Civil Society, Europe, Headlines, Human Rights, Press Freedom

GREECE: Social Media Advances Against Elite Owners

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Analysis by Apostolis Fotiadis

ATHENS, Sep 16 2011 (IPS) - An unflattering report on Greece’s media by a former United States envoy to this country, revealed by Wikileaks, evoked little public reaction because it was taken as a faithful portrayal.

Charles P. Ries’s secret dispatch to Washington said Greek media was run by a “small group of people who have made, or inherited, fortunes in shipping, banking, telecommunications, sports, oil, insurance etc. and who are or have been related by blood, marriage, or adultery, to political and government officials and/or other media and business magnates.”

It is hard to dispute the Wikileaks revelations two weeks ago because it is a fact that Greek media, lacking in objectivity and mired in nepotism, has lost the confidence of the public. Traditional media hit rock bottom two years ago in a survey on trust in public institutions.

Strikingly, there has been a drop in sales of the Sunday editions of national newspapers, once esteemed for their sharp political analyses.

One newspaper with a high average circulation and officially selling 300,000 copies in 2005, saw sales dipping well below 100,000 by May 2010. Even during the height of the Greek debt crisis its sales never crossed 75,000.

A turning point in public confidence came during the December 2008 riots when a private channel was caught adding sound effects to scenes of an aggressive crowd attacking policemen, following the cold- blooded shooting of 16-year-old Alexis Grigoropoulos by a police officer.


An undoctored version, leaked on the popular video-sharing site YouTube immediately afterwards, had only the sound of a gun being fired.

“It is a proven fact that mainstream media are rapidly losing their audiences,” says Aggeliki Boubouka, a journalist specialising on the new media. “It is also a fact that a critical mass of a couple of tens of thousands of people use the Internet and new technologies to access reality in the country.”

Boubouka says the growing impact of social networking media in Greece can be seen by how “major newspapers, radio stations and channels struggle to understand this new environment.

“For the first time mainstream media were forced to alter their discourse after people using social media took up specific issues like the 2008 riots and the first ‘Freedom Flotilla’, last year,” she told IPS.

Boubouka is herself associated with ‘Eleftherotupia’, a major progressive publication that has dominated journalism for more than three decades in Greece, but has not paid wages for three months now and is facing closure.

“Shortly, the media reality here will be very different and new forces will come into the picture. No one can say how this will change things, but the transformation is already causing concern to established powers,” she said.

Since the beginning of the year, major TV channels like ‘SKAI TV’ and ‘MEGA’ have been experimenting with live Twitter interaction in news programmes.

SKAI Radio, the biggest station in the country, is now preparing a major blog. Many well-established journalists are also attempting to create their own online news and analysis websites.

‘TVXS’, that appeared a few years ago, has been one of the more successful ones attracting thousands of readers, while ‘Protagon’ has promoted a site for commentaries by celebrities. Both are run by successful TV journalists, but find themselves challenged by anonymous bloggers.

Younger journalists, denied opportunities by poor employment conditions, are also attempting to reach audiences online. ‘Parallilografos’, a site that first appeared some months ago, now accepts more than 3,000 visits daily.

Smartphone owners who cover demonstrations and other events and report live on Twitter have multiplied during the last four years and have challenged big media players that dared ignore public opinion.

“Now thousands of people will check on alternative sources as well as established media before they form their perspective on things,” says Spyros Papadopoulos, popularly known as ‘To Vytio’ among bloggers and Twitter fans.

He still remembers when the first Twit of the murder of Grigoropoulos went online three minutes after the shots that killed him were fired.

“Lately one can observe a kind of decentralisation taking place. There are informal talks on Twitter before demos and people decide on a common tag on which to report during the demo,” Papadopoulos said.

Earlier this year, Papadopoulos joined a group of bloggers and amateur journalists involved with the ‘Radiobubble’ online radio station to cover major events by providing alternative breaking news coverage in which citizens contribute live from the field.

An audience of more than 3,000 people has followed Radiobubble coverage during big strikes or days marked by riots this year in Athens.

An information watershed was the circulation of a current affairs documentary named ‘Debtocracy’ that criticised the government’s austerity policy. The film was produced by Katerina Kitidi and Aris Xatzistefanou on a 16,000 euro (21,927 dollars) budget raised from the public.

“We uploaded the film online and asked people to get involved in distribution; on some days we register 500,000 non-unique views on our page,” said Xatzistefanou who lost his job with a major radio station soon after the documentary was released.

“When its impact became obvious Greek TV channels ignored it while newspapers reported about it negatively. I believe they despised it for political reasons and for being something they couldn’t control. Greek media are traditionally very authoritarian,” Xatzistefanou told IPS.

‘Debtocracy’ now has 1.5 million views on its website. It has been subtitled in many languages and screened in Britain, Spain, Portugal and Belgium and there are plans to show it in Latin America.

“The role of social media in Greece is somewhat different from that in the Arab Spring,” says Xatzistefanou. “Here we are not fighting for plain freedom of speech but against the domination of mainstream media on analysis and interpretation of reality. We are getting there.”

 
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