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Silencing a journalist is not less violent than his beating or arrest

04 May 2011 / 00:05:29  GRReporter
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Anastasia Balezdrova

I know almost no young journalists who would not like to join the team of Yorgos Avgeropoulos. Since 2000, the calm voice of the famous Greek journalist has been informing the Greek audience about events happening at different places worldwide. The documentaries by Yorgos Avgeropoulos and his team acquainted the viewers with the Niger River Delta, where thousands of barrels of oil are produced but 70% of the residents live on less than one dollar a day, with the Agora monks in India for whom it is said that eat the remains of burnt corpses thrown into the sacred Ganges River, with the beginning of the global financial crisis, the collapse of mortgage lending in the USA and with a number of other "distant and strange" stories. The films of the Eksandas series participate in international film festivals and are often awarded.

On the occasion of the International Day of Press Freedom GRReporter decided to present to its readers the "unconventional" journalist Yorgos Avgeropoulos, who loves to be there where he should not be.

Tell us about your experience as a war correspondent.

I was a war correspondent from 1992 to 2002. This was a very useful and interesting period in my life. I was fortunate to live through major events of the Balkan history. People often think that journalists go where they should not be at the peril of their lives for money. This is not true, first, because there is no money, and secondly, because nothing could compensate the loss of life. The only thing that makes you go to the battlefield is your personal curiosity to see how history is written, because for better or worse, it is often written through the wars. My other colleagues and I have witnessed events that are being taught in history classes now and we have personal opinion about them.

In addition, I learned many important things. Here, no one but the people who are aged 60-70 years now has lived through a war. But older people and war correspondents that covered the reality of war and worked on the battlefield can go deep into human values. To appreciate very ordinary-looking things like being able to calmly drink a cup of coffee with friends in a sunny day and realize that nothing is certain in life and that the situation could change very quickly.

The most impressive thing during a war is the way people change and turn into beasts. There you see the most extreme manifestations of human nature and psyche. I would say that my experience was very valuable from this perspective.

Given this experience, do you think that a journalist could be more threatened in his or her country when investigating a topic than on the battlefield?

Let me put the question another way: A person is more at risk in his or her country if he or she is riding a motorcycle in downtown Athens, for example. I really mean this, because I move this way. It is no exaggeration and I will explain why.
When there are victims on the battlefield, this is an accident, because war correspondents almost always have the same fear as everyone else. Nobody is a hero, or Superman. All seek to return intact. People assess the things based on their experience and take measures. For example, by moving after the one or the other side or by going to places that someone has recommended, etc.

If things take a bad turn and, for example, the road convoy gets ambushed or the pilot of a plane decides that the car is the enemy’s and shoots it then it is bad luck. In fact, this is the heads or tails game.

On the other hand, there are journalists who were threatened in their own countries while reporting not only in Greece but also worldwide. Irregardless of whether physical violence has been exerted on them – they were beaten to death or killed, for example, or because they were subjected to other violence, which is often worse. This is the attempt to silence a journalist by not publishing his or her materials. This is violence too.

How the Eksandas (Sextant) series of documentaries started?

Eksandas started in March 2000 as an experiment of а private broadcaster. On the occasion that we were entering a new millennium, the management of the television station assigned me with the task to prepare a chronicle of the 20th century of Greece. I made it. It lasted about two hours and because they liked it and it had a good response by the audience they told me "Could you do something like that every month?". These were the exact words and I was very much impressed because "something like that" is a very general description.

Meanwhile, I got tired of working for the news, especially after I had worked abroad, on the battlefield. I realized that I had treasures in my hands that could not be properly used in the news broadcasts, where the reports continue 1-2 minutes. I had an open offer for a broadcast which I had made several times, but there was no interest in it. Meanwhile, I had gained the experience needed to work abroad and I had realized the fact that Greece was not the centre of the universe. I had realized that the important decisions affecting our lives were too often taken outside the country. This is something we can notice very clearly today.

Let me mention also that I was ready to leave journalism a few years earlier. At that time, my wife and I had started to travel in Latin America. We were in Peru when a hotel keeper offered us to work in his hotel La casa de mi Abuela in Arequipa. We wanted some time to consider his proposal, to return to Greece and then to respond. But then, we decided not to go. I was made the proposal for the broadcast and so, this experiment started.

Tags: MediaDocumentariesJournalistsPress freedomEksandasGeorgios Avgeropoulos
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