NEWS

Nadir of absurdity reached as TV shuns protests to focus on ex-king

A woman outside the Pentelicon Hotel wildly waves a flag decked with a crown, yelling: «The people want the king. We want the king! Send the slot-machine player packing!» (Alter). One of the former king’s sons, Nicholas, in summer raiment, dances the zeibekiko on Antenna. Mega and Star duly inform us of the grouper and Greek salad consumed by Constantine, the ex-king, and his retinue. Meanwhile, the «new big channel,» Alter, showed the duo Anna Vissi and Yiannis Parios warbling «My love is torment… my love is torture» – no doubt in the supposition that wherever Mme Vissi sings, there the young princelings will go. And a long-drawn-out torment it was for viewers, as they watched the theater of the absurd that passed for prime-time news bulletins on Saturday. It was also a distortion of historical truth. Saturday was a day different from all others. For the first time all over the world, millions of people, in person, demonstrated their opposition to the war in Iraq. Yet to a provocative degree, all private channels occupied themselves with the ex-king’s visit to Athens, which was the leading item on the news broadcasts. The exception was Alpha, which showed, first, violent incidents, then the march and finally the visit. Second on the general news agenda was the tumult caused by a few dozen semi-professional gasoline-bomb throwers, third, the anti-war marches themselves. The time devoted to the blue-blooded family – 80 minutes on Alter, 35 minutes on Antenna, much the same for Mega and Star – was preposterous. A bright – and, it is hoped, not circumstantial – exception was state television, which covered the protests in Athens, other Greek cities and the rest of the world in an exemplary fashion. Despite the outcry (the various channels’ telephone lines were jammed with countless protests by outraged viewers), the same doings were shown on Sunday: the maneuvers of the clumsy coach in the narrow streets below Lycabettus, the evzone dolls of Paul and Marie Chantal, the VIP breakfast. Again we had the stale news of Constantine’s sons treading a measure, again the shrill female voice calling the country’s premier a slot-machine player. The unanswered question is why private channels opted for such uniformity. What gentlemen’s agreement led to this bizarre coup to the detriment not only of objective news but of democracy itself? What brain-dead mind deemed the ex-king’s advice – «Whoever doesn’t wear a helmet might suffer cranial damage»- to be of greater interest than the song of peace issuing from tens of thousands of throats? With what gall did private channels disseminate false news, claiming that Athens had been turned into a battlefield? («The pathetic incidents were sparked by a bunch of hotheads, as isolated from the march as they were from its spirit,» commented reporter Alekos Markellos on NET.) One answer could be that television executives survive on a grab-what-one-can, profit-minded planet of garish emptiness, that they are estranged from popular sentiment. Thus, all this Constantine-speak expresses their own, shallow personal culture, their own aesthetics, their own world view. Another possibility is that the channels hate the «in-person» ethos, for to flog their goods they need a nation of couch potatoes – not thinking, active people who are their own masters. The people have the right to express themselves via representatives on television windows, but not, however, to express their opinion live, as their own representatives. Another, perhaps simplistic, and somewhat conspiracy-minded interpretation is that the businessmen and owners of Greek channels have more in common with the axis of war than with the pro-peace movement and that their common stance is not mere caprice, but a political choice, a show of strength toward anyone who doesn’t grovel before their power. Whatever the case, the news bulletins last Saturday reached the nadir of 14 years of licentiousness by private TV channels, the height of distortion, a descent into absurdity.