TV takes over from an absent State

Desperate residents called television stations looking for help: «We haven’t had any help from anyone – you are our only hope.» In this instance the «you» refers to the television channels which residents of fire-ravaged villages have been calling, seeking help. «We’re burning!» «Someone send an aircraft to drop some water! «No one from the State has come, we’ve had to go on the air and beg for help.» These are just a few examples of the comments made by villagers forced to watch their communities ravaged by fire. And unfortunately they were indeed obliged to call the TV channels. «Wherever we broadcast live links, helicopters would come and drop water,» one presenter said. Often TV journalists gave instructions over the phone to trapped villagers from the studio. «Now that there is still time, you must flee,» one reporter told a caller. «Where should we go?» the villager asked. «Somewhere safe,» the reporter suggested. An elderly lady from the village of Kokora, in Arcadia prefecture calls a popular channel. «We’re burning!» she cries. «Have you received any air support?» a duty editor asks. «How is the air going to help us?» the desperate woman cries. «What I meant is: have any airplanes arrived?» But the most common refrain is: «Do something!» Over and over again we hear these same two words. When television, and not the State, becomes our «only hope», then something is not right. Alter anchorman Nikos Hadjinikolaou described the phenomenon as «paradoxical.» «Instead of television providing information, it has undertaken the role of unofficial coordinating center for the crisis – a kind of televisual governance,» he said. The appeals for aid made to TV channels by desperate villagers do not so much highlight people’s faith in the media as their deep mistrust of the capability of the state machine. When people feel helpless, alone, forgotten, it is only natural for them to pin their hopes on TV channels, or on the possibility that the wind may change direction. But this does not indicate the triumph of new technology so much as the backward relationship between the public and the State. The TV channel becomes that modern-day party leader which mediates between the citizen-viewer and the heartless State. Alpha channel offered 1 million euros for any information on arsonists. The unofficial ministry of televisual public order is in full swing, while there is already a race between channels to organize the first fundraising show for fire victims. When the State appears to be doing nothing, it seems natural to ask TV channels to «do something.» The above observations are in no way aimed at discrediting the work of hundreds of journalists and crew who rushed to the scene of the fires or did double shifts in television and radio studios last weekend, the darkest in a long time.