In April 2010, in a televised address from the island of Kastellorizo, Greek premier George Papandreou announced that Greece was facing an unprecedented economic crisis and its budget deficit was spiralling out of control. His team, he admitted, had run out of ideas and was requesting bailout funds from its eurozone partners and the International Monetary Fund. Although Papandreou’s address was broadcast from one of the most remote Mediterranean outposts of the European Union, he was speaking of a crisis that had serious potential and actual repercussions in the major political and financial centres of the continent and around the world.
In fact, on that April afternoon the Greek leader was announcing stale news: back in October 2009, Papandreou’s newly elected government had revised the national budget deficit estimate from 6.7 per cent of gross domestic product to 12.7 per cent, while the European Commission’s Eurostat office was even more pessimistic. Nevertheless, the uttering of the name of the beast proved much more newsworthy than the assessments of the state of the Greek economy that had been made in previous months. Media interest spread like wildfire. Reports replete with florid references to “Greek drama”, “tragedy”, “chaos” and “catastrophe” were swiftly followed by sustained, often outraged coverage of the state of the nation’s economy and political landscape. George Tzogopoulos’ The Greek Crisis in the Media attempts to make sense of the sudden and intense media scrutiny to which the country was subjected between 2009 and 2012 and to assess the way the international media have treated the crisis.
Working as a research fellow at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy and charged with responding to media requests for commentators on politics, Tzogopoulos was uniquely well placed to observe the interaction between those managing the crisis and journalists from foreign media. This experience, he admits, presented a serious dilemma: on the one hand, he felt “the inner need” to support his country when it was “attacked if not vilified” by the international press, while on the other he saw an opportunity to tell “the truth” that had been systematically concealed by Greek politicians.
Tzogopoulos expertly weaves a historical narrative of the crisis going back to 1981, and probes its origins by focusing on the practice of clientelism that he rightly suggests has been central to the actions of Greece’s conservative and socialist parties alike. His decision to choose as his starting point the year that the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok) won the parliamentary election and formed its first government is supported through the use of data that demonstrate how public debt rapidly increased in the decade that followed. However, it does not take into account the fact that the Greek economy’s particular model of development was in place before the 1980s, and that it had a marked impact on choices and decisions made by politicians. This notwithstanding, the picture the author paints of a society deeply immersed in the logic of clientelism, of a value system that frustrated innovation and rendered the state a guarantor of access to jobs, loans and a host of privileges, however grim, is hard to dismiss.
The Greek Crisis in the Media also offers a compelling account of the European dimension of the crisis, setting the Greek case alongside those of Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain. Drawing on agenda-setting and framing theories and applying a combination of quantitative and qualitative analysis, Tzogopoulos suggests that Greece’s “exotic” political system, with its clientelistic networks and political dynasties spanning several generations, was ideal for journalists seeking easily digestible explanations. The argument is engaging, although it ignores established discursive practices in the coverage of Greece preceding the crisis. The author concludes with a passionate call for a comprehensive value change in Greek politics. However, it is a change that needs to be supported by a change in the Eurosystem towards not only more sound economic governance but respect for the dignity of its citizens.
The Greek Crisis in the Media: Stereotyping in the International Press
By George Tzogopoulos
Ashgate, 222pp, £55.00 and £66.00
ISBN 9781409448716 and 474012 (e-book)
Published 23 May 2013