Greek EU Presidency

On 1 January  2014, Greece assumed the rotating presidency of the EU Council. Although it is the fifth time for the county to be in charge of the European Union, holding the presidency comes at a crucial point, a critical transitional juncture for Europe. During this three-and-a-half months period, Greece plans to focus on specific priorities that can be summarized along four fundamental axes: a) promotion of growth, employment and cohesion, b) promotion of a banking union and deepening /strengthening the EMU, c) migration, border management and mobility of EU citizens, in the context of enhancing European security, both internally and externally and d) EU sea policies. In addition, the forthcoming European elections, as well as the election campaign, will prove decisive for the Greek presidency.

After four years at the sharpest end of Europe’s debt and currency crisis, holding the EU presidency can prove to be substantial for Greece as it can improve the image of the country. During the period of the presidency, Greece is determined to attract foreign media attention, not only as a host of numerous meetings and events,[1] but also as an actor-in-charge to define the major directions of EU policy-making. Therefore, that time could be spent on achieving political goals and building the image of an important EU member- state, as well as an attractive country for tourists and entrepreneurs. Undoubtedly, a successful presidency needs an effective communication tool, which will be responsible for the news coverage of all EU meetings, activities and events. And this responsibility lies with the country’s national broadcasting service.

As a result, the New Greek Public Television (DT- Dimosia Tileorasi) was declared as the Host Broadcaster for the Greek Presidency of the Council of the European Union. The Greek government’s decision to shut down ERT (the former Greek Public Broadcasting Organization) and the transition to the interim Greek public broadcasting service DT became the core issue of intense controversies between the Greek government and the major opposition party of the radical left (SYRIZA)[2].

Public TV Logo

The official opening ceremony of the Hellenic EU presidency, which took place on Wednesday 8 January 2014 when the European Commission met with the Hellenic presidency of the Council in Athens, marked the official ‘European premiere’ of Dimosia Tileorasi. As noted on the official website of the Greek EU Council presidency, ‘Dimosia Tileorasi provides accredited television and radio broadcasters with free of charge audio-visual material from the informal ministerial meetings and other high-level events taking place in Greece. DT manages reservations for broadcasting facilities at Zappeion Press Centre, where most meetings will be held. A limited number of non-equipped workspaces will also be offered to broadcasters on a first-come, first-served basis. All facilities become available upon request to the host broadcaster’.

The launch of the Greek EU presidency was a wager for the Greek government to prove that the interim national broadcaster Dimosia Tileorasi was able to function effectively and meet the increased communication demands that arose from holding the presidency. The fact that the media coverage of the Greek EU presidency was at stake was clearly expressed by the Deputy Public Broadcasting Minister, Pantelis Kapsis, who declared publicly that any possible malfunction of Greek public television would jeopardize the whole image of the country abroad.

DT Building

On 9 January 2014, Mr. Kapsis congratulated the staff of the national broadcaster for doing an excellent job covering the opening ceremony of Greece’s presidency in the EU. As he said, Greek Public Television won the bet over the coverage of the opening ceremony of the Greek presidency. Employees of public television responded with professionalism to the needs of a complex and demanding production. Despite the extremely tight timeframes, they succeeded in transmitting the best possible images of Greece around the world. And those who doubted the readiness of public television up to the last moment, running the risk of exposing the country abroad, were disappointed, Mr. Kapsis stated. The Deputy Minister for Greek Public Radio and Television was also adamant that DT would do an excellent job covering Greece’s European Union presidency.

Deputy Minister Kapsis

At the same time, the main opposition party of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) criticized the Deputy Minister for Public Radio and Television for the praise he directed at DT’s staff for their coverage of the opening ceremony. As SYRIZA claimed, the minister’s triumphant praise ‘can only be explained if Kapsis did not actually watch DT’s broadcasts of the ceremony. The public broadcaster’s debacle (on 8 January) once again leaves the country exposed internationally and reminds us of the government’s grave responsibility for shutting down the public broadcaster ERT. The fact that the European Broadcasting Union used a camera provided by a contractor and that state media of other countries had to use their own crews to cover the ceremony, is surely not a cause for celebration by the government.’

