Circe’s wand

Judging from the first reactions, the government proposal to ban the ratings of news bulletins and talk shows is unlikely to go through. That said, the proposed measure has reignited the debate over the decline of Greece’s news programs. It’s not that news is tailored to suit the interests of the ruling party. After all, such distortion would be easily detected. The dangers emanating from the news bulletins of private channels go further than that. News programs have turned into theatrical talk shows tinted with a dramatized cocktail of daily oddities and heartbreaking news bites. The criterion is the extent to which a news item can arouse viewers’ curiosity or emotion. Stories are treated as cheap spectacle whose purpose is to intoxicate. The viewing public has thus become addicted to bad taste and petty politics. Those who argue that news bulletins and talk shows must not be exempt from free competition and public evaluation must keep in mind that the news is not just any other commodity and hence should not be shaped in line with specific public preferences. Viewer ratings do not just determine advertising prices and time. They are a Circe’s wand that transforms television programs. Journalism and aesthetics have been molded to fit the ratings. But it’s far from certain that the AGB ratings accurately mirror people’s wishes. Even if there is no fudging of the numbers, the picture reflects the preferences of even the most backward households that also host the AGB counters. In their pursuit of ratings, channels have dragged the quality of public life to new lows as they influence social behaviors and preferences. The government proposal is driven by self-interest but it must be judged on its own merit. It may not be a cure-all but it could improve things – and for that reason alone it’s worth a try.