The media that cried wolf

Every time a scandal breaks out, we journalists behave like a pack of wild dogs. We smell the blood and chase behind the leader of the pack, without stopping to think where we’re going and what we seek. Our anxiety not to miss the scoop, to be first, paralyzes every shred of common sense. Those who choose to stand aside and await further developments are at serious risk of being accused by others of covering something up or playing some kind of game. This is a scenario we have seen all too often. When the slot machine scandal hit the media, we joined the campaign against this form of entertainment, as if it were the No 1 problem facing Greek society. When the scandal involving former deputy economy minister Christos Pachtas began making the rounds, an entire group of politicians was annihilated without any solid proof of the actual existence of a scandal. The same happened after the death of Social Security Foundation (IKA) Chairman Yiannis Vartholomaios. For days the media – and especially television – ranted and raved that all manner of nastiness would be revealed when his bank accounts were examined, that there was something sinister behind the entire affair, etc. Much water has since passed under the bridge but nothing has come to light. Yet nobody, has even considered apologizing to Vartholomaios’s family. The same is happening right now. Front page titles rant about the millions of euros for which Christos Zachopoulos was responsible, but a serious economic scandal has yet to surface. I wonder, when the dust has settled and we see that there is no scandal behind Zachopoulos’s suicide attempt, will anyone think to apologize? What has been confirmed, however, is that for today’s media, the maxim «innocent until proven guilty» has been distorted to «guilty until proven innocent,» with the extremely important difference that no one will ever know if you are proven innocent, because the story just won’t sell. At some point we journalists will have to ponder what we are doing wrong in this «hunt» for a story. Politicians must do the same, because it is certainly easier to exercise opposition or win elections with this standard of media. But it is impossible to govern with such media, because what benefited you as a handy political poison against your opponent, rapidly erodes your credibility when you find yourself in power. The danger that the media faces from its gross exaggeration is that one day, when a real story pops up, no one is going to believe us. And if we are asked to cover a major national crisis, we will probably end up leading the people astray.