Cheapening the most serious event in recent Greek history goes unpunished by the State

Ioannis Laskaridis, the president of the National Radio and Television Council (ESP), might claim to have lost sleep over the outrageous events of the past couple of weeks; yet ESP itself is partly to blame for the depths to which the media has sunk. It has restricted itself to issuing recommendations, threatening to give negative reports when the time comes around to reissue broadcasting licenses. Only a few days ago did it decide to meet this week with television news editors and to re-examine the code of ethics for news programs. Since July, ESP has not once implemented the 1991 code that provides for the monitoring of programs and journalists and harsh sanctions for those who violate that code. Although the handling of a subject such as November 17 is largely a political issue, the government has a grave responsibility regarding the way in which it is presented by the media and the institutional framework, that is in not wanting to update the ethics code. As a result, ESP’s brief is limited. The previous ESP submitted updated codes to the media minister in January 2000 but the minister at the time, Dimitris Reppas, filed them away until after the elections. The current minister, Christos Protopappas, has repeatedly spoken in favor of updating them. Nevertheless, two years later, and after much foot-dragging since 1995 when Law 2328 called for the review of the existing code, Greece has no institutions to deal with crucial problems such as the Niovis Street hostage fiasco or the hijacking of buses in Thessaloniki and Nafplion, which gave cause for concern but were then quickly forgotten. The authorities did not learn their lesson, but deliberately allowed television trash to spread from the realm of entertainment to news bulletins. Remember when the winner of the «Big Brother» reality show, Giorgos Tsakas, went on prime time news, pushing aside local and international stories? Phenomena such as these were tolerated as a greenhouse for all kinds of opinion-makers from (TV journalist Nikos) Kakaounakis to (former police spy) Danos Krystallis and ultra-right-wing elements whose lust for terrorism violates every concept of European legal culture. For in Europe, there is complete freedom of expression, which in radio and television media are subject to principles and values, above all the protection of human dignity, protection of child rights, and the principle that all are innocent until proven guilty. In the world of Greek television, these values have been distorted, trampled upon and erased from the vocabularies of news editors. The direction in which this situation was heading became apparent the day «a fully equipped arsenal,» as an Alpha news reporter described it, was found in Patmou Street, right up until the most recent close-up shots of (jailed N17 terrorist suspect Angeliki) Sotiropoulou’s child and the photos from her own childhood that have suddenly allowed TV’s professional commentators to explain why she got where she is today. On one morning show on Alpha television, a woman giving a psychological profile of Sotiropoulou was even heard to doubt her love for her child because she herself had grown up in an orphanage. Journalist Giorgos Trangas’s crocodile tears on Star channel are no absolution for the photograph of a blood-soaked Savvas Xeros being wheeled into hospital (on Alter channel) and pale before the clash between (TV personality Liana) Kanelli and Kakaounakis on Mega over the former’s telephone interview with N17 suspect Savvas Xeros from Korydallos Prison, or journalist Makis Triantafyllopoulos, who also relayed statements by Xeros from prison and his brother Christodoulos before his arrest. Then there were «devastating revelations» and «exclusive reports» by journalists Nikos Evangelatos and Spyros Karatzaferis that prompted denials by Lisa Lasithiotaki and Barbara Hoffman, both alleged to be November 17’s mysterious «Anna.» Mega TV’s chief crime reporter Panos Sombolos, at least, made a public apology when he mistakenly announced that another arsenal and the terrorist group’s trademark typewriter had been found at Sounion. Even state radio and television (ERT) departed from their customary sobriety when one of their reporters went ringing apartment doorbells, among other things. On television news there is not only no checking of facts, but rumors and hypotheses are publicized as news items, conversations are dramatized in the most incredible detail and possible scenarios analyzed in great depth. On most news shows, where several commentators are gathered together on multiple screens, a photograph is enough to go on. In July and August, according to the polling firm Taylor Nelson Sofres Metrisis, Nikos Kakaounakis appeared on the multiple screens at least 70 times, some of them in live appearances, in others just with a photograph and a voice. Giorgos Trangas appeared 51 times. Close on their tails were lawyer Pericles Stavrianakis (34 appearances) and Makis Triantafyllopoulos with 28 appearances, although he caught up with the others after his interview with Savvas Xeros. Lower down on the list are Dinos Krystallis (26), lawyer and MP Alexandros Lykourezos (25), journalist Spyros Karatzaferis (20), lawyer and National Front leader Makis Voridis (19), the Xeros brothers’ lawyer Giorgos Agiostratitis (18), parliamentary deputies Apostolos Andreoulakos (16) and Giorgos Karatzaferis (13), newspaper publisher Makis Kouris (also 13), and lawyer Michalis Dimitrakopoulos and retired professor Vassilis Filias (10 each). The virtual reality on TV news is unfortunately fed by a sector of the print media (Hora, Karfi and Espresso) who report on the television news the next day, creating a vicious circle that is unacceptable as news coverage. Consumers have reacted apathetically, as have intellectuals. Only last week the New Democracy party and Left Coalition deigned to intervene against the tide of misinformation, over-information and de-information. Even afternoon women’s shows have held discussions on the dress sense of Sotiropoulou and (Savvas Xeros’s companion) Alicia Romero Cortes. At the trial of those accused of being members of November 17, the media will no doubt have a field day. We have come a long way since the special court (that heard charges against the former prime minister, Andreas Papandreou) and the marquee outside the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Center, where Papandreou spent several weeks. Journalist Yiannis Pretenteris may have wondered last week who would try those who had taken the lives of November 17’s victims. But TV has already tried them, reached a verdict and is waiting for the next big news story.

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