The dark ages of TV news broadcasting

Imagine it is the year 2012 and some researchers want to write a report on Greece in early 2002 as seen though television news broadcasts. They would already know that this was a crucial, transitional period, a time of brilliant possibilities, with science and technology promising to free humanity from the bonds of manual labor, ignorance and the fear of incurable disease. News and knowledge were disseminated swiftly and the primitive Internet of 2002 disclosed many of the marvels of human civilization and made communication possible with every corner of the Earth. 15 days of broadcasts Imagine, too, that one of the tools these imaginary researchers have at their disposal is a compendious survey by Taylor Nelson of the main news broadcasts on eight television channels (Alter, Alpha, Antenna, ET-1, Mega, NET, Star and Tempo) of January 14 to 27, 2002. Stavros Theodorakis presented and discussed one part of the survey – which contains many statistics, tables, comparisons and analyses – on NET’s program «Protagonists» on February 6. Another large part of the survey, which the program did not have time to present, reveals the divergence between television and real life, between virtual reality and the historic truth. The subjects covered in the news bulletins during the two-week survey were, in order of frequency: reportage, current affairs, sports, arts, international current affairs, the economy, the weather, terrorism, the church, television (i.e. news about the «Big Brother» program) and reproduction. The last was not an attempt by the television channels to solve the low birthrate in Greece, but a presentation of images from past and future programs. The news broadcast on Alter channel, for example, contains «the best of» another program produced by the station. On paper, everything looks good. Reportage, being the heart of journalism, deservedly accounts for the lion’s share of coverage. But what kind of reportage is it? To what category does the reportage of Alter’s main news bulletin on January 24 belong? It was about an unidentified flying object which appeared in a video clip of a singer with the single name of Valantis. And what about the confessions of transvestites? Do they come under the arts, the economy, or workers’ problems? The «accusations» category took up 6.7 percent of the total duration of the main news broadcasts. Can this be a revival of Emile Zola’s classic «J’accuse»? Is it war, terrorism, genetically modified foods or an ecological disaster that is being condemned? No, the accusers’ fury focused on slot machines. Taylor Nelson’s survey also showed that 3.1 percent of news time went to coverage of the PASOK government, 2.9 percent to strikes, rallies and demonstrations, and 2.9 percent to road accidents, other accidents and disasters. Ethnocentric news Future researchers would doubtless be astonished by the enthocentricity of the news bulletins. A few weeks after the uncertain end of the first war of the new century, with the specter of recession overshadowing the economy of the USA, Japan and the rest of the world, Greeks seem to be interested mainly in their own affairs. When there is international news, it’s usually weddings, holidays and the divorces of pop or movie stars. International current affairs receive a respectable amount of time on NET (7.2 percent) and Star (6.5 percent) and on Tempo and ET-1, but very little on Alpha (1.1 percent) and Alter (1.4 percent). The Middle East, which saw violent clashes in 2002, appeared mainly on state-owned television. Though opinion polls show that education, healthcare and unemployment are burning issues in 2002, they are ignored by television (except for the state-run channels). Peaceful rallies (meetings and the activities of clubs and citizens’ groups) are not covered, which might indicate to future researchers that Greeks in trouble used to solve their problems by threatening to commit suicide on camera, blocking the road or fainting during the siege of a prefectural office. But above all, they would seem to have sought justice by recounting their experience in a television studio or news window. Our imaginary researchers would also observe that while the viewers of 2002 valued their free time and were infuriated if caught in traffic jams or forced to wait in lines, news bulletins proceeded with Oriental languor. The average bulletin on Alter lasted 89 minutes, compared with 59 minutes on NET, and 36 minutes on ET-1. As for the Greek system of government, the results of the survey might lead to the conclusion that the Parliament had dissolved and that deputies – at least those favored by television – communicated with voters exclusively by means of television windows. Parliamentary reportage has either disappeared or been included in the indefinite «other reportage» section. The new national heroes The national heroes of the early 21st century are undoubtedly two men by the name of Tsakas and Prodromos, of whose beneficent, artistic, patriotic and scientific work future researchers will have difficulty finding evidence. In the space of two weeks, the «Big Brother» television program was the subject of 37 reports lasting a total of 136 minutes. Of these, 14 reports were on Alter, 14 on Antenna and five on Alpha. Television news broadcasts in 2002 are not only verbose and in poor taste, but profoundly anachronistic. The great issues of the day – democratic freedom, war and peace, concern for the ecological future of the planet, the opportunities and nightmares of biotechnological advances, science, the arts and the invisible, everyday struggle of millions of people to create, learn and earn a dignified living – are conspicuous by their absence from most television news broadcasts. With a few honorable exceptions, television channels either understand nothing about this wonderful and formidable era, or they deliberately try to hide what is happening.

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