Sympathy for the Markets: How our Media Forgot the People of Greece

The Editors, 22 February 2012

Categories: Greece | Finance | European Union | Protest | Austerity | The Guardian | BBC News | The Independent |

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Last night the BBC reported on its front page that Greece 'averts nightmare outcome'. Naturally, this meant that another bailout package had been agreed upon.

The 'Who loses out?' link which appeared below the front page title directed to a page that does not mention Greek people or society. Rather, the article concerns 'Europe's biggest banks' who will experience 'heavy losses'.

In any case, one of the conditions of avoiding this 'nightmare' now requires Greece constitutionally to 'give priority to debt repayments over the funding of government services' - a move that is celebrated by the lenders. But what exactly will that mean for the Greek people? We are told only that 'many are angry at the prospect of years more hardship' and that 'and there fears of fresh violence as the public mood hardens.'

It is also noteworthy that in a BBC 'What went wrong in Greece' feature, it is noted merely that Lucas Papademos 'succeeded Mr Papandreou'. The exchange of a democratically elected Prime Minister for an unelected technocrat is of little significance to the BBC when 'nightmare' situations are to be averted.

Two weeks ago we were told of more 'reforms' that were hoped for, which included 20% cut in minimum wage and cuts to pensions and civil service jobs. Again, this was required to avoid a 'catastrophic default', according to the BBC correspondent in Athens, Mark Lowen. Indeed the prevailing attitude from the UK mainstream is that there is no other option but to continue with these bailouts. Even if many of the Greek people favour a default, we media is not interested in any such outcome. The lead opinion article in the Independent on 20th February solemnly reminded us:

After weeks of uncertainty, all the signs are that the much-debated 130bn (110bn) bailout fund will be signed off by eurozone finance ministers today. It is difficult to overstate the importance that they do so.

Given that these reforms are destroying Greek society at an extraordinary speed, our media astonishingly fails to bring this to our attention. Commenting on 1990s America, Howard Zinn lamented the 'exultation accompanying every upward leap in the Dow Jones average, even while () children grow up in poverty.' This mentality dominates media coverage, which has an unhealthy obsession with the markets news of which masks the reality for the people of Greece.

To demonstrate this bias in the media, it is worth taking a look at the headlines about the Greek debt crisis in that have appeared in the Guardian since the first bailout, 9 February 2010 imagine for a moment that a particular reader gets most their information about Greece from reading headlines (hardly uncommon). A quick look shows that there have been 17 articles for which the headline has raised awareness of the breakdown of society in Greece; for example 'Greeks pay for the economic crisis with their health' or 'Greek woes drive up suicide rate'. Of course many more articles appear in all news sources about protests in Greece, but the full context is rarely explained. For two years, we have been told how supposedly wonderful it is to be a worker in Greece - low retirement age, great pension, high minimum wage, and low working hours. Given this endless demonization of Greeks in the media - for example, 'Get up earlier, Germans tell Greeks' - readers could be forgiven for believing that Greek people are protesting merely out of a workshy reluctance to giving up the 'good life'.

Compared to the 17 headlines that show sympathy in one way or another for the Greek people, there have been almost twice as many (32) headlines which have told us about how the markets have reacted; for example: 'Greek crisis sends world markets into turmoil' or 'European markets buoyed by hope of Greek bailout.'

This focus on the demands and responses of the markets protects the idea that the 'Greek bailout is a small price to pay to protect us all.' Maintaining attention on the markets reduces the risk of empathy developing for the recipients of austerity. It is presumably imperative that the people of wealthy EU countries are unaware of the consequences, intentional or otherwise, of these austerity programmes.

Categories in which this article appears: Greece | Finance | European Union | Protest | Austerity | The Guardian | BBC News | The Independent |

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