Letter from Samothrace

In a world that is being constantly wired for sight and sound, unanimity seems rare. But everyone agrees on this: There is way too much rubbish on TV. There is also agreement in the fact that junk TV may be just as hazardous to one’s health as junk food. This observation came out at the 14th Journalism Conference on «Greek Television Today,» organized on the island of Samothrace by several unions for Greek journalists plus the local municipality and the Prefecture of Evros. It was a big affair. More than 500 people in the press, including some fearless TV interrogators, gathered last week on this island of the northern Aegean, where in ancient times the great rituals of the Kaveirian mysteries were held. These mysteries must have also included mystical copulation practices, since it is rumored that Alexander the Great was conceived here when his parents, Olympia and King Philip II of Macedonia, met in Samothrace. While television signals and satellites were whirling over our heads, mass communicators, allegedly among our best-educated and most responsible citizens, discussed topics such as television ethics, the impact of mass communication, Greece as seen on the 8 o’clock news, and relations between TV and politics. Young reporters from neighboring countries such as Bulgaria and Turkey were also present. «During the 65 years of my journalistic career I have had the sad privilege of experiencing the desperate survival attempts of the written media,» said Christos Pasalaris, one of the patriarchs of Greek journalism. «I remember the first time television transmitted the World Cup live. It was in 1978 and it took place in Mexico. At the time we did our best at Apogevmatini, where I was editor at the time. Strange as it may sound, we did not gain one single reader.» «Sooner or later we shall experience the end of the written media,» he continued. «At least as we all know it now.» Classroom, pulpit and person-to-person contact have lessened in importance as means of stabilizing or changing society. Television reigns and rules as the mass entertainment par excellence. It is an inexhaustible fountain of all kinds of shows. A widely acclaimed entertainer, Lakis Lazopoulos, who presents the satirical «Al Chandeeree News» on Alpha Channel, shows every week that news shows are essentially about people who seem to live in chaotic confusion. Lazopoulos attended the conference in Samothrace, though he did note that «I am not a journalist.» But he did deliver some excellent observations on our work: «I watch, always in awe, TV journalists who can easily transform themselves in 30 minutes into knowledgeable physicians, priests, merchants, into almost everything. I wonder how on earth they can ever achieve this so easily. We actors have to spend at least three months practicing to get into a single character.» He’s being funny, sure, but there’s a powerful sheen of truth to what he says. We should be embarrassed and ashamed of our rampant TV gluttony. Greeks are among the most avid TV viewers, and that is not a first that we should be proud of. Watching too much television damages your health just as surely as inhaling the cancerous smoke of 60 cigarettes a day or ingesting 5 kilos of red meat every day or two. But there is some hope for Greek TV addicts, if they follow a prescription for self-enlightenment. Pantelis Savidis, a TV host for state channel ET3 who is also a newspaperman, predicted a vaguely bright future for information and entertainment in cyberspace. «A journalist may produce an account that is entertaining as well as newsworthy, but a person who writes only for sheer entertainment, the way some television reporters write their scripts, is not a journalist,» he said. Viewers, he said, should «only watch programs that stimulate and enrich them.» An island like Samothrace, still heavy with the spirits of philosophers and scientists, has a way of clearing one’s head and getting a little closer to the truth of what Greeks need, both as information gatherers and information consumers. The purpose of the Kaveirian mysteries was to purify the soul and body and initiate the individual to a spiritual universal knowledge. A good journalist should think and act along those same lines.

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