Mehran Khalili was at Lexixopoleio, last Wednesday, 27th of May 2015, at the event organised by Analyze Greece. We wrote a nice piece on medium.com/@mkhalil, which we re-publish here.
Last night I attended an event on the international media coverage of Greece, organised by Analyze Greece. This is an important topic that doesn’t get discussed enough.
On the panel was Eleni Colliopoulou, Greek correspondent for AFP; Marcus Walker, the Wall Street Journal’s European economics editor; Adéa Guillot, Greek correspondent for Le Monde; and Maria Margaronis, The Nation’s London correspondent and a Guardian and BBC contributor. Almost 100 people attended, with many journalists among them. Below are some take-aways from the event.
(Disclaimer: Though some of this might be obvious to anyone who understands how media works, it’s still nice to hear it articulated, particularly in the context of the Greek crisis.)
On negative stereotypes of Greeks
Maria said while the stereotypes of the lazy Greek, corrupt Greek, tax evading Greek, etc. are very much out there and damaging to the Greek people, what really matters are the political uses to which these stereotypes have been put. Specifically, the stereotypes have enabled European politicians to make Greece the “scapegoat of Europe”, to talk up the “moral failings of Greeks”, and use these arguments to justify the continuation of austerity policies in Greece.
Adéa said that though she’s not an opinion writer, she always tries to kill stereotypes at the beginning of her articles by using facts. If the piece is about tax evasion in Greece, for example, she’ll state upfront that two thirds of Greeks are taxed at source.
Holding up a photo of the infamous cover of Germany’s Focus Magazine from 2010 — of the Venus de Milo statue with her middle finger raised — Marcus said that stereotyping was a mutually beneficial game between the worst elements of Greek media and their foreign media counterparts. “Conflict is inherently a good story,” he said.
On media sometimes getting it wrong
Both Eleni and Adéa spoke about the intense pressure from editors to report, multiple times throughout the day, because of competition between media outlets. This competition, they said, means that journalists rarely get the chance to step back and see the bigger picture, or perform in-depth analysis.
And sometimes, Eleni said, this situation means getting it wrong. Eleni gave the example of a rumour in March 2015 that Juncker had refused to meet with Tsipras, which was reproduced across media outlets and quickly became ‘fact’. Juncker and Tsipras met a few days later; several outlets corrected their stories but, she said, “Nobody remembers the correction”.
On how Greece’s story is framed by media
Adéa said that telling Greece’s story as one of economics is the norm, because that’s how all the other outlets are reporting it and editors demand it. This is a problem, she said — vital Greek stories like the migration sitution don’t get covered nearly enough. “What’s happening in Greece is what’s happening in Europe,” she said.
Maria echoed this view. She said that though the Greek crisis has been framed internationally as a financial crisis, it is also a social and political one — but it rarely gets covered as such. Furthermore, she said that though it is a European crisis, it is consistently portrayed as being unique to Greece.
On what ‘reform’ really means
Marcus said that in reporting in creditor countries, the word ‘reforms’ is somewhat fuzzy and needs to be redefined. This is a failure of the media, he said, but also of Greek politics.
On sympathy for Greece in the UK
Maria said there was a strange alliance in the UK press, between left-leaning publications that are more supportive of Greece (like some Guardian columnists) and right-wing euroskeptic writers (like Ambrose Evans-Pritchard of The Daily Telegraph).
On trust in the media in Greece
Adéa said that she encounters a lot of suspicion in Greece of her motivations, when people discover she’s a journalist. Lack of trust of Greeks in their own media, she said, makes them very distrustful of international media in general, which complicates the work of Greece correspondents.
On equating the Greek government with the Greek people
Marcus said there was a tendency for media to treat governments as “unitary actors”, because it made better copy. While he felt this was fair, he said media should nonetheless avoid doing this.
On reporting ‘noise’ about the Greek crisis
Eleni said that in financial reporting, anything that could affect the markets has to get reported on. This can mean reporting several times a day, publishing stories that end up contradicting each other, and quoting statements that may not seem newsworthy to the average reader.
On why international media coverage is often against the Greek position
Adéa agreed that there was a general imbalance in international media coverage against the Greek government, but said that this is not because there is antipathy among media towards them.
Rather, she said that the source of the problem is that Greek government can be hostile towards journalists. If she wants a quote from a government official, she said, they sometimes ask “What do you believe? Are you with me or against me?”. She said that journalists who had written articles critical of the government were often shunned, but that this situation was the same under the previous (New Democracy) government.
Marcus agreed with this, saying: “The polarisation of Greek politics creates a problem for how it is covered”. He said that the Greek government often gives access precedence to visiting journalists rather that Athens-based correspondents.
Marcus said that the idea in international media that “it’s always the Greek government that has to make a move” in debt talks, exists because the journalists writing these stories are often based in Brussels, close to their EU sources.
Eleni said that daily press briefings by the Greek government started a month ago; there had been no such briefings for years.
First published in English on medium.com/@mkhalili
Mehran Khalili describes himself in the following way: “I do political communications and photojournalism. I live in Greece — a beautiful country that’s having a tough time”.
- Translated by: N/A
- The original text was first published on: medium.com/@mkhalili, 28.5.2015
- Link to original version: https://medium.com/@mkhalili/what-s-wrong-with-how-greece-s-story-is-told-internationally-cd0ceaf3b2fc