At the media’s mercy

As the spotlight fades from the first truly serious test the government has had to deal with, debate continues to surround the way it was handled politically. Instead of focusing on the real reasons an army helicopter crashed into the sea off Mt Athos on September 11, killing all 17 passengers and crew, the ensuing debate has evolved into a public confrontation as to whether the government had been «taken by surprise» or whether it had already shown itself to be «not up to the job,» as PASOK hastened to claim. PASOK’s chance The main opposition party’s immediate – and generally exaggerated – reaction was naturally not unrelated to the state of complete disarray it has found itself in over the past few months. If nothing else, the tragic accident proved a first-class opportunity for PASOK to clash head on with New Deomocracy at a time when the government was preparing to announce its initial post-Olympic targets at the Thessaloniki International Fair. The prime minister’s keynote speech on the economy, which is always the highlight of the fair, was overshadowed. Nevertheless, it is no coincidence that until the week before the main opposition had presented no alternative to the government’s initial targets, which have been presented as the only solution possible given the true economic situation for which the previous rulers (PASOK) were responsible. Too many voices So the current government’s «bad luck» could be attributed to a tragic coincidence – the fact that the news of the crash was made known, on camera, to Cabinet members at the same time as to representatives of the media present with them at Thessaloniki’s Macedonia Palace Hotel. This was a coincidence that substantially contributed to the plethora of views that began to be heard immediately, since the ministers unfortunately submitted to pressure to make their views known as soon as the news broke, as well as any facts they were aware of regarding the tragedy which was still in the process of unfolding. As a result, the impression reigned of complete confusion among the political leadership, with ministers being «interrogated» even as to whether they had received the news by telephone at 12.45 p.m. or at 1.15 p.m. In any country governed by the rule of law, such an event would have been dealt with automatically, in this case by the Defense Ministry. PASOK saw to it that the debate remained in the spotlight, assuming the role of prosecutor and «defender» of political responsibilities about which it had never shown such zeal during its own tenure of government. For the same reason, it is no coincidence that the issue began to fade from the public eye when the televised confrontation unavoidably moved on to the more essential aspects of the accident, such as the way the particular type of helicopter had been chosen and purchased, a decision not made by the present government. So, an issue that is emerging as the most important challenge for the new government thus far is the much vaunted «reinvention of the state.» The accident confirmed, if nothing else, that ND’s campaign promise is truly the issue at hand, as long as it does not remain simply a promise.

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