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We are society in which changes occur overnight and the media are our mirror image

29 December 2010 / 12:12:20  GRReporter
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Anastasia Balezdrova

Stelios Papatanasopoulos is professor of media organization and politics and dean of the Faculty of Communications and Mass Media at the University of Athens, guest - professor at the City University in London and member of Euromedia Research Group and the Network of European Political Communication Scholars. Author of the book Media Perspectives in XIX Century and various publications in academic journals.

According to Stelios Papatanasopoulos, there are three reasons for "the most competitive period" in the history of the Greek media over the last twenty years: the huge drop in circulation of newspapers and mainly the political dailies, the lack of control of broadcasting because no licenses have been issued and serious budget constraints of the media that are largely due to the economic crisis and the large outflow of commercials. Stelios Papatanasopoulos believes this is due to the lack of communication strategy in Greece and also to the fact that most businessmen – media owners – used the media as a tool of political pressure in favour of other activities.

According to him, "the result of this is a lack of even short-term media strategy. On the other hand, most TV stations operate through the perspective of the owners’ interests and their employees are turned into objects of exploitation, working in conditions of constant uncertainty." He says that to forecast the future of the Greek media is so risky as to make weather forecast over the next three months. He believes, however, that the time has come to witness the "great shrinking" in conventional media, newspapers, magazines and radio stations. According to Stelios Papatanasopoulos, television is in the best position in comparison with the other media, but this does not mean that some channels will not be closed or merged, or that others will not be paid.

I tried to find the answers to the questions relating to the present and the future of the media in Greece in conversation with Stelios Papatanasopoulos.

What do you think is the reason for the huge drop in newspapers circulation?

First, let me say that the appearance of private television 20 years ago undermined not only the state television ERT. It undermined especially newspapers. We could say that the information was liberalized in some way from the moment the private television became a reality. The audience, which had previously been accustomed to watch only state television, began to hear other and different opinions. This need for information was a priority of newspapers until then, which gave voice to different positions, to the opinion of the opposition, to the other voice. Private television channels offered this since their appearance and it was difficult for the newspapers to respond.

Moreover, I think there has never been large circulation of newspapers in the full sense of the word not only in Greece but throughout Europe, in countries such as Bulgaria, Italy, France and Spain. Newspapers never had circulation of 1 million units, for example, in their history. 250,000 units are not large circulations, as we say here. In the presence of such conditions in a country where newspapers are not read and where the situation has changed newspapers also had to change with the advent of private television. Unfortunately, they did nothing. They lost their comparative advantage on information and tried to defend themselves in silly ways. One of them was to follow the television tactics. They began to write short texts with small titles and the content of most newspapers is related to what happens behind the scenes. They believe that this will attract more readers, but this is also something that easily transfers to television. There are no analyses in the newspapers; they do not go into details. Long articles in Greek newspapers contain an average of 600-700 words. Why a reader should buy a newspaper in this case? The truth is that they began to publish more pictures, became more modern, and began handing out gifts to attract readers. And what were they? They were things that have nothing to do with journalism. They are supposed to sell their content, not to look like super-markets that offer bicycles, automobiles. Even music CDs and DVDs, and books are not the face of the newspaper. I mean that newspapers sold anything else but not journalistic content in all these years. They invested to improve their appearance, but unfortunately did not make any investment in content, i.e. they did not invest in people. They, however, are those who write the texts and it is difficult for them to do their job well when working under uncertain conditions. 

Then, free publications appeared. The newspapers did not accept the message again because did not consider them dangerous. But won’t a society in which only 63 out of 1000 citizens buy newspaper every day turn to free newspapers when they are offered? Even if their price is just one euro.

And after the emergence of the Internet, which now develops and "absorbs" all these media, the situation for newspapers is quite complicated.

Newspapermen and members of the other media in Greece have never based their activities on research. They have never heard the views of people scientifically engaged in the media. They thought we are theorists. I said the same things in 1993. I said that gifts will have temporary impact on circulation and then will be forgotten. And then, what will they offer the reader? If you do not make the reader to get used to reading newspapers, if they are not introduced in school programs, if you do not show young people what is the newspaper that they would leaf, how do you expect them to buy a newspaper at the age of 20-30? None of these things were done although they had the whole time before them. Actually, the decline in circulation of newspapers began with the advent of private television in the early 1990s.

