Monday, March 16, 2009

Thessaloniki Documentary Festival - Alternative forms of information and Democracy

Stelios Kouloglou

Live at the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival. No Wi-Fi, however, the event started on time and has an interesting list of speakers (Click here to see the details). Here are my first unfiltered thoughts, please forgive any mistakes, I'll clean them up later.

Paraschos Mandravelis, journalist with Kathimerini. Interesting idea that new technologies at first copy existing formats, e.g TV was simply radio with pictures in the beginning. Likewise the alternative journalism follows the existing mainstream media. True up to a point, as much of what is written is simply copy and paste from newspapers and other news sites. I think this is to expected, considering that blogging and other such forms have recently made their appearance in Greece. Most blogs are less than two years old and thousands discovered them just months ago.

On the other hand there were bloggers and other contributors who went out into the streets in December, talked to those taking part in the protests and disturbances at a time when most mainstream coverage consisted of long distance pictures and analysis by those who were even further from the scene. The media formed a closed system, almost entirely self - referential.

Thessaloniki Documentary Festival

In a sense they reminded me of Hitler and his high command locked away in their bunker at the end of WW2, cut off from the madness flowing around them giving orders to armies that no longer existed. A fantasy of war and of command. Similarly, the media talked and analysed the riots and protests that swept Greece last December using fragments of evidence, endless discussions based on a single act or image but with no background, nobody thought to go out and ask the most obvious question.

Why are you doing this?

Actually, there were media outlets who were asking people exactly this but they were outside the country. It was strange that whilst Greek TV presented an endless line - up of so called experts, the foreign news service found and interviewed young Greeks taking part in the events. It took the local media a week before to cotton on to the fact that they were participants willing to talk. I guess that didn't fit in with the idea of "mindless violence" and "looting" much of the established media were selling at that point.

The debate covered the idea of reliability of sources but how reliable can a news media source be when those who contribute have at the back of their mind that what they write or say may threaten their jobs? How much self - censorship goes on when people have to weigh up the choice: either the next mortgage payment or the truth?

Article 14 of the Greek constitution was raised time and time again. Nearly 800 words, only three of which outline the freedom of the press. The remaining 700 odd deal with what you can’t say, including laws which belong on the books of North Korea, such as it is a crime to insult in any way the president of the country or that only those licensed by the state may practice journalism.

Such legislation must be the envy of many an authoritarian state. Ironically, just minutes before the conference started. I faced this dilemma when I went to take photographs of a car being pulled out the water here in the port. The cops asked me if I was a journalist i.e. do have permission to take pictures in a public place? Am I properly accredited to comment on what I see?

Diving for cars

The idea that people may use the internet to spread untruths and lies. What if somebody insults me on the net? What next? Shall we monitor all phone calls in case somebody is spreading wicked rumours about me? What about bugging bars and cafes to ensure that people are not spreading malicious lies? They have a model of press freedom that resembles Henry Fords ideas about car manufacture. You can say anything you like as long as I agree with it.

The issue of anonymity was also raised and once again the idea that if someone puts their name on an article or publication is somehow an magical guarantee of quality . On the other hand members of the audience expressed views on internet anonymity that would warm the hearts of Kim Il Sung or the leadership of such progressive regimes as Iran, Sudan or China.

The real fear is not the possibility of liable or slander but the feeling of terror that if you give people the chance to tell you their opinion, they will. No longer would the anger or frustration felt by many with those in charge be contained. It would explode, unfiltered onto the public domain, an explosion of rage that can not be mitigated or hidden.

If you can control what people see or read what kind of government are you?

“We are living through a crisis in confidence in the mainstream media." Fabio Wuytack.”


Panos said...

An interesting read. I have long abandoned Greek media in trying to get any meaningful representation of political events, the only thing they seem to be worthy of reporting (at least the TV) is the latest traffic accident in Posidonos, the entertainment news from "ta skukladika" or the endless looping of 10 seconds of a video clip from some rich guy's wedding. Throw in some footage of a bank robbery in progress and you're good to go.

I don't know how many years you've been in Greece but I remember years ago, probably about 15, when the constitution was being revised, something that can only happen every so many years, yet the report of this was 4th or 5th down the line after a traffic accident, some other irrelevant gripe of some guy who wanted a minister to personally attend to his business problems and some other mambo-jumbo.

It is tragic that the choices you have in Greek media are limited: either the skewed version of ERT, as dictated by the government, the highly politicised versions of newspapers, or the populist-sensetionalist TV reports, complete with dramatic music, rolling credits and lack of intonation, spelling and any reporting.

Living away from Greece I find myself getting more on-hands reporting on major events from the BBC or CNN or other news outlets, as you mention in your post.

I guess this is to be expected though. The media in Greece are highly tied to big conglomerates or media tycoons, each with their own political agenda trying to push it through. From the early 12 EU countries I think the only one with such bad practices, probably worse, is Berlusconi's Italy. But that is not a surprise really, if you observe Italian TV and Greek TV you will find many similarities, from the number of variety shows with semi-naked 20-somethings to the high tempered shouting on every "news" programme.

Simon Baddeley said...

Good stuff Teacherdude. Is anyone else in Greece spreading this understanding of citizen journalism? I don't think many understand the new grammar of narrowcasting. In Birmingham my friend Nick Booth left broadcasting five years ago to do narrowcasting and in my view has as astute a feeling for blogosphere and its wider import as anyone I know - and I don't understand enough of what he and his network are into
We use him on session at the university to get over the message of what;s going on outside the broadcasting 'bunker' and with WiFi linked to a dataprojector in the classroom he takes us on a fascinating tour of the demographics of web2

Paul said...

A fascinating post. Thanks for that.

teacher dude said...

I think that the mainstream media here in Greece, like so many other parts of the world is going through a period of crisis caused both by technology and the credit crunch.

However, the divide between what the media, especially, TV considers important and ordinary people's concerns is particularly wide. They really are hunkered down in their bunkers, rushing from minister to minister.