With no gutter too low, trash television savages the State

Gambling has occasionally become the focus of attention for journalists and politicians, giving rise to accusations of intertwined interests, complicity and cover-ups, though without result. But perhaps out of fear or reluctance to shoulder responsibility, nobody has dared name names. With the help of a concealed camera (which caught anti-gambling parliamentary committee chairman Alexandros Chryssanthakopoulos playing on an illegal slot machine), the nameless accused appear to have stepped out of the shadows. They became the familiar protagonists and extras of a typical soap opera – the good, the bad, the stupid, the honest policeman, the gambling deputy and the colleague defending him. Even ordinary citizens are summoned into the studio to denounce any public figure, or their relatives, whom they saw playing on slot machines or having a cup of coffee in a dodgy entertainment arcade. The greatest stir – and highest viewing figures – would of course be caused by the defamation of the most eminent public figure, none other than the President of the Republic himself. Spyros Karadzaferis’s accusation (against the president of renting out premises that were used as an illegal gambling den) was not a bolt out of the blue but the authentic result of the license, effrontery and greed of TV. Symptoms of the disease have been visible for some time. Recently, most private channels censored President Costis Stephanopoulos’s statements on the quality of TV’s informative programs. Even more recently, the president honored a theater premiere with his presence and was forced to wait due to a crush of TV cameras in hot pursuit of «Big Brother» protagonists, the guests of one of the actors. On being approached by one of the «Big Brother» stars, who shook his hand and expressed his respect for the president’s work, Stephanopoulos’s usual courtesy prevented him from turning his back on the youngster or departing in a huff. «The Jungle» program under Makis Triandafyllopoulos unearthed the video showing the formal handshake between the president and the so-called gambling baron (in his capacity as the owner of a private television channel when he was a guest of an annual reception for the press). Many other channels followed suit. The question is why the hordes of media barons in the TV jungle are allowed to play this role. Who has given private TV channels so much power, and who preserves this power which threatens to escape all control and bite the hand that feeds it? One answer – besides the obvious one, that trash sells – is that after the dust has settled, nothing will have changed. This is why the State accepts televised confessionals as a superlative form of directing societal outrage toward certain hot topics. Denunciatory journalism, the other side of the coin of trash TV, and lifestyle programs would not flourish if everything around us did not encourage passivity, the sense that whatever people say, nothing changes. Active citizens nowadays are not to be found in collective struggles for, say, a patch of green earth, but appear on TV channels to feed information to the journalist-cum-mediator. And an even more active citizen in this country is the concealed camera, that faceless informer. Since the thick wall between ordinary people and those in power has not come down, we will rest content with glass windows (opened at will by the guards), the pseudo-equality of television panels which openhandedly and democratically host ministers, much-to-be-pitied immigrants, pimps and semi-prostitutes, the innocent and guilty alike. Money-lending, prostitution, pornographic ads, drugs, dietary time-bombs – the list of open and visible sores in this society is a long one. But it seems that only the pictures taken by hidden cameras can awaken the drugged reflexes of those in power. (This can be seen in the meeting between journalist Makis Triandafyllopoulos and Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis, the announcement by the prime minister of a meeting on gambling and in the confiscations of slot machines.) Only when gutter TV had threatened to besmirch the highest state institution in the land were those who had regarded «Big Brother» and the dictatorship of the camera (whether open or concealed) as merely a game jolted enough to respond. And these selfsame figures, who had dubbed as reactionaries those who muttered about the Dark Ages of television, now seek to outdo each other in defending the sacredness of institutions, demonstrating that cynicism, censorship and restrictions on democratic freedoms are often to be found in one and the same person. A demand by 170 highway tollbooth contract workers that they be granted permanent employment status, has been refused by the state’s legal council in a decision which could set a precedent for workers from other sectors seeking permanency, court sources said yesterday. The matter now falls under the jurisdiction of the government, which will need to pass a new law to satisfy the workers’ demands.

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