Greece says no to austerity and the media

08 Oct 2019 9:24 am by Leela Bozonelis

The resounding rejection by Greek voters of the latest bailout proposals by its creditors on Sunday sent shockwaves throughout the Eurozone and across the continent.  61.31% of those who cast a vote responded to the ruling Syriza party's call for a 'no' and turned their backs on the proposals, which demanded further austerity for a country which remains mired in an unprecedented financial crisis.

The role of the media

Polls in the run-up to the vote had suggested that it was too close to call.  The Greek media is majority-owned by a small number of oligarchs who have traditionally used it to promote a primarily pro-business, anti-leftist agenda and their actions prior to the referendum suggested they were attempting to promote a 'yes' vote.

Meanwhile, Athens prosecutors have announced an investigation into the coverage to determine whether certain outlets attempted to influence the vote.  Such actions are prohibited under the Greek Penal Code and prosecutors said they had received numerous complaints about media bias.

The size of the victory for the 'no' campaign came as a surprise inside Greece as well as among European elites.  With a little more than 62% of the country's 9.9 million voters taking part, surveys after the poll suggested that young people overwhelmingly backed the 'no' campaign rejecting further austerity.

Older voters, the surveys suggested, tended to back the 'yes' campaign.  Some commentators have speculated that may have been down to young people having no memory of previous Greek financial crises and military rule, both things still fresh in the mind of anybody aged 50 and above.

Media profile does not lie

An analysis of media coverage in advance of the vote by the LexisNexis Media Tracker suggests the 'no' campaign received significantly more attention than the 'yes' campaign.

On the day of the vote itself, there were more than 300 articles published by the Greek press on the referendum.  Of those, nearly 200 were devoted to coverage of the 'no' campaign, while barely 50 were exclusively reporting on support for a 'yes' vote.

The analysis suggests a groundswell of support for the 'no' campaign in the final days, before the poll negated any influence media oligarchs had over their editors.  This is perhaps surprising given revelations in recent years of media owners successfully wielding influence over government policy.

A triangle of sin

While in opposition, the Greek PM, Alexis Tsipras, described the country's media owners, politicians and banks as a "triangle of sin" adding that this was where the real power lay in Greece.  Panons Kamenos, then leader of the right-wing Independent Greeks, said: "The Greek media is under the control of people who depend on the state.  The media control the state and the state controls the media.  It is a picture of mutual blackmail."

Indeed, a 2006 cable from the US Embassy in Athens – which was leaked by Wikileaks – said that the multitude of media outlets in Greece were loss making, but subsidised by their oligarch owners who used them "primarily to exercise political and economic influence".
The referendum results and the analysis of the coverage given to both campaigns suggests that that exertion of control by a few very powerful people may have spectacularly backfired.  Ordinary Greeks, it seems, turned their backs on erstwhile puppet masters as well as the country's creditors to unite in one clear and profound voice.

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