud slide. The waste from the surrounding mines had been piled up just behind the school. The authorities were warned and already the children had moved into another building at a safer distance. But then for some unknown reason they were put back into the old school, and then the tragedy happened. Naturally the parents wanted to know before the funeral could begin that all children had been identified. The reporter thought hard if that was at all possible under the given circumstances. To check, he went into the church to see all the coffins. He found out that it was impossible to identify any of the corpses, so badly had they been transformed after they were buried by that mud slide. When he went out to report, he suddenly said over the phone to the desk editor at the main studio in London, he could not say a word. Instead he went out to smoke a cigarette.

His sensitivity underlines something Michel Foucault said: "we have to take away the illusions not needed by the things, but leave them those illusions they need to exist."  Finding such a balance will never be easy; it does require taking a hard decision but underlines despite life being at times a really hard business, it should not be forgotten reporting is done by human beings for people who have the Right to know the truth. Martin Jay in his essay about the use of mendacity would point to the danger, the moment it is said people do not wish to know the full truth, for that would lead immediately to use of the political lie, to manipulation, to leaving out important facts. Although there is no real guide for deciding what needs to be told while retaining a human face, it matters if the tension between silence and language ensures that every word counts despite following a strict 'economy of words'. For if sincere, people will know what is the truth, even if not said only indirectly, in so many words. That is like not showing on television all the images of the people killed in an explosion or in a war like what has been happening in Syria since 2011.


Breaking news

News has to be distinguished from opinion, and there has to be at least consistency in what is being said and done to investigate further where otherwise only uncertainty would prevail. If there is no public morale upholding the freedom of the press and thereby the freedom of expression of opinion, public debate would be deprived of any notion of public truth. People must know at all times where the government stands on certain and critical issues. And the media must be prepared to confront the government with this public truth. Otherwise everything can succumb to spin doctor like reports. All the more so the media has to counter any attempt by the government to use of mendacity or public lie to justify precisely its policy, where there cannot be given any justification. This was the case when the US went to war in Iraq on the claim Saddam Hussein was in the possession of weapons of mass destruction.

Once public space is filled only with dogmas and propaganda, then this hard lid kept on public opinion will mean coercion clothed as logic of necessity can force people to look the other way while a wrong use of money goes unchallenged. Media strategy becomes then distraction by diffusion of wrong information. One common trick is to make a false claim which is taken back five minutes later but since real time has already moved on, no one shall really notice. Along that same line, other vital things shall be given up or be abandoned if the threat to withdraw money is made.

All this and more is the case once society has become engulfed in an economic war and ever more money is given efforts to silence first the public media and then the people. It means the government's communication strategy has succumbed to the sole wish to suppress as much as possible any truth reaching the general public and therefore to cover up worse than scandals really bad moves. 

What has happened after June 11th 2013 amounts to a general news blackout. It evokes memories of dictatorship when people were kept deliberately in the unknown as to what is going on. If these kinds of measures pertain to what shall constitute the next round austerity measures as demanded by the Troika, it says it all if the European Commission as one member of the Troika stays silent about the closure of ERT. Since the economic crisis has prompted an economic war, extraordinary circumstances shall prevail, but that is no justification for the shut down of ERT or for staying silent. All this was inconceivable in normal times. But then these are anything but normal times.


Hatto Fischer

Athens June 2013



Media: Greece, new public broadcaster to start on April 27

26 February, 14:02

(ANSAmed) – ATHENS, FEBRUARY 26 - Nerit, the Greek public broadcaster that will replace Ert, will begin broadcasting on April 27, daily Kathimerini online reports quoting deputy Culture Minister Pantelis Kapsis as saying on Tuesday. Pilot broadcasts will start next month, Kapsis told Vima FM. The minister, who is in charge of overseeing the launch of the new service, said that Nerit's board is currently considering proposals for new programs. Kapsis added that 30 million euros had been paid out so far in compensation to ERT employees that were sacked when the broadcaster was shut down in June. The remaining compensation will be paid once the Finance Ministry gives its approval, said Kapsis.(ANSAmed).

Source: http://www.ansamed.info/ansamed/en/news/sections/politics/2014/02/26/Media-Greece-new-public-broadcaster-start-April-27_10146999.html


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