Monday, March 28, 2011

The use and abuse of Wikileaks in Greece

While Wikileaks has upturned much of the way in which states interact with the media, the effects of this upheaval have only impacted Greece only tangentially with very few of the US State department cables from Athens to Washington reaching the light of day (as I write this just four are available from the Cablegate mirror site).

After an initial flurry of newspaper and TV activity the issue disappeared from public view. However with the deal between the Norwegian daily Aftenposten and the Kathimerini newspaper and its sister TV channel Skai Wikileaks has once more become part of the local media landscape. Skai investigative TV show, Oi Fakeloi (The Files) has started running a series of programs which are using the material from the cables to shed light of areas of Greek political policy such as the relationships between Athens and its neighbours.

In that respect Wikileaks has fulfilled its mandate of allowing ordinary citizens to judge for themselves decision, often taken in secret by their own governments yet the Greek media, including the corporation that owns both Kathimerini and Skai is not just a neutral means of informing people about local and world events. As the US embassy cable from Athens pointed out;

"Closer inspection reveals a Greek media industry controlled by business tycoons whose other successful businesses enable them to subsidize their loss-making media operations. These media operations in turn enable them to exercise political and economic influence."

In this respect Skai and Kathimerini are no different to other media group operating in Greece and the fact that the both have their own political and economic agenda is obvious on most days. However, while most media outlets worldwide have their own ideological "leanings" there is a world of difference between adhering to a political or economic line and using your platform to exercise political pressure to push through policies favourable to the owner.

While the journalist working on The Fakeloi are serious in their intent of getting to the truth in Greek political life they are simply a small part of the media wing which is being used to gain leverage over a democratically elected government. In the case of Skai News reporting is being used as a battering ram to get Athens to adhere to a policy of public spending cuts and greater austerity measures which is deeply unpopular amongst the population in general.

Almost nightly the ruling PASOK administration is under fire for not fulfilling some aspect of the austerity package agreed by the troika (IMF, European Central Bank and the EU Commission). On the other hand legislation or policies which follow the line set down by Greece's creditors are often lavished with praise or presented without critical analysis.

Protests, however, by Greeks over cuts in living standards or loss of livliehoods are often go unreported or are termed acts of extremism. Case in point being the recent series of demonstrations against members of the government during public appearances. Such incidents have been condemned as an attack on democratic institutions and in some reports described as acts of fascist terrorism.While one might not agree with booing politicians and pelting them with yoghurt such cases cannot be compared with say, Kristallnacht which was the line put forward by Kathimerini columnist Angelos Stangou in an article publish last week.

In such an atmosphere the decision by Aftenposten and by default Wikileaks has given a media corporation with its own very particular agenda and enormously powerful tool to blackmail those in power. If they deviate from a favourable line then the threat of damaging revelations from Cablegate can be used to prompt a change of heart. This is not what Wikileaks was meant to be about, it was not envisaged as means of extorting preferential treatment for the rich and powerful but rather giving ordinary people the means to oversee their own rulers.

Unless the remainder of the State Department cables concerning Greece are released for scrutinisation then the ideals of Julian Assange and the other founders of Wikileaks are in danger of being compromised.

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