“If we have a good media environment, then we also have a peaceful environment”.
There is no better example of how true WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s comment about the role of the media in creating distress amongst the masses than the current situation in Greece. This piece looks at how that distress was created by an inconsiderate media.
Stereotypes and Narratives
During the height of the Greek protester’s clashes with riot police on the streets of Athens representatives of the media found some, or perhaps a lot, of the Greek public’s frustration directed at them.
The protester’s frustration at the state of their country and the way it is being dealt with has only being added to by their feeling that the media is stereotyping them, misrepresenting them, and that they are only voicing the concerns and opinions of the economic and financial elite rather than representing the reality of the Greek worker.
It is important to realise that the media like to create narratives and stereotypes – modes which are easy for us simple public to consume. A quick example that satisfies the media’s taste for a familiar narrative is the recent substitution of leading bad guys; Gadaffi replacing the tired old image of bin Laden, and the old favourite narrative of the US leading the way into a distant country to protect the civilians from their own leader.
It was only a few months ago that the main stereotype of the Egyptians was that they were somewhat pathetic, that they conflict with democracy, and that half of them were fundamentalist Muslims, and then suddenly they became the protagonists of the fight for democracy. This is a clear instance of the media changing the narrative when the stereotypes have collapsed.
Compared to the Greek story the Arab Spring was a much more straight-forward narrative – the images consisted of demonstrations, people demanding democracy, and more liberal rights. This is very easy for people to understand and relate to worldwide.
A situation like Greece is much more difficult to understand – it is much harder to see what they are demonstrating about, to understand why austerity is being imposed, and what is wrong with the Euro. And so covering the economic crises is more difficult for journalists than covering the Arab Spring.
A lot of Greeks feel the mainstream western media only picked up on their story when it turned violent. To many protesters this misrepresents the initial peaceful nature of their movement. Also, the Greek’s frustration is caused by the media’s focus on what the politicians are going to do about the current problems whereas they rarely address what the Greek people themselves are thinking about all this.
According to many alternative Greek journalists there is a sense that the media are stigmatising their social demands and are trying to create a monstrous profile of the protesters.
In some countries, the media has gone as far as to suggest that the reason the Greeks are in such a financial predicament is because they are lazy and don’t work as much as other European countries. http://www.thelocal.de/national/20110624-35869.html
According to the Operation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), however, that is not true.
In 2008 Greeks worked on average 690 hours more than the average German, 450 more than the average Brit, and 350 hours more than the OECD average.
According to Eurostats data from 2005 the average age of exit from the labour force in Greece was 61.7; higher than France, Germany, Italy and higher than the EU average. http://economicsnewspaper.com/policy/german/french-study-southern-europeans-to-work-longer-and-harder-than-german-31077.html
In fact, according to a Eurostat survey published recently, it is the Irish who are lazy, averaging a full two hours under the EU norm of hours worked per week. http://www.independent.ie/national-news/we-work-fewer-hours-than-rest-of-eu-except-danes-2809663.html
So to portray the Greeks as lazy is baseless and only adds to the protester’s frustration that the Western and international media are not focusing on the problems that need to be addressed. It would also lead one to ask the question why would such news outlets say such a thing?
This anger directed at the media has been bubbling for a while as the protester’s found their own countries’ major news corporations to be missing the big picture.
Everytime a Greek turned on their television they saw, and still see, representatives from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or the E.U. talking about the problems in Greece and what the Greeks need to do. The media, perhaps understandably, think that the IMF knows best. Yet this is the same IMF that didn’t see the big financial crises coming.
Europe editor of the Economist John Peet makes the point that in a complex financial and economical crises the media tend to depend too much on official sources, briefings from finance ministries, the European commission and/or the IMF on information and the way of thinking and so don’t relate the feelings of the protesters as much as they become somewhat smothered by the more assured, and mostly well presented, business figures.
As a result the Greek people target the media because they see it as part of the problem and it has evolved or snowballed so that the protesters are now united by their hostility towards the media.
The Same old Story
Greece’s domestic media landscape is similar to many other countries – several outlets in the hands of a wealthy few, and many of those groups are conglomerates whose non-media companies do a lot of business with the same government their news outlets cover.
The majority of people in the media get their revenue from other sources such as shipping, construction, and banking.
The media serves as a tool to negotiate with the government and get the big jobs in big contracts from the state.
It’s obvious if you own the companies that take money from the state in order to do several constructions (such as infrastructure etc) and you also control the media, that the discourse of that media would be affected by the interests of its owners.
Another major piece of the problem is that economics still does not have alternative economists. There is no other choice or alternative to the current mode of economics.
“What happened to this country? Oh it spent too much money. What should we do so? Well, let’s give them loads more money of course. And if that doesn’t work? Give them even more!”
There is no other alternative, no other road to take.
“There needs to be economists with a different agenda, which is not IMF, neo-liberalism, or to pursue austerity all the time. Until then it will be the Greeks are wrong, IMF are right, the EU are right, when really it should be the other way round.” Samah El-Shahat, Economist Al-Jazeera.
The Greeks believe this is a macro-economical story.
“It will not stop here- it will go to Portugal, Ireland, Spain, UK…we have an invasion, the invading forces don’t wear uniforms, they wear suits, and they don’t carry weapons, they carry laptops. And they are telegenic and talk in sound bytes; they look and sound better than the Greek chorus of discontent on the streets.” – Dimitri Galanis, Correspondent Tovima Newspaper. http://www.tovima.gr/