SYRIZA

In response to the aforementioned accusations and the criticism that DT managed to miss the handshakes between the Greek Prime Minister and the leaders of the European Union in the official ceremony, the Deputy Minister said that ‘in a 10-hour coverage, an image of a handheld camera froze for two seconds. It’s a joke even to talk about it. Remember what happened in 2004 when live broadcasting stopped for a long time.’

Additionally, the Greek government was under fire from the opposition for its decision to start charging for the new state TV and radio service, NERIT, even though it is not on air yet. A monthly 3-Euro charge has been added to electricity bills to cover the cost of NERIT. But NERIT needs the revenues in order to organize its programming. Moreover, on 27 January 2014, following a joint decision signed by the Greek Minister of Finance, Yannis Stournaras, and the Deputy Minister for Public Radio and Television Pantelis Kapsis, the management of the Public Television was transferred to NERIT S.A. (www.nerit.gr)

NERIT logo

The crucial question that arises is where these controversies about Hellenic Public Radio and Television lead? What is their contribution to the promotion of the country’s image? As a country that is holding the EU Council Presidency, Greece needs to have a properly functioning public television. The interim Greek public broadcaster managed to get ready (undoubtedly with defects) despite the very tight schedules, and broadcast images of Greece around the world in the best possible way. Internet users can now watch real-time television and follow radio programmes on the website of Public Television. In a few days, the Third Programme[3]  is scheduled to go live, while the TV programme is being constantly enriched.

Trito Programma

The sudden and unorthodox closure of ERT was a real shock for the Greek public and emphasised the importance of a public broadcaster in a free and democratic society. So, the construction and establishment of a new and independent national public broadcaster is a project that has to be realized in a framework free from bias and prejudice. It has to be a project based on collaborative work and efforts, away from political expediencies. The challenge for the Greek Public Broadcaster is to inform the public opinion about the achievements of the Greek EU Presidency in the most comprehensive way, to project a very positive image of Greece internationally and to cover the EU Parliament elections in the best possible way.

In a democratic society, there should be a space for the expression of diverse opinions. It is crucial to reach an effective solution, deriving from a fertile and fruitful debate. Controversies for controversies’ sake do not serve that purpose at all. The objective of a debate, regarding a crucial social,  political or democratic issue, is to promote a well-grounded plan which aims to solve the difficulties of the current situation. What the country needs from the politicians and intellectuals is not a denunciatory attitude, but the submission of meritorious proposals. When it comes to fulfilling a national purpose, that is, to improve the general image of the country, not only within the boarders of the EU but beyond, we have to think and act as a whole and not according to individual interests. And this period of the Greek EU presidency is an opportunity to promote a different image, that of a Greece that is a noteworthy member state of the EU, a small country that managed to overcome the severe crisis and can contribute to the creation of ‘a new narrative’ for Europe as an answer to the different kinds of Euroscepticism.

 

Katerina Serafeim holds a PhD in Journalism and Mass Media, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, and is a journalist in the Press Office of the Regional Local Government of Central Macedonia,Greece.  She can be reached on katseraf@gmail.com

 

[1] i.e. College of Commissioners visit (8 January 2014), Meeting of Political Directors of Ministries of Foreign Affairs (MFA), Figures loved and idealized Illustrating poems by C.P. Cavafy _ 1 January-28 February 2014) etc. More details about the official meetings and events can be found at http://gr2014.eu/events

[2] Serafeim, K. The New Greek Public Television, on CST online blogs, 20/12/2013 (https://cstonline.net/greek-puiblic-television)

[3] The Third Programme is one of the Hellenic Public Radio Channels that broadcasts only high-quality cultural programme and classical music.