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Greece could change the negative picture, but only through meaningful actions

01 June 2011 / 12:06:43  GRReporter
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Anastasia Balezdrova

Many things have changed in Greece over the past 18 months, but many things have remained unchanged too. Employees and retirees saw their pockets emptying also due to the heavy taxes, but reforms are still pending. The crisis connected with the Greek debt and the probable chain reaction in Europe naturally has attracted the Western media attention, which were not well-intended. Such was the position of the Greek media too.
On the occasion of the ongoing media "war" the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy ELIAMEP organized a discussion on Foreign Media and Greece’s country image in the economic crisis.

The first remark was made by the lecturer in finance at the University of Athens and President of the Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research Yannis Stournaras: "The response to the cover of the Focus Magazine could be Plato, teaching the king of the Visigoths Alaric I. This would be a much better response, than complaining and abusing."

He admitted that the Greeks are really different from the people in Western Europe to some extent. "The fact that we did not go from feudalism to capitalism or from the Enlightenment to the Renaissance but were part of the Ottoman Empire left us some scars of eastern character, compared with our partners from the West. They explain the illegality, bribes and other features of which Western societies may not be aware."
According to Yiannis Stournaras, Greece caused the bad comments of foreign media more or less itself. "Of course, there were things exaggerated, but we have thrown away our "skin" of a "black sheep," we entered the Eurozone, organized the Olympic Games. Greece was developing; there was social welfare and good purchasing power per capita. We did better than Portugal and came very close to the GDP value of Italy. The problem started with the revision of the economy in 2004, which was the starting point for the negative posts." According to him, however, not only the foreign media should be blamed for the negative stereotypes about Greece. "Go to a newspaper kiosk some day. Look at the headlines of the tabloids, but also at those of the more serious newspapers and compare them. I would not say there is a big difference between them."

"Although there is a crisis in Portugal and Ireland, the focuses are mainly on Greece. It is believed that the problem is only here and that the other two countries have occasional difficulties. Personally, I'm not at all sure that the Greek problem is more serious. When the problem is in the public sector a strong government could solve it, because it is easier to make improvements there than in the banking system. Banking crises are much worse and complicated to resolve than the crises of the government debt. Therefore, we should be very careful when we tell the truth about the real "architectural" problem of the Eurozone today."

According to Yannis Stournaras, it is quite natural that there are many publications for Greece, but in most cases they are not written to inform, but to cause reactions. "There are often publications about bankruptcy, about leaving the euro, but no one explains what would happen if we leave the Eurozone. Not a study has been made to show how much the failure or the salvation of Greece would cost. Nobody says what the consequences of the failure of a country in Europe would be, where there has never been a state bankruptcy since 1948 and all the countries are so closely interconnected. If a country leaves the euro area it would fail immediately. If we devalue the drachma by 30%, the national debt would increase by 30% respectively. Banks would go bankrupt along with the country too."

Yannis Stournaras pointed out how negative was the impact of Der Spiegel publication on the Greeks and they went to the banks and withdrew their deposits. "Foreign journalists write their articles based on unofficial information they receive from the ministries in their countries or from other funds, which are likely to have an interest in the circulation of one "news" or another." He said that the publications not always contain reliable data. "There are other countries that joined the euro area with government deficits greater than the Greek one. There has never been paid attention to the responsibility of the European Commission for Greece, Ireland and Portugal. Could we be sure that we know what the government debts of other countries are?" Those were some of the topics of which the public opinion is not aware according to the Professor of Finance. "Generally speaking, the media are objective, but they are often silent about some things." He cited his experience with journalists from Bloomberg and Financial Times, who have not even published the important data from their conversation. "Things went very well in Greece in 1999. But then we eased off. The appointments in the public sector increased by 14%, while wages and pensions increased by 100%. We made very serious mistakes, but we are not those who would destroy the euro," concluded Yannis Stournaras.

"Everything we tell happened. But nothing happened the way we tell it." Quoting the Nobel Prize winning poet George Seferis, the TV journalist Maria Houkli defined the way of working of the Greek media. According to her, despite the exaggerations, the significant presentation of foreign publications, which are more favourable to Greece, the incompetent opinions in the beginning of the crisis and their personal interests Greek televisions have done relatively well with covering the crisis. "We should not forget that televisions are the product of the system which is now collapsing. But they were not silent and there were good shows, which presented things quite real."

Tags: MediaEconomic crisisGreeceGermanyFranceNegative postsInterests
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