Truth becomes collateral damage

Greek politicians – more recently Merchant Marine Minister Manolis Kefaloyiannis – often express their anger at the degenerate, indeed dangerous, phenomenon of so-called TV democracy. Their anger, however, should not just be vented at the big TV stars and the self-styled prosecutors that parade on our television windows. Rather, it should be directed at the majority of politicians who are contributing to the decline of political life. Journalists have an obligation to monitor the political system and reveal the truth with the aim of informing the public in a comprehensive and unbiased fashion. By virtue of their role, journalists are an annoyance to the representatives of the political system as they tend to assume the role of litigants. Nevertheless, this type of journalism is increasingly verging toward the insolent and arrogant. The motives and the objectives are hard to hide. The primary driving force is high viewer ratings, but this cannot be achieved with a calm and equal dialogue between journalists and politicians. High ratings demand noisy barbs and accusations. They demand scuffling and swearing, not a quiet quest for the truth. The objectives of this type of journalism are equally obvious. The guest politician has two options. He can either talk back in the same aggressive language (hence the host will get what he wants: sparring and shouting) while the politician will manage to show he is not inferior, as it were, to the host. Alternatively, the guest can conform to a master-and-servant relationship, enduring his TV abuse without protest. In both cases, of course, truth is part of the collateral damage. If the debate ends in an ugly row, the viewer remains either undecided or ignorant.