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The recent coverage of Syriza’s political rise reveals several ways in which the journalistic profession has lost its meaning.
Syriza's sensational triumph in the recent Greek elections sent shock waves around the world and has whipped some international media into a frenzy.
Hours after being sworn in, the new Syriza government froze privatizations, re-instituted a monthly 751 euro minimum wage, promised immigrant children citizenship, canceled public sector layoffs, and more.
The New York Times questioned the ability of the Syriza government to succeed. The Independent asserted that Greece is doomed to failure. And the BBC and Reuters worried about market rumblings.
To these powerful media outlets Syriza's actions — aimed at ensuring basic human well-being so that people have a decent income to guarantee access to shelter and food, for example — are backward. For them, the European Commission, International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank imposed economic austerity — which has caused 3 million Greeks to go without health insurance, soaring infant mortality, and an increase in suicides — is necessary to make the country competitive in the global market.
It is difficult to see how this view could be more irrational.
The Economist magazine proposes that the reforms of Greece’s new Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who, according to them, “probably is a crazy leftwinger,” would lead to more loss of worker income and boost unemployment rates even higher than the current 25 percent.
But by September 2011, in the very early stages of the imposition of economic austerity, more than 68,000 small businesses had closed. By the following September, one-third of the shops in Athens’ city center had been shut down. The National Confederation of Greek Commerce reported in April 2013 that an “unprecedented” 150,000 small and medium-sized businesses had closed.
Could Syriza's social democratic reforms do more damage to the welfare of the population, as compared to the ways in which neoliberal capitalism's sweeping privatization — including 14 airports, major radio frequencies, islands, beaches, historic buildings, gas, water, ports, and railway systems — and austerity has savaged the country?
In his seminal text from 1960, “Modern Capitalism and Revolution,” the Greek/French philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis wrote that privatization is one of the most striking features of modern capitalism because it destroys the collective social relations that are the basis for people coming together to solve the important problems of the day. It depoliticizes. It drives society to provide private, rather than public solutions, and pressures people to act alone in a spiral away from others.
No wonder one of the first acts of the Syriza government was to freeze the privatizations. Dominant international media has predictably reacted hysterically.
When the Greek economy hit an iceberg nearly six years ago, the EU and IMF speedily began pushing through a far-reaching free market agenda resulting in millions of people becoming destitute. In resistance, Greeks took to the streets in colorful protests and debilitating strikes.
The hand held lasers that Greeks shone into the lenses of cameras and faces of police in the many street manifestations against austerity and repression sought to blind media's one-dimensional view of their plight. In shining the lasers, they hoped to interrupt the pro-austerity paparazzi occupying Athens Plaza Hotel balconies safely above the tear gas and batons descending in Syntagma Square below.
The pro-austerity paparazzi portrayed the Greek crisis in terms of corruption, responsibility, and debt, sanitizing the human costs and consequences of austerity that Greeks were rebelling against. The austerity that operates as a form of social control, distancing individuals from each other, causing what Castoriadis described as a lonely spiral away from one another.
This helps explain why some Greeks have attacked, or at least physically confronted journalists warning them to stop filming or risk having their camera smashed. I personally have been confronted in this way, by protesters. When your story is not being told, but the images of your resistance are being used to sell a story of irresponsibility against completely “sane” and necessary economic measures — you do not want the images to be made at all.
The institutions of dominant media have been corrupted to their core so that the entire modern enterprise of journalism has lost its meaning.
The word for “journalist” in Greek is dimosiográfos — pronounced dee-mos-eeo-gra-fos — and in Greek looks like this: δημοσιογράφος. In etymological terms, the root “dimos” (δημοσ) means “the people” while “gráfos” (γράφος) means “writer.”
There are different interpretations of what these words signify when put together. My preference is that when combined these words define a journalist as a “writer for the people.” If the Greek word for journalism can be said to have this connotation, the recent historical coverage of crises and Syriza’s victory reveal the number of ways in which the profession has lost its original meaning. Journalists in dominant media do not write in service to the people. They write in service to power.
Ever since Syriza stepped into the ring as a serious electoral contender, European and Greek elites have heightened fears about panicky investors and a Greek expulsion from the eurozone in order to ring fear in the hearts of the population so that they would not vote for Syriza. And now that a Syriza victory has challenged austerity's boundaries of acceptable thought, the chorus peddling fear has intensified.
So while you read nauseating and patronizing headlines suggesting “Why the Eurozone May Need to Sacrifice Greece to Save Spain” (Wall Street Journal), or vague and factually erroneous media reports that “Greece was the laggard of Europe, sometimes hardly bothering to aspire to the standards of other EU nations” (BBC), remember that these and other dominant media institutions are attempting to enforce an irrational world view upon populations that elevate an unjust social order which keeps the powerful secure over the human well-being and free development of all.