CULTURE

The moral inertia of the media

The moral disrepute of today’s mass media is no scoop – at least not a fresh one. It is something that has been observed worldwide and has taken on a different dimension in each country, depending country-specific political and financial situations. The issue in this case is whether both journalists and the public are still vigilant, or whether they are simply falling back into idleness, the production and consumption of easy-to-digest news bites and lack an overall lack of direction. It appears that the latter is even more valid today. The newly appointed director of Le Monde diplomatique, Serge Halimi, spoke at the French Institute in Athens last week, on the occasion of the 10-year anniversary of the publication’s Greek edition. Halimi succeeded Ignacio Ramonet, who, in turn, is scheduled to give a lecture at the Athens Concert Hall tomorrow. A Frenchman with Tunisian roots, Halimi appeared a pragmatist, if not a pessimist. On the other hand, it is true that if the journalists themselves don’t conduct public and strict self-criticism, the future of journalism is a dead. Advertising and the establishment have turned into the hand you cannot bite but ought to kiss in order to ensure the media’s survival. Halimi rose to fame in 1997 thanks to «Les nouveaux chiens de garde,» a book focusing on the relationships between star television-journalists and politicians. In the book, Halimi described how a small group of «permanent» television guests shape public opinion according to its own interests. Another issue in the book that sold 250,000 copies is censorship and self-censorship. In 2000, Halimi co-penned «L’opinion, ca se travaille» together with Dominique Vidal, recording how French media openly took NATO’s side in the war in the former Yugoslavia – especially in the case of Kosovo – without maintaining the imperative critical stance. In Athens, Halimi approached his subject matter straight out, using examples that went directly to the point. Naturally, his first reference was to the situation in his own country with President Nicolas Sarkozy. He noted that, following his election, Sarkozy chose to celebrate his victory with the media moguls who had rallied for him, without any hesitation about the kind of picture of dependence he was painting for the French people. Two ministers in Sarkozy’s cabinet are married to high-caliber journalists, while top-ranking media executives have undertaken consultant roles. The rapprochement between politicians and journalists in France has never been so tight. And this is happening in the country where Jean-Paul Sartre founded a landmark leftist newspaper, Liberation – now in the hands of the Rothschild family – where Albert Camus gave a precise outline of a journalist’s duties and where the editors, under threat of autonomy by Le Monde’s editorial staff, have served as an example for journalists across the world. «It is convenient to study this horrendous situation and do absolutely nothing,» noted Halimi, adding that a new generation of journalists has come of age on the assumption that the medium in which they work at is no longer a vehicle of democracy and freedom for society, but a small to medium-sized business, where, in times of decreasing circulation and low ratings, the staff is laid off. What becomes blatantly clear is that France – where about 200 families have accumulated the majority of wealth, the media and the power – is not the only country where the unconditional surrender of journalists to media moguls has become the norm. Politicians are not that far behind. In his talk, Halimi mentioned how in 1995 Tony Blair realized that in order for the Labor Party to rise to power, it had to sacrifice a piece of its socialist tradition as well as strike an alliance with press baron Rupert Murdoch, the publisher of The Times and The Sun, among others. Another of Halimi’s bitter conclusions is that never has the media represented so faithfully the point of view of those who run it, as opposed to that of the electoral body. «In 1958 when certain crucial European matters came up, the French press reflected the opinion of the people, as seen in opinion polls, research and electoral results,» said Halimi. «In 2005, mass media in its entirety was in favor of the European Constitution, yet, in the end, the French voted against it in the referendum.» The most shocking part of the new director of Le Monde diplomatique’s talk, however, was to what extent financial interests dictate the operations of the press. «The director of major private television channel TF1, Patrick Le Lay, didn’t hesitate to publicly announce that ‘our channel’s job is to help advertisers sell their product. We sell to Coca-Cola available television time inside the human brain.’» In short, all the channel’s programs aim to keep the viewers in their seats in order to swallow the soft drink and other products’ advertisements. «We are living at a time when there is no need for media moguls to give orders to editors, because they execute them on their own,» Halimi concluded. No doubt a lecture on the lost honor of the press is ripe with examples of which we are already aware. The bad news, however, is the fact no one seems eager to mount any kind of intellectual resistance. Ignacio Ramonet, former editor of Le Monde diplomatique, is scheduled to give a lecture at the Athens Concert Hall tomorrow. The lecture, «New Geopolitical Challenges in the Modern World,» is organized by the Athens Concert Hall, the French Embassy and the French Institute in Athens and will take place at the Megaron at 7 p.m. (1 Kokkali & Vas. Sofias, tel 210.728.2333). For more information go to www.megaron.gr.