State television wins this round of the battle for quality coverage

As we watch a B-52 take off from an airfield in Britain, we know that in five or six hours it will be emptying its deadly cargo over Iraq. We see the flashes in the sky over Baghdad, hear the deafening thuds and are shown the ruins in the first light of day. During the first days of the war, nearly all major networks were broadcasting continuous reports of the action; only NET has continued to do so. No matter how advanced the visual material being sent out by foreign channels, reporters on the spot and live satellite links, managing this volume of material is no easy matter. Cross-checking and evaluating information, commenting on and interpreting all of the above is time-consuming work that demands a great deal of expertise. The state media appear to have more than risen to this challenge, and are setting a good example for the private channels, which, despite the occasional mistakes (tiresome panel discussions, repetition and an insistence on showing brutal images), have been equal to the circumstances. Greek television broadcasts have been consistently aligned against the war. It would be petty to claim that the wolf has put on sheep’s clothing or that they are being prompted by selfish motives (pandering to public sentiment against the war, or rivalry). Praise for reports from the war zone is not only due to the correspondents and technicians on the spot, nor the channel executives who set policy, but to the nameless reporters and other staff in state and private television who have realized the critical nature of the times and are making their own indirect contribution to the anti-war effort. The first indication that something had changed in the news bulletin landscape was on February 15, when four major private channels led with news of a private visit by the former king Constantine, relegating worldwide anti-war demonstrations in Athens and 600 other cities to second place. The barrage of protests phoned in by irate viewers was a lesson that the channels took seriously. The fact that Mega’s news director, Nikos Hadzinikolaou, publicly admitted that the particular choice had perhaps been one of the mistakes of his career means a great deal, including the fact that there are some things that count more than ratings. The same day that the private channels were showing that particular reality show («Bus to the Throne»), NET met public demand without populist outbursts. In any case, for some months, state television had been doing well in its current affairs sector, not only with the news but with its daily and weekly programs. It thus showed that it not only has good journalists, but the appropriate sensitivity toward its real employer, which under ideal circumstances should not be whatever government is in power, but the people, who after all foot the bill and are justified in having high expectations. How long will this televisual spring of anti-war broadcasting last? US President George W. Bush has repeatedly said that this military campaign to «liberate» Iraqis will last «as long as it takes, not one day longer,» a statement that impresses by its preciseness. It means that television networks have a difficult job to do. Shocking images will have their place as long as they are accompanied by balanced and penetrating analyses of events, of which we have seen many excellent examples on NET’s overall broadcasting, but also on several programs on private channels. Let us hope that in this incalculably small world, gaps, pettiness and blind spots will not make us angry and ashamed – we are getting enough of those feelings from the war itself.