Tedious monologues

Even TV show fanatics found it difficult not to slip into boredom on Tuesday. The much-hyped televised debate between Greece’s party leaders let down even the most upbeat viewers. Once again politics was held hostage to a rigid formula that had been agreed upon by the parties themselves. The journalists’ questions were dictated by sensationalist objectives that prompted a set of stereotypical answers which themselves were often unrelated to the original question. In truth, the debate signifies the surrender of political leaders to the mass subculture of television. No doubt the parties’ main priority is to enhance their appeal and augment their political power. However, their institutional role demands that they raise questions and propose solutions, that they act as a model for public behavior and not merely adjust to the current trends. No doubt television plays a fundamental role – but in this particular case, responsibility does not lie with the TV channels, but with the political leaders, particularly those of the two main parties. They had the power – at least before the elections – to enforce an alternative model of TV dialogue. Instead, they picked a flawed procedure that drives people away from politics. And all this in the name of various – often meaningless – communication objectives. It seems that TV debates are here to stay, representing another monstrous manifestation of Greece’s body politic. Therefore, we must put an end to it before it’s too late. It is obvious that some form of televised conversation between political leaders – before the elections, but not only then – is useful and necessary. To this end, we need a different operational framework that can render their dialogue fairer and more substantial. This does not mean we can do away with all the rules. However, time-frames could be less tight than they currently are, while it is neither necessary nor subtle for the moderator to interrupt party leaders before they have finished answering a question. Most crucially, we must abolish the procedure of parallel monologues. Why should one party leader be prevented from commenting on another’s answer? That would be an opportunity to break with the overpolished, cliche and hollow political language and urge them to make more spontaneous, genuine comments. Finally, there is no reason why television should not host a debate between Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and opposition leader George Papandreou. People would find this much more illuminating and useful as they seek to weigh the personalities and political intentions of the main candidates. It would also guarantee record ratings. The only real obstacle appears to be the fears of the politicians themselves. But the current formula downgrades them more than anyone else.