Private Greek television channels are to a great extent responsible for the sorry state of affairs today. Hyperbole and over-dramatization are ingrained in our TV culture. Take, for example, the issues of social security reform or farmers’ taxation. These are both extremely thorny matters but at some point they need to be addressed; yet listening to broadcasts and news bulletins on these issues the past few days you would think we are in the middle of some major national catastrophe. It is true that the cost of social security has spiraled out of control and that drastic and very painful cuts will have to be made to pensions, but we should not forget that there’s a reason things reached this point. When Tassos Giannitsis served as labor minister over a decade ago, he put forward a proposal for the radical reform of the pension system. His efforts were lambasted by the media and his proposals branded “bloodthirsty cutbacks.” The same was the case when the government of Costas Karamanlis brought up the issue of raising value-added tax and reducing the tax-free threshold for the self-employed back in 2008.
The battle for ratings led to the mentality that anything goes when it caomes to getting more viewers. There has never been a serious discussion about the crucial issues in the public television debate. Experts and academics with profound knowledge about important questions were cut from the screen because they were seen as stuffy and bad for ratings. They were replaced instead by a medley of colorful lunatics, some of whom went on to become lawmakers and ministers thanks to their newfound popularity. Arrogance, extreme positions and a good brawl or two pushed up ratings and got the TV loons votes.
What’s funny is that the channels that were most guilty of populism at times when they should have been serious ended up being targeted by the very people they promoted. No one escapes from the beast of populism. Even those who feed it will be bitten at some point. Most TV stations have lost the respect and attention of the public today but populism continues to rage, now on the Internet.
There are obviously some exceptions that should not be overlooked but it is hard to see how this country will ever be governed properly unless the quality of television debate does not improve. We often talk about the need for great statesmen like Eleftherios Venizelos or Constantine Karamanlis to take on the daunting task of reviving Greece, but even if such a person were to appear, it is most likely that television would be less concerned about his or her radical new ideas and more with their personal life.