How the rest of the world perceives Greek affairs, according to foreign press reports

It seems unimaginable that the discovery of a religious icon in Astros, a small port town in the northeast Peloponnese, made the news in Portugal, Serbia, Romania and the USA. Also surprising was the Chinese press coverage of local carrier Aegean Airlines’s modernization of its fleet. And what about the perception of Greece as a strategically crucial country for the international energy sector, as is believed in places such as Japan and Australia. The news dominating the headlines tends to be negative, and Greek media usually limits projection of Greek-related stories to whatever is favorable. Even so, a study conducted by the General Secretariat for Information indicates that this country’s image abroad is anything but as sour as Greek journalists usually like to claim. Covering the second halves of 2005 and 2006, the detailed study, whose results are partially presented by Kathimerini in this article, was conducted with the aim of accumulating and assessing all foreign news coverage concerning Greece. The study’s time period was not chosen at random. To make the effort as unbiased as possible, a deliberate choice was made to exclude the hundreds of triumphant articles published about Greece not long after the Athens Olympics in 2004. A total of 9,621 articles were gathered during the survey’s 12-month period. The majority of these were at least positively tinged. «You’ll find a considerable number of favorable reports regarding the course and stability of the Greek economy, detailed analysis on the strategic importance acquired by Athens in Europe’s new energy map, positive comments on the country’s sporting and cultural achievements, as well as countless proposals to foreign readers for summer holidays in Greece, which is presented as an ideal tourism destination,» said Panos Leivadas, the general secretary for information, who launched the study with the support of press attaches in 33 countries. «It was surprising for us to see so many references to Greece, not only by publications in nearby countries – as one would expect – but in places all over the world. This made us realize that we, too, often underestimate the truly strong image Greece is acquiring abroad. These indications both confirm the country’s open and outward-looking course and reward the respective policies which lead to this,» Leivadas continued. The study showed that Russia, the USA, Bulgaria, Turkey, Albania and Germany – in that order – published over 500 articles featuring Greek-related content. The imminent, at the time, deal for the Burgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline – a prospective alternative oil route for Russian oil bypassing the Bosporus and the Dardanelles – dominated the foreign press’s coverage of Greek-related stories during the study’s time period. A surprising number of very favorable stories on Greek sporting achievements were published in American, German and Belgian press. The country’s tourism sector was given well-disposed write-ups in the British, French and Australian press. Bulgarian and Romanian publications focused on the performance of the Greek economy. Greek cultural topics were given coverage in the USA, Russia and France. Some entirely unanticipated stories managed to surface in various countries. An Austrian newspaper ran a story titled «Theotokos allows Putin to visit Mount Athos.» A Portuguese magazine featured a story bearing the title: «Greeks find the rare stolen icon of the Virgin Mary.» A Serbian newspaper’s story declared: «Feta is either Greek or nothing.» On the other side of things, Greece was slammed for domestic issues that went awry. A suspected carbon monoxide leak at a Corfu hotel which cost the lives of two British tourists and an explosion outside the National Economy and Finance Ministry were both thoroughly covered by foreign press. Some foreign papers struck extremes by contending that safety inspections of Greek tourism facilities were non-existent, or that terrorism in Greece was re-emerging strongly. Negative coverage of this sort struck those doing the study as a surprise. As for the bad press Greece routinely gets from neighboring countries to promote their own national interests, this is not surprising. Interestingly, it should be pointed out that in many cases there was a strong correlation between the nature of reports of local populist media and foreign media. This suggests that certain local media groups, which seek to attract as much attention as possible through shallow, sensationalist reporting, can ultimately prove detrimental to the country’s image abroad if their reports are interpreted as the real thing by foreign news agencies. Furthermore, Turkish, Italian or Egyptian media would not hesitate to offer exaggerated versions of any event that could harm Greece’s tourism industry, if Greek media had been found to act that way as well.

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