The principle of countability

The principle of countability has become omnipresent. We measure the square meters of the property we own (or would like to own), we count the number of hours we spend commuting and the hours we are awake and asleep. Meanwhile our work performance is constantly being measured and assessed. In all these areas, quantity counts more than quality. The number of «clients» a doctor sees has become more important than the number of sick people he or she cures. In the world of television, as there is no state monopoly, it is only natural that the viewer ratings preoccupy the owners of the various channels. Polling firm AGB provides a daily list of the «top 10» programs of the previous day – in terms of how many viewers tuned in – much like the charts we have for music, films and books (the New York Times best-seller list is believed to be as accurate as Greenwich Mean Time). Earlier this week, government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos proposed that the publication of viewing figures for news bulletins should be abolished. The same proposal has been made many times in the past and is still being made in the hope that its adoption will make news bulletins more reliable. But it is doubtful whether all TV channels would agree to this. The biggest challenge is not abolishing (or rather, not announcing) television ratings but curbing the arrogance of the channels – and their star presenters – in projecting these quantitative successes. «Our news bulletin is top from Monday to Friday,» one claims. «We are most watched during holidays and school breaks,» another asserts. «We attract more educated viewers,» yet another maintains. Naturally, it is not the ratings themselves that are to blame but a certain fetish for advertising them, blowing them out of proportion in a bid to lend prestige to the product being offered. Often, presenters of programs with high viewing figures speak condescendingly about colleagues who do not «draw ratings.» They are clearly oblivious to the fickle nature of television, where the popularity of presenters is rarely long-lived. It is the free market that needs television ratings, not the viewer. The prestige of a news bulletin should not be judged by a machine used to count viewers or by the charisma of its presenter but by the breadth and richness of its news coverage, its honesty, the boldness of its political stance, its sensitivity on environmental issues and toward vulnerable social groups (including women, the unemployed and the elderly) and its approach to the arts and science. We must not blame AGB for publishing ratings but rather those who exploit the figures to create an impression; and we journalists too are often to blame for playing second fiddle in this numbers racket.