Political deficit

It is generally acknowledged that both the government and opposition parties are incapable of setting the country’s daily political agenda, while the political climate is shaped primarily by the media. On virtually a daily basis, we are presented with debates on moral issues and the journalistic code of conduct, featuring arguments that are usually theoretical and thus lack practical value. It is all very unhealthy. Compared with a few years ago, today’s media organizations – both the electronic and published press – no longer simply comment upon policies and social developments but command a leading position on the Greek political stage. As a result, the chief problem facing any government is not the opposition, which it can quite easily deal with in Parliament, but a certain number of maverick journalists who «invade» the living rooms of the viewing public with the ostensible aim of cleansing a veritably rotten system. Under this new system, private television answers not to political parties nor to broader public opinion but to TV viewers. Certain commentators retort that television, and journalists in general, should not play such a role, insisting that certain quality standards must be met. But these standards are not taken seriously by television bosses and presenters who insist that their main priority is to inform the public. One would expect that such a corrupt system would inspire a revolt by viewers. But this has not happened, so the situation remains unchanged. However paradoxical it may sound, the main problem has not been created by private television per se – either by certain journalists or media owners – but by a tragic shortcoming in the overall political system. However clever, resourceful, intrepid and well-informed a journalist may be, he would simply not be able to disrupt an established system if this system had not already been discredited and undermined by corruption and entangled interests. Of course, state intervention to reinstate order in the television sector is not a viable solution to this issue. And this not because it could be regarded as «undemocratic» but because it would be ineffective in the end, since the country’s political parties lack the necessary influence to impose such a change. Over the course of its history, Greece has frequently suffered from a political deficit, but the distortions of political rhetoric we are currently witnessing, especially on television, is a rare phenomenon. Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis makes statements in Parliament on all the critical issues of the day and opposition PASOK chief George Papandreou levels criticism against the government’s policies, often using extremely harsh rhetoric. However, all these efforts are in vain, for they have no effect whatsoever in shaping public opinion. What this results in is that the average citizen prefers so-called political debate on television to spineless, predictable parliamentary rhetoric, as the former also provides him or her with fodder for social banter. One thing is for sure: Politics has ceased to be any kind of driving force or source of inspiration and emancipation for citizens and has become a stimulus for cheap and tedious entertainment. The political system itself is chiefly to blame for creating this situation.

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