Unaccountable television

The peculiar regime that currently rules Greek television was put in place with the consent of all politicians in 1989. Now they must all work together to tackle the chaos and lack of restraint that characterize many private television stations and which are threatening to corrupt our democratic institutions. These stations share responsibility for this situation. Many in the field of television have deliberately, and hypocritically, started to equate their lack of restraint with press freedom and with journalists’ mission of monitoring and keeping a check on power. The Greek Constitution not only does not associate freedom of the press with the electronic media, but sets out their respective functions in two separate articles. Article 14 fully guarantees the freedom of newspapers so that «anyone can express and distribute his thoughts in speech, in writing and in the press, in keeping with the law.» By contrast, Article 15 states that «the provisions of the law that protect the press do not apply to cinema, recordings, radio, television and other related media for transmitting speech or performance.» Article 15 continues: «Radio and television come under the direct control of the state, which is entrusted to the National Radio and Television Council (ESR).» The constitution stipulates that state oversight of radio and television exists «for the purpose of objective and equal transmission of information and news as well as the products of discourse and art, and of ensuring the quality of the programs which are demanded by the social mission of radio and television and the country’s cultural development, as well as respect for human values and the protection of childhood.» Has any private station manager ever been forced to include «products of discourse and art» in their programs, as stipulated by the constitution? What measures have been taken to make the quality of programs correspond to their «social mission»? Has the provision for «respect for human values and the protection of childhood» ever been implemented? Such questions would merely make today’s private TV managers laugh. Whether for legal or other reasons, the National Radio and Television Council has failed dismally to exercise sufficient state control, while the irresponsibility of the private channels has spread to the news sector, where the fight for ratings via cheap sensationalism has trumped demands for quality. It is immaterial whether this sensationalism is dictated by hidden forces with murky agendas, such as undermining the present government or Greek political life, because the current state of affairs is itself a threat to our democratic institutions.