By Demetrios Pogkas, Athens, Greece
Poverty threatens three million Greeks. In June the first 15.000 lay-offs in the public sector. Private sector salaries drop by 22 percent. Psychotropic drugs use to increase because of the crisis.
Mainstream media discourse in Greece during the first two years (mid-2010 – mid-2012) of the country’s bailout programs and the austerity policies imposed by the government and the EU – ECB – IMF troika resulted in significant cuts in public spending, reduced private sector salaries, as well as rising unemployment rates, poverty, and suicide incidents.
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The dialogue changed during the second period of the Greek crisis, which started in mid-2012 up to the present. Success stories proliferate in mainstream media, including stories of people or companies succeeding locally or overseas and overall, the country finding”making it” and finding a way out of the crisis.
“During the first years of the crisis when it wasn’t clear what the bailout programs and their consequent measures were about, it was unclear which media were pro-austerity and reforms from those against it. Greek media cultivated then a discourse of danger, of fear. We have to comply with the measures, make the changes required in order to avoid a potential disaster for the country”, says Bettina Davou, professor of Cognitive Psychology at the Communications and Mass Media Faculty of the University of Athens since 1992.
“Now, media in Greece have been rearranged into pro and anti-bailout programs and use a likewise discourse. Pro-bailout media are those using the success stories in my opinion to keep their audience’s attention off the real issues,” she adds.
Researches on media content have already proved the first part of the argument, but there is still no evidence on the second part, even though empirical data on daily media consumption suggests its validity.
To arrive at their analysis, the team starts from Joseph De Rivera’s “emotional climate” theory, which describes how emotions generated during extreme socio-political situations gradually and subconsciously affect people’s collective thinking and behaviour so they stop acting against the situation., Davou suggests that media—the number one factor of creating an “emotional climate” by reproducing the political discourse—that have adopted the theory and are overexposing their audiences to these stories are trying to quell Greek people’s looming unrest as anti-reforms opposition start to pick up.
“I believe the feature stories on success were not as a result of a well-planned propaganda mechanism set up against a particular target. Looking at it from the inside, they understand that the people is desperate, is turning to the opposition for solutions, and so they have to start inspiring optimism so the people would not to get too emotionally exhausted from the crisis, to be patient, and to keep waiting for an exit out of the crisis. How they’re doing it is a different story altogether,” says Davou.
For 31 years, Costas Tsaousis has been covering business and finance for big media groups in Greece both in print, radio, and online. Since 2010, he has been working for one of the country’s top-selling weekend newspapers. In 2011, he wrote for the first time a story for a number of young entrepreneurs and their struggles to find a way out of the crisis through entrepreneurship.
He claims this was the first time a mainstream media in Greece “discovered” and featured a startup even though other media outlets, mostly online, have been following that trend for years. The favorable response from the audience made Tsaousis and his editor-in-chief establish a regular column featuring new or young businessmen. This also madeevery mainstream media follow suit, Tsaousis says.
“Other mainstream media saw that one of the biggest newspapers wrote about that topic, the audience responded really well, so there is something there for them too,” he tells. At the very core, he believes the overproduction of “good news” still goes back to the business agenda of the media: produce stories that can sell the most.
Tech entrepreneurship, which along with the food and beverage sector, attracts the biggest media visibility today. It is an industry that started in Greece well over 20 years ago with the first e-shops in the late 90s although the concept of starting and running a company has always been part of the Greek economic culture. According to European Commission data, SMEs and family businesses account for the 99.9 percent of all businesses in Greece and they create the 84,8 percent of jobs. Worse, according to the Greek Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research data collected for the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, there isn’t even that big a difference: the percentage of people in Greece between 18 to 64 years who are starting a new business recognize the venture has its ups and downs. Presently, it has a low rate at 5.3 percent in 2010; 8 percent in 2011; 6.5 percent in 2012, and a drop in 2013 to 5.5 percent based on preliminary data.
So, why did media in Greece discover an entrepreneurship boom and even worse, why did they rush in describing as “success stories” entrepreneurs who have just created an online platform or application and gotten funding from private investors to finance their venture?
Picture: Newspapers stand in Athens kiosk. Greece participation in the Football World Cup and new bailout measures are standing out the headlines.
“The media in Greece are looking desperately to present stories of success. They want to connect with the mass of people who are worried about what will happen the next day, and in the longer run, their future. Stories of people creating and making their own success is their vehicle to connect with these people,” Tsaousis notes.
“But with mainstream media not understanding what each story really is about and how is different from another ‘success story’, they are just painting an image that is far from the truth. they don’t tell their audience that those who are extroverted or innovative are facing the same problems with them, since the business environment in Greece is still hostile. They are misleading their audience, creating an illusion, aiming at getting high readership or viewership rates”.
Whether it is a matter of taking people minds off the current social and financial situation in Greece in an attempt to support the pro-austerity reforms government or it is as simple as giving people what they want to listen to—while selling more papers or attracting more viewers—the media in Greece do present stories of success in a boundless and uncritical way.
Media should indeed bring into the public discussion sphere the trends and how society respond to the current situation. They should put them into context—that is the only way can they truly help those succeeding in their fields and not create just another “bubble”.