‘The best and biggest’ Olympic media center in hub of the city

Greece appears to be developing a counteroffensive to the foreign press criticism it has endured in the lead up to the 2004 Summer Olympics, which has focused on alleged delays in preparations, security worries and high costs. The Greek government’s answer has been the establishment of the largest and purportedly best-quality Olympics international media center for a campaign designed to capture the hearts and minds of global public opinion. The Zappeion Press Center (ZPC) – situated in the former royal gardens next to the House of Parliament and close to the capital’s most popular archaeological sites and entertainment areas – was the first Olympic Village when the Games were revived in modern times just over 100 years ago. In recent years, it successfully hosted European Union summit meetings. Today, it is gearing up to host several thousand foreign journalists in a high-tech environment and with extra attractions, such as a 24-hour flow of information and entertainment. With the slogan «Your Home Away from Home,» the idea for the Zappeion Press Center is in fact based on the Sydney 2000 Olympics experience. There, for the very first time, the Sydney Media Center functioned for all general interest journalists in addition to the Main Press Center (MPC) and the International Broadcast Center (IBC) at Sydney Olympic Park, which focused on the Games themselves. Similarly in Greece the MPC and the IBC will function next to the main Olympic stadium. But the journalists and assistants accredited to these two facilities also have automatic accreditation to the Zappeion Press Center. By July 1, the ZPC had already accredited just over 1,800 journalists and radio-TV broadcasters. Government organizers say they expect more than 3,000 journalists to be accredited at the ZPC by the time of the Olympics Opening Ceremonies on August 13. While the impressive MPC and IBC are focused on media coverage of the Games themselves, the ZPC provides non-stop information on all other areas, ranging from security and the cost of the Games to the economy, culture, tourism, peace initiatives and entertainment. The ZPC’s top features are a 100-seat press conference hall, a 200-seat multipurpose auditorium, endless rows of 700 desks and work stations, radio and TV studios, the impressive peristyle of giant marble columns which form a circular courtyard, an Internet cafe, restaurants and an adjacent cinema. «Any journalist based at the Zappeion will have everything on hand without even having to go anywhere, apart from back to base for sleep,» said Theodoros Roussopoulos, the minister of state and government spokesman. The ZPC provides work stations – free of charge – for about 700 journalists working simultaneously, but also giant screens with direct coverage of the Games, exhibition stands on Greek tourism, culture, the economy and the city of Athens, Internet cafes and restaurants. Every day there is a busy schedule of press conferences, shows, feature story presentations, and even exhibitions, demos and entertainment events. «The idea is to create a good work environment but also the entertainment will make it attractive enough as an all-round, 24-hour base of operations during the Olympics,» said Panos Livadas, secretary-general of the Ministry of State and the most senior official at the ZPC. For two months now the center has been hosting and training top officials and experts in key areas of potential information. These experts, who have been gathering shortly after dawn each morning to share information and train in news delivery, cover the fields of government, security, military defense, foreign affairs, the economy, media services, culture, the merchant marine, justice, internal affairs, education, health, the fire brigade, public works and the environment, as well as the host city of Athens. The Zappeion Hall and gardens were built at the end of the 19th century with funds provided by national benefactor Evangelos Zappas. This wealthy businessman, along with Frenchman Baron Pierre de Coubertin, was the co-founder of the Modern Olympic Games when the premises were first used as the venue for the fencing event. In the interim Olympics of 1906, they were used as the first Olympic Village for athletes and officials. The buildings have also become linked directly to one of the most important aspects of recent Greek history, namely its accession and membership to the European Union. It was here that Greece’s membership of the EU was signed in the 1960s, and it was also the headquarters of the Greek presidency of the EU in 1983, 1994 and 2003. The Zappeion Hall, which is used mainly as a conference and exhibition facility, is in central Athens. It is within the same area as Syntagma Square, the Presidential Mansion and the Maximos Mansion used by the prime minister, important archeological sites, and is within walking distance of the Roman-built marble Panatheniac Stadium where the Modern Olympics were revived in 1896.