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The war between Greek and German media and the economic crisis

09 December 2010 / 12:12:52  GRReporter
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Anastasia Balezdrova

Do you remember the cover of the February edition of the German magazine Focus when the statue of Aphrodite of Milos was wrapped in ragged Greek flag and showed raised middle finger? In early May, the same magazine came up again with Aphrodite this time presented as a beggar and the heading next to her was Greece and Our Money. These covers and dozens of other articles provoked sharp reactions from the Greek media that ‘responded’ with articles and cartoons mocking at Germany.

The European financial crisis that broke out early this year caused a dynamic, often offensive dialogue at political and media level on how the public debts in the Eurozone are managed. That was the topic of the discussion between eminent journalists and politicians entitled The Media and the Crisis - the European Debt Problem in the Public Debate, which was organized by the Hellenic Foundation for European and International Policy (ELIAMEP), the German Embassy in Athens, the German Office for Academic Exchange (DAAD) and the Centre for Global Policy at the Free University in Berlin.

The German Ambassador in Athens, Dr. Roland Veneger stressed that the crisis Europe is experiencing is unprecedented and that European politicians have proved unprepared to deal with the situation. Two researchers Christina Klinkfort and George Dzogopoulos presented the way the Greek and German media reported the crisis and commented on its consequences on people.

According to George Dzogopoulos, stereotypes have been formed in the media of both countries. "In the Greek media that was expressed through many articles against the Memorandum of economic support but they offered no alternative. They accused German Chancellor Angela Merkel for the delay in the aid granting while the German press did not present clearly enough the role of Berlin in the support mechanism for Greece. Series of articles just presented the social reality in Greece in a negative way," said the researcher adding that "this media tendency to the ‘yellow’ could be explained by the poor perception of topics, but also by the fact that journalists are looking for comfortable theories without giving details." He argued that according to opinion polls only 23% of Greeks support the implementation of the Memorandum of economic assistance and that this is very largely due to the way the media presented the issue.

On the other hand, Christina Klinkfort stressed that according to research, people interest in global issues dropped on account of domestic issues. "This forces the media to concentrate on local problems of each country thus making stereotypes. Furthermore, although we are part of the European Union, there is no European media actually or even European public space, which complicates the situation."

The German MEP of Greek origin George Hadzimarkakis described how Germany and Greece have adopted the monetary union. "Greece adopted the Euro with pleasure while the people in Germany were not burning with desire to separate from the Mark," he recalled and added: "The confrontation between Greece and Germany has become a clash between two cultures with the start of the crisis and I found myself in its epicenter as a German MEP of Greek origin." George Hadzimarkakis accused the largest German newspaper Bild in fueling this kind of ‘war’ and said that "people in Greece, unlike the Germans who did not plunge into the crisis, understand that there is a problem and are willing to change."

Dimitris Kondoyanis – a journalist from the newspaper Eleftherotypia – critisized the way the Greek media reported the financial crisis. He noted that the information offered was superficial and with no analysis in depth, but with impressive headings and full of conspiracy scenarios where foreign speculators wanted to attack the Greek economy. "We that are working in the Greek media perceive things with epicenter in Greece. We do not take into account the reality in other countries. Thus, from the periphery of Europe, we saw no attempt of Germany as a country with a surplus to help countries with high state deficits," he said.

The Director of the Bild newspaper Nikolaus Blome tried to explain in his speech the reasons which made the German press attack Greece with several negative articles. "There were only articles for Greece from the beginning of May. We wrote sharply about the state of the country in our newspaper day after day. You must understand that with the advent of the crisis in the Greek economy, Greece's problem became an internal problem for Germany. When the German taxpayers' money was placed at risk it is normal the media to reflect this dynamic topic. Just this transformation of an international topic to an internal one explains the tensions that occurred. The people of Germany knew nothing special about Greece before the crisis. For them it was a country with sun and sea, where you can spend a pleasant holiday. All of a sudden we started to learn what was happening in Greece, actually by translating the Greek newspapers" he said.

Nikolaus Blom admitted that in trying to sell more copies newspapers often make bad comments and jokes. He noted however, that the Focus magazine with the cover of the statue of Aphrodite of Milos had not good sales because it was offensive. "I know we went too far in our attempt to ironically comment on the situation in Greece and even mock at the Greek Prime Minister. This was one of the many erroneous covers we were supposed not to show," admitted the director of one of the biggest German newspapers.

Tags: Economic crisisGerman and Greek mediaMedia warPolitics
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