It was in the November of 1989 when the first private television station in Greece transmitted its first signal and new frequencies invaded the audiovisual landscape which had been dominated by the state monopoly. This invasion was a turning point in the history of Greek television, as it was the stone that moved the stagnant waters of the strict and petrified television landscape, fostered by the state-bred system. November of 1989 was characterised as the crucial turning point for the TV landscape, the dawn of a new era that was making its first reluctant steps which were meant to shake the foundations of Greek society.
To what extent has private TV penetrated into our lives? During these 26 years, we have grown up together, we have matured, we have laughed, we have cried, we have celebrated, we have lived great, unpleasant, joyful moments. And we have lived these moments together – all of Greek society. During these 26 years, thousands of employees, technicians, journalists, anchormen and anchorwomen, programme presenters, actors, directors, all these people who work at TV stations have and still are making their best efforts to offer the audience the best TV productions.
The rise of private television offered a new way of looking at things, a fresh breath of air in the way the television programmes were broadcast. It brought innovations, opened new horizons to the audience and a different and alternative window to the world that had not existed until then. It contributed radically to the polyphony – providing a tribune to different and diverse audiences-promoted culture through historical productions and broadcasts, and kept company for many of our fellow human beings in difficult moments. And, on the bottom line, it abolished the one-dimensional view of things that dominated the medium until then.
Whatever the reservations may be, whatever the fears may be, there is a positive aspect which is enough to justify both the private TV experiment and the reality that it has formed. The abolition of the state monopoly in the area of television as well as the progressive weakening of obscurantist, anachronistic and undemocratic unilateralism within the information process are the accomplishments of the inception of private TV in Greece.
In the framework of the 26th anniversary, the National Range Independent Television Association has prepared a series of actions in order to “celebrate” and give the Greek audience the opportunity to express their opinion for the progress of Greek television throughout these years. One of them is the campaign entitled #giatitv (#whytv), which puts to the fore the viewers, giving them the role of the protagonist and asking them to answer the questions “why do they watch TV” and “why do they choose to spend their time watching TV”. So, ordinary, everyday people remind us – in 3 short spots – of some of the most important moments and some of the most beloved and popular personalities that have been part of Greek private TV. Then, they give a brief account of what they gained as audience from private channels. It is a way to formulate their reports, criticism and a provision for the future of private TV in Greece.
So, Greek private television celebrated its 26th birthday anniversary. The “birthday cake” was made of 258,650 hours of news bulletins and informational programmes, 7,121 Greek and foreign TV series which touched and amused us and 404,419 hours of entertainment programmes which offered us unique and joyful moments. On the occasion of the 26th anniversary of the inception of private TV in Greece, the National Range Independent Television Association launched a TV spot which included the most important moments of the short history of Greek private TV:
Thousands of various types of programmes have been broadcast (series, movies, game, entertainment and talk shows, news, informational programmes etc.). All these, have boosted Greek television (as far as the production is concerned) and placed it at the forefront of the European audiovisual landscape.
Specifically, the first years after the inception of private TV were characterised as the “years of innocence” due to the fact that the state monopoly had been broken down and a new dimension was given to the term “Greek television”. Afterwards, the decade 2000-2010 was the “golden era” as Greek private TV flourished. A robust, powerful and dynamic market was created, a market that favoured healthy competition and polyphony. This market not only offered new possibilities to well-known professionals and creators, but it revealed many new talents in every field. Moreover, it created new working positions and thousands of employees covered the needs of the private industry. At the same time, a huge amount of money was circulated and spent on production, salaries etc. And that was the point where private TV lost its control and its goal and meaning. By the year 2010, the starting point of the financial crisis, the bubble started to deflate.
