Campaign to kick the TV habit crosses Atlantic

“I find TV very educating. When somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book,» Groucho Marx once quipped, and there are many who would agree with him. But is there life without TV? As the fourth week (April 19-25) of the Greek anti-television campaign came and went, the question became the focus of debate in Internet chat rooms. The anti-TV campaign, the initiative of the non-profit TV-Turnoff Network in television-smitten America, was begun on the strength of the slogan: «Turn off the TV, turn on life.» It calls on viewers to pull the plug on the small screen in a show of protest at the junk shown on the box. The numbers heeding the call in Greece have not been counted, but in the USA, an estimated 7 million viewers switched off the TV for one whole week last year. Those behind the boycott have invoked a number of research papers on the side effects of television on children, with obesity topping the list. A study by the Obesity, Metabolism and Endocrinology Department at the Hygeia Hospital, which was carried out on 253 patients, showed that obese patients watched 16 hours of TV a week on average. One in four stayed glued to the screen for 21 hours. Sixty-five percent would consume snacks while watching television. The more time they spent in front of the TV, the greater the eventual tummy bulge. It’s no easy matter to tear oneself away from the small screen. «When things get bad, remove temptation. Hide the remote control,» the American anti-television campaign advised. It proposed six basic steps: – Undertake not to turn on the TV for a week. – Organize a team of fellow-culprits to ensure you won’t succumb. – Talk about and bless your aims with other people. – Spread the word by any means whatsoever. – Schedule alternatives for your free time. – Enjoy every day of the TV-free week and reward yourselves once the experiment is over. The TV protest has been adopted by many other countries in the world, such as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and others. In Greece, an anti-television team has been set up which combats the negative influence of TV without demonizing its use. «We’re not totally against television. We watch programs selectively because we regard it as a useful source of knowledge and education. We watch the news, documentaries and films. We reject, however, reality shows and various crudely made serials in bad taste,» a committee member, Dimitris Kastrinos, told Kathimerini. But how addicted are Greeks to television? According to the latest research by the Institute of Audiovisual Media, Greeks are the biggest couch potatoes in Europe. The figures are rising year by year: In 1998, Greek viewers spent on average three-and-a-half hours a day watching television; in 1999, that amount of time increased by 10 minutes, and in 2001, it soared to the highest in the European Union. In contradiction to that, a Eurobarometer survey showed that Greeks appear to have less confidence in the mass media, especially television, than all other Europeans. The day the aerial broke Damage to the TV aerial was the excuse for Ilias Christopoulos, a 30-year-old private sector employee, to abandon viewing television. Five years later, the aerial has not been replaced. «I don’t miss it. I don’t aim to watch television. As for football, I go to a friend’s place to watch it. Sometimes not watching TV makes me feel a little different, perhaps out of place when the conversation comes round to what’s on television,» he told Kathimerini. A house without a television is news. But there’s no TV in the flat of 40-year-old Michalis Homenidis, a teacher, who gets information from newspapers and the radio in a conscious avoidance of the box. «I have no intention of giving in to temptation. I spend quite a few hours reading or on the Internet, learning about precisely what interests me.» At the opposite end of the spectrum are manic TV viewers who can’t go an entire day without it. «I can’t imagine coming back home at the end of a tiring day and reading a book or watching a documentary,» said 28-year-old Marina Giatrakou, a resident of the center of Athens who works in advertising. «I prefer to watch a satirical broadcast, or even a reality show. It really relaxes me. If there is a movie on after midnight, I might spend five, six hours in front of the screen.» TV is also a refuge for housewives and pensioners who comment endlessly on the morning shows, never miss an episode of Greek serials and soap operas, or even noonday social commentaries. «I think that watching so much television, I’m in a position to know about people and issues in all areas. Television is society’s mirror. It’s an antidote to loneliness,» said 70-year-old Eleni Pasalidou, who lives alone in Brahami.

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