TV democracy

As in every debate, also in the much-hyped televised confrontation among Greece’s five political leaders yesterday, there were winners and losers, while the procedure may have helped voters to form an opinion of the candidates. Nevertheless, because their main goal is to make an impression, such televised debates and duels are sorely inadequate for anyone desiring an analysis of party programs so as to separate substance from slogans. Even if TV democracy is inevitably the flip side of the mass-democratic nature of the political system, it certainly does not produce informed voters equipped with critical judgment – as we once thought it would. The lack of substance is to a large degree related to the very nature of television. Particularly in Greece, the phenomenon is often closely linked to the context in which private television operates – the environment of semi-legality in which it has been suspended for an extended period of time, and in which it grew into a monster. With broadcast permits that have, in some cases, been granted for a short period of time, or not at all, with heavy concentration of ownership, with close ties to conflicting interests, and with enough political influence to support or torment political candidates, Greece’s private television networks constitute an inappropriate framework for a sober discussion of political proposals and disagreements. That’s made quite clear both by their discontent with the (basic) monitoring by the National Radio and Television Council (ESR) – a TV watchdog that came under fire from a recent television program jointly organized by the leading private channels, or by the artless – and comical – brawl among Greece’s TV stars over who should be the one to coordinate the discussion. The usual response to all this is that pluralism is a right. The citizen, it is said, is able to judge and to make rational choices. Notwithstanding its faults, television provides, with a lively, direct format, the raw material from which the viewing public can draw their conclusions. This, however, is a superficial answer in view of the fate in store for a fresh political idea, a new political movement or a party that would dare to come out with substantial or even unpleasant facts, let alone if it tried to disclose the interests behind private television channels. In our TV democracy, such voices are doomed to perish. Maybe democracy and television can coexist. Maybe. But it is certain that when democracy falls into the hands of television, it is no longer democracy.