Although Greek private TV is still in its youth, it attracts both fierce criticism and adoration. There is a group of experts and a society who claim that private TV in Greece suffers from “deep shallowness” and has absolutely nothing to offer its audience. They even criticise the advertising spots for the 26thanniversary, characterizing it as a ridiculous celebration. Their fundamental argument is private television’s total inability to produce their own news and as a result its dependence on low quality and dubious information posted and circulated on social media. So, private television ends up being the rubbish dump of the news.
The situation has always been like this: criticism and apotheosis at the same time. During all these years, thousands of employees, technicians, directors, actors, journalists, anchormen/women, showmen/women have experienced unforgettable great moments, moments of fame, hyper-productions, times of wealth and prosperity. At least this was true until 2010, the first year of the severe financial crisis in Greece which led to a radical change in the television landscape, including sudden staff cuts and reductions in programme productions. This is exactly what Greek private television is: its people.
Despite the severe financial conditions (including a budget cut of up to 80%), Greek private television still persists. It invests in brighter minds, younger employees with brilliant and innovative ideas, in staff with experience, fantasy and impetus. In other words, Greek private television seeks a new and wider window on reality, no matter the severe mistakes or the misdemeanours of the past.
Private television in Greece is a forum, a meeting place where different personalities interact with society. Interesting people, healthy and brilliant minds interact with society, creating a “love and hate relationship” or a “love to hate relationship”. In the framework of this relationship, the audience rewards, criticises, deifies and rejects. Through this relationship, every emotion is released: excitement, joy, disgust, tension, indifference. The most important thing is that this relationship is alive and vivid and its main parameter is diversity.
Greek private television could be easily characterised as the first social medium launched. And it still remains a social medium, despite the advent of the so-called “social media”. Internet, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram cannot lessen the role of TV as the first social medium. Although the news sector of private TV is the big loser, as news are posted faster and easier on Facebook and Twitter and circulated on the internet without the need of a live image, TV has the privilege and advantage of entering in every home all over the country.
Despite all the nagging in relation to the quality of Greek TV productions and all the questioning regarding the depreciation of the medium, the responsibility of the so-called “trash TV” and the low budget, Greek private TV has a lot to offer its audience and is part of the cultural development of society. The contribution to culture does not exclusively belong to public TV – which has the privilege of gaining revenue from audience tax (a tax that is paid through electricity bills and paid by everyone) in contrast to private TV which is a commercial organisation subject to market rules. As a result, the season of 2015-2016 finds the latter financially weak and seriously “injured”. However, if we look at it from a more optimistic standpoint, the severe financial crisis in Greece can be converted to the perfect and unique chance for a new start in the audiovisual field.
We realise the value of things when we lose them. Only when you remove a person, a thing, a situation from your everyday life, you realise and appreciate its value. That is exactly what happens with Greek private television and its audience. Try to think of both the greater public sphere in Greece and the smaller world of each individual without private television. Let’s just wonder what information and entertainment would be like, if private television did not exist. Just try to eliminate from the audience’s lives news bulletins, informational programmes, talk shows, series, movies and shows.
The truth is that we got used to the norms, rules and structure of private television. On the one hand, we are its basic consumers; we thirst for its questionable quality of programmes, while on the other hand we pelt it with fury. But it is indisputable that pluralism, no matter how deeply its components hobble, stabilises the democratic function of society.
We are in search for the perfect form of private television in a country that suffers in many respects, while the social structures, the civil servants and the civilians stubbornly refuse to reform. Within this context, private TV has a lot to offer and is still present and dynamic. Although the productions are lower cost, Greek private TV persists. It is present in everyday life and it will always be. So, the basic question of the 26th anniversary campaign should be rephrased and put otherwise: Not “Why TV?” but “TV, why?” just to see it as an opportunity for in-depth criticism.
Katerina Serafeim holds a PhD in Journalism and Mass Media, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and works as a journalist in the Press Office of the Regional Local Government of Central Macedonia, Greece. She can be reached on email@example.com.
The National Range Independent Television Association consists of 6 nationwide TV stations: Mega, Antenna, Skai, Star, Alpha, Makedonia TV.