Mediaocrity, or: how I learned to stop worrying and love the Eurozone crisis

On June 24th 2011, the Daily Mail published a four-page ‘special investigation’ by Andrew Malone, addressing the supposed causes of the Greek financial situation through an examination of Greek culture and lifestyle. And certainly, with such a cheery headline – The Big Fat Greek Gravy Train: A special investigation into a EU-funded culture of greed, tax evasion and scandalous waste – there’s no ambiguity in who the writer believes is responsible. Greece

Andrew Malone paints a very cushy image of life in Greece, as they appear to sit back and enjoy the benefits of the hard work put in by the rest of Europe. The plush, new Athens metro is air-conditioned with plasma screen televisions for commuters to enjoy, and it is all but standard for everyday people to wine and dine at the fanciest joint in town. Hang around and you’ll learn that the average salary of a Greek working for a railway company – be they a train driver, a cleaner or chimney sweep – is £60,000 per annum. Move further north and you’ll find a whole city of millionaires – complete with streets paved with marble – who aren’t paying taxes (check out the scary figures and statistics to back this up). The photographs complementing the piece jump from people sitting in glamorous sea-side restaurants to images of police clashing with protesters in the Athens riots. In short, go to Greece to see how the rich stay rich through swindling, the poor are violent and debouched, and all live in a country with no desire to reform.

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Photo by Marina Koutsoumpa

It goes on, continually giving a wonderfully one-dimensional impression of how the Greek people were enjoying the fruits of Europe’s labour until the Euro-crisis struck. There is virtually no mention of the international political or business corruption, or how Greeks, on average, have the highest working hours in Europe, or the financial system that has been at the heart of investing in make-believe money. To tar a whole country with the same brush is ridiculous, but that’s what this report does, and sadly, does it very well.

One of the prize abilities of the Daily Mail is their way to report seemingly objectively, leaving the readers to connect the dots themselves: there are no barriers on the trains and a lot of people get on without paying for their tickets, plus there was a huge amount of corruption in the Greek government and financial systems, therefore it’s no surprise this mess stemmed from such a dishonest country where corruption is rife. The article achieves its goal by implication; there are no overbearing factual distortions, just pre-existing exaggerations of the ‘lazy Greeks’ stereotypes without providing any alternate view. As Karen Saunders says her book Ethics & Journalism, this is not just unethical and unprofessional, but also carries potentially long-lasting consequences; “Stereotyping all falls under the same heading; reducing people or groups to abstractions or clichés, is lazy, bad journalism – stereotyping fuels prejudice, or worse” (Saunders, 2003, p.154).

This style of negative coverage has real potential to become self-reinforcing; when an oversimplified and negative stereotype of Greece is instilled in the readers, it quickly forms an expectation of the people involved. Once this mentality and expectations are cemented in place it leads to scepticism and cynicism, ultimately making people move away, and those in crisis lose the support, aid and investment badly needed to escape their predicament.

For anyone with any knowledge of the Mail’s usual style, this reeks of the usual ‘foreigners are wasteful/scary/generally just-not-like-us’ bias. While most of the reporting on the Greek crisis is not as sensational as this particular piece, the Daily Mail is a publication which, to those who believe the quick and easy answer without question, serves as an authority on the issue: it proves Greece is to blame. It both reflects and underpins many people’s flawed understanding of how the crisis unfolded, summing everything up in neat and absolutist terms and ignoring details or serious content. Mail

If the IMF were acting unethically in their approach to Greece, would anyone who believed what was written and implied in this report give their support for Greece? Would they think justice had been done, and the Greeks brought the ever-increasing austerity measures on themselves? After reading a report like this, would anyone really care?

Chas Critcher has addressed moral panic and the media in his essay Mighty Dread; Journalism & Moral Panic: “A moral panic requires virtually all the news media to adopt the same agenda. It may first appear confined to one newspaper or locality but must then, if it is to gain national recognition, become the agenda of the media system as a whole. […] There also appear to be some media that have more capacity to initiate this process than others. In Britain I have argued that one national newspaper, the Daily Mail, appears to have an extraordinary influence” (Allan, 2010, p.181).

The famous saying “You don’t believe everything you read, do you?” rings true. But at the end of the day, journalists are considered professionals with insight and knowledge to portray events with accuracy and to impart correct information to their readers as best they can. As journalists, we have a responsibility to do this. It may or may not be true, but many people do believe what is reported in the media and newspapers at face value, because that is what we are here to do.

Ultimately, this is bad journalism made to look good; a selective method of viewing a country as a whole through narrow, glaring eyes, where stereotypes are pronounced, and which is aggravating a self-reinforcing situation – it becomes prolonged, tension and distrust become magnified, and nothing is solved.

References:

Bagnall, N. (1993) Newspaper Language, Focal Press

Conboy, M. (2008) The Language of Newspapers, Continuum International Publishing Group

Critcher, C., Allan, S. [ed.] (2010) ‘Mighty dread:Journalism & moral panics’, Journalism: Critical Issues, Ashford Colour Press Ltd.

Higgins, M (2008) Media and Their Public, Open University Press

Keeble, R. (2001) Ethics for Journalists, Routledge

Kovach, B., Rosenthstiel, T. (2001) The Elements of Journalism: What newspeople should know and the public should expect, Three Rivers Press

Malone, A. (June 21st 2011) ‘The Big Fat Greek Gravy Train: A special investigation into a EU-funded culture of greed, tax evasion and scandalous waste’, The Daily Mail:  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2007949/The-Big-Fat-Greek-Gravy-Train-A-special-investigation-EU-funded-culture-greed-tax-evasion-scandalous-waste.html

Sanders, K. (2003) Ethics & Journalism, SAGE Publications Ltd.

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