Didn’t they receive government subsidies?

Government subsidies are much higher in other countries, such as Scandinavian ones. The media received part of government advertisements some time ago. Now, however, they declined. The situation is much more complex now.
The budget of the Central Secretariat for Communications and Media every year provides amounts for distributing the printed editions in the country and abroad. How would you comment this?

We are talking about support here. Newspapers do not receive money directly for that. Greece is a country of many mountains and islands. The press could be carried only by plane to many places to arrive on time. These funds are provided for this.

I read that some economic editions survive only thanks to the publications of companies’ balance sheets.

Yes, there are newspapers the circulation of which does not exceed 1000 units. According to their publishers, however, they have 10,000 subscribers. What does this mean? I could also say that my newspaper has 30,000 subscribers.

However, this is not so important in my opinion. The big problem is that the Greek market is small but there are many printed editions. There are over 20 central newspapers, over 280 local editions, 1200 radio stations, 160 national and local televisions and 800 magazines. And they all fight for their place on an 11-million market. A 12-million including immigrants, but they have their own newspapers and I think this reflects what happens in Greece. There are a lot of immigrants’ newspapers. Of course, they come from different countries, but not only one newspaper is published for each immigrant community. This is indicative of the situation in Greece and it could not happen in countries like France, Germany, England. Each community would publish one newspaper there although these countries are very big.

What actually caused the deep crisis in the Greek media?

The crisis in the Greek media is not due to only one factor. That's why this is the time of the "great shrinking" of the media market. It would be very difficult to keep the current situation especially having in mind that nothing has been done in the last 30 years. Changes in the media are like all the changes that will be made, for example in the closed professions, within a month. These are the correct steps but they are being made very quickly. We are talking about an overnight society.

How do you think private television appeared in Greece? In no time as we say. Private channels started springing up like mushrooms, no one knowing why and how. The then Minister said he would remove the satellites by plane, etc. That's the problem, I think. We do not foresee things, we are not far-sighted. That is why the country is in this financial situation. And the media, as I always say, reflect the Greek society. How many are the illegal buildings in Greece? They are many. We say that some do not pay their taxes and owe them. How many and who are they? I think it is wrong to believe that media are different. They are the mirror image of the Greek society.

What is your opinion of the state television ERT?

All of us, especially the journalists, could very easily attack ERT but I do not think it is less independent than private televisions. Just its owner is the state. Why we do not want to pay for it? A monthly fee that is worth a pack of cigarettes is not something frightening.

The following funding scheme could be applied: state taxes to go to state television and commercials – to private channels. This is how things are arranged in other European countries like England, France and Spain. I mean that whatever changes occur in the Greek national television they will come from major European countries. If ERT goes bankrupt, it would be an entirely different situation, because then the Greek state will go bankrupt too. Of course, reforms should be carried out. The state television of a small country like Greece is not possible to have so many channels and radio stations. But the way to carry out these reforms should be planned. I can not say whether one or another peripheral station must be closed or not. We should not make the same mistakes as in the past. I am constantly repeating that we should forget our analog past that was painful and tragic and we should finally build our digital future with prudence and rationalism. Digital future could hold all the media that want to operate under rules that will not be many and not too strict to be applied. And to begin with giving licenses to radio stations.

How many of them have no licenses now?

All of them. In 1998 the owners applied for licenses that are constantly being renewed. All that have applied are believed to work legally to the licenses issuance. This is ridiculous and should be stopped. It is part of our analog past which we should not be particularly proud of.

Changes to the digital age are running across Europe and we have the opportunity to follow this. So, digital licenses should be given now.

Let's see how many paid and free TVs the market could take. How many channels of the state television it could take? Let’s analyze the potential of the Greek market. Now is the time to do all this, but we do not, we just wait to see what will happen. However, we must understand that the time of these outdated tactics has gone forever.

How many televisions could the Greek media market take in your opinion?

We said in the past that it could take a total of three televisions. I think it was a quite exaggerated estimate because it was made based on the then budgets. I am not able to answer how many TVs could operate in the digital environment. We have not even sat down to think about this yet. It is not so much about the number but about the form of televisions, their budgets, their mode of financing, etc. I would even suggest setting up a common fund that would reward the televisions offering serious and valuable productions.


Tags: Economic crisisMediaNewspapersCirculationTelevisionsRadio stationsJournalistsCommercials
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