ERT state broadcaster journalist Walid Elias has found himself wondering about a lot of things lately, such as all the fuss over ERT’s decision last month to launch a brief news roundup in Arabic after the main bulletin on television.
“I have been presenting an Arabic-language bulletin on Foni tis Elladas [Voice of Greece] on state radio since 1996, a service with a 40-year history,” says the presenter, who left his native Lebanon in 1989 because of the civil war and came to Greece to study journalism and marketing.
Since 1991, he has also worked as a foreign correspondent for Lebanese media, and has held his post as presenter, translator, interpreter and analyst at ERT since 1996, stopping only for the brief period that the broadcaster was shut down between the summer of 2013 and 2015.
“Foni tis Elladas is a very popular service among foreign communities. The diplomatic corps follows us regularly and embassies have visited several times,” he says. “I mean this is not the first bulletin in Arabic, but that’s how it is with TV.”
Elias also wonders why so many people believed that an image of a female anchor dressed in a burqa last month was real (for those who still do, it was the product of montage).
“I wouldn’t accept a co-host who wore a burqa either. Not even one in a headscarf,” he stresses. “We’re in a European country, a secular state and everyone needs to respect its principles. You can do what you want in your private life, but not in the public media. You must respect the principles of the country you live in.”
Elias also has trouble understanding why the Greek public does not take a stronger stance against phenomena of misinformation.
“Mainly we get positive feedback about the show but there is quite a lot of negative input from people who have fallen into the trap of misinformation and Islamophobia. I’m ashamed to mention some of the things that have been written. People should be more careful. They don’t know my story. They don’t know how many years I have been promoting Greece’s positions in magazines and newspapers in Lebanon from my post as correspondent. They don’t know that I’ve served in the Greek army because I’m a Greek national. Inadequate information creates discord,” says Elias.
Elias explains that the two-minute bulletin broadcast after the main news on ERT1 at 3, 6 and 9 p.m. is aimed at refugees and migrants, informing them how they can get to reception centers, how to apply for asylum, what their obligations and rights are, the weather etc.
“Of course, all the negative attention has been good for us,” he says, laughing. “Our viewing figures are high. It is a success for ERT. It is watched by thousands of Arabic-speaking refugees and migrants, also through ERT’s website.”
The bulletin is edited by ERT’s regional coordinator, Giorgos Papazachariou, and translated and presented by Elias. “The result is good and I am personally very satisfied,” he says.
Elias’s biggest question, however, is why Europe and Greece cannot find a way to deal with the refugee crisis.
“Fifty-two thousand people is not such a big number. Jordan has taken in 1.2 million refugees, Turkey 2.5 million and Lebanon 1.8 million. In Lebanon there are 600,000 Syrian students at school. Imagine the volume of management. Yet the European Union does not treat Lebanon like Turkey, which is blackmailing Brussels in exchange for money and political benefits, even though Turkey is largely responsible for the crisis in Syria.”
In regard to concerns that extremist elements are entering Europe in the wave of refugees, Elias again cites Lebanon, which he has been visiting regularly in the past 18 months, since his wife was transferred to the Foreign Ministry office there.
“It’s a matter for the police. Police in Lebanon arrest bad elements every day. That’s their job. You can’t blame everyone else,” he says.