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REFERENCE CLASSIFICATION CREATED LEAKED ORIGIN
06ATHENS1805 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY 7/13/2006 6:50 Embassy Athens
 
     
  HOW TO READ THE GREEK PRESS: A GUIDE FOR THE UNINITIATED  
     
  UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 ATHENS 001805

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EUR/SE JPARENTE; EUR/PPD CTEAL

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KPAO, KMDR, PREL, OIIP, OPRC, GR
SUBJECT: HOW TO READ THE GREEK PRESS: A GUIDE FOR THE UNINITIATED


ATHENS 00001805 001.3 OF 003


ENTIRE TEXT IS SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED - PLEASE HANDLE
ACCORDINGLY

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. At first glance, the Greek media may resemble
the media in the U.S., with a mixture of broadsheets and tabloids,
national and local television and radio stations, and constitutional
guarantees guarding the freedom of the press. Closer inspection
reveals a Greek media industry controlled by business tycoons whose
other successful businesses enable them to subsidize their
loss-making media operations. These media operations in turn enable
them to exercise political and economic influence. The result is
that the media often provides an image of national and international
events that is almost uniform but for its division along party
lines. Similarly, a uniform anti-Americanism is injected into
nearly every issue, but has little effect on the bilateral
relationship. END SUMMARY.

The History of the Greek Media, from Homer to the Home Page

2. Homer reported on the Trojan War a few hundred years after it
happened, and used the facts of the war to create a poetic tale of
battles among gods, with men as pawns. Current Greek media uses the
same blend of fact and fiction, with an equally judicious dose of
deus ex machina (outside forces) that controls events. The first
modern day Greek-language newspapers were established in Vienna and
Paris in the 18th century and were an important factor in the Greek
fight for independence from the Ottomans. With the founding of the
modern Greek state, the tradition was established of blaming an
outside power (first the Great Powers and then the U.S.) for all
ills that befell Greece.

3. Greece currently has about 160 newspapers, 180 television
stations, 800 radio stations, 3,500 magazines, and just 10 million
people. (Portugal, with the same population, has 35 newspapers, 62
television stations, and 221 radio stations, according to the "World
Factbook" of 2004). How can all these media outlets operate
profitably? They don't. They are subsidized by their owners who,
while they would welcome any income from media sales, use the media
primarily to exercise political and economic influence, and
therefore care marginally less about turning a profit from their
media operations. Because there are no subscriptions or home
deliveries in Greece, newspapers have to sell themselves from
newsstands by grabbing the attention of the casual passerby. This
means that even the occasional calm and partially accurate story
will have a misleading or untrue headline that often has nothing to
do with the story. Still, the media utilize sensationalist
headlines and stories to capture readers and the all-important
television ratings that determine the distribution of advertising
revenue. Newspapers also use such tools as DVD and book giveaways.

4. The same media companies that own newspapers and broadcasting
stations have established internet news portals, but they have not
taken off. The most popular, in.gr, has abolished its news desk and
just runs articles from its parent company's newspapers. There are
no "Salons" or "Drudge Reports."

Who Watches/Reads What?

5. Greeks get most of their information from television, but
newspapers are the main source of analysis. Morning "news" shows
consist of an oral recitation of those same, deliberately
sensationalist newspaper headlines. Athens media dominate
nationally, with 80 percent of the nation's viewership and
readership, and with provincial radio stations rebroadcasting Athens
radio programs. The state-owned radio and television stations have
a smaller audience than their private counterparts. Only 6 percent
of Greeks get their news from the internet. While the public's
trust in the media has been steadily falling over the last two
decades, it's still quite common to hear "but I read it in the
paper" or "I saw it on television" when we try to correct false news
stories. An October 2005 poll showed that 71 percent of Greeks
consider the media too sensationalist, yet the sensationalist
newspapers generally sell the most copies.

6. A Greek political columnist described the situation as a
moussaka with many layers baked together. The Greek public, he
said, doesn't pay attention to the media. The public opinion polls,
however, reflect high levels of anti-Americanism (or, as he pointed
out, anti-government or anti-establishment or anti-anything
sentiments), because people like to vent their frustrations. Once
you dig little deeper into the moussaka, he continued, you will find
that the public is generally content with the decisions the
government makes, even those where Greece and the U.S. are allied.

Trends in Media Content

7. The Greek media increasingly devote more column inches and
minutes to the daily problems of the average Greek, the private
lives of politicians, entertainment, and sports than to foreign

ATHENS 00001805 002.3 OF 003


issues. Greece's membership in the U.N. Security Council has
received limited coverage, while analysis of European Union
decisions is scarce. Major international events get extensive
coverage but only via international networks and wire services. The
reasons for the sparse coverage of major global developments include
Greek ethnocentricity, the unwillingness of media owners to promote
the current government's achievements, and the lack of robust Greek
leadership in the international arena.

Who are the Media?

8. The private media outlets in Athens are owned by a small group
of people who have made or inherited fortunes in shipping, banking,
telecommunications, sports, oil, insurance, etc. and who are or have
been related by blood, marriage, or adultery to political and
government officials and/or other media and business magnates. For
example, ship-owner and Mega Channel investor Vardis Vardinogiannis
is the best friend of Christos Lambrakis, publisher of "To Vima,"
"Ta Nea," "Athens News," and the "in.gr" news portal, and Lambrakis
has government construction contracts. Vardinoyannis's two children
married into the Goulandris and Nomikos ship-owning families. His
sister Eleni is married to ND MP Yannis Kefaloyannis who serves as
special advisor to PM Karamanlis.

9. The Greek term "interwoven interests" refers specifically and
exclusively to the web of relationships among the media, business,
and government. The current Minister of the Merchant Marine
commented recently that the government is a puppet that performs at
the whim of the interwoven interests. (His comment amused neither
the press magnates nor the Prime Minister, but he has somehow held
onto his job.) The relationships are more complicated and
incestuous than those among the gods, the demigods, and the human
beings of Greek myth. (Note: post can email a simplified one-page
chart on the media and their ownership to anyone who would like to
have it.)

10. As for the journalists themselves, they are an underpaid bunch
usually holding multiple jobs in order to pay their bills. It's not
unusual for a journalist to work in a ministry press office, even
while covering the beat that includes that ministry. They're very
conscious of their multiple masters. One long-time Mega Channel
reporter says she only recalls one instance where any of Mega's five
owners was criticized on that station. It's also acceptable for
journalists to take gifts or even money from those on whom they
report. The 2004 Olympics organizing committee was notorious for
paying journalists for favorable stories.

What does this mean for the U.S.?

11. Strong anti-Americanism ebbs and flows, not with the tides but
with the national "obsession du jour." Even in the absence of
stories directly involving the U.S. - such as the alleged
eavesdropping on Greek politicians - there is always an undercurrent
of anti-Americanism. Headlines such as "Souda Base: Camp of Death"
or "New American Provocation" are common. Ordinary bilateral
discussions are regularly presented as the U.S. applying
"asphyxiating pressure" on Greece to do something. Even the
relatively balanced English-language "Athens News" recently ran four
pages of stories on Iran with reporting from Athens and Tehran and
comments about the U.S. planning military strikes from Souda against
Iran, without any reference to the actual U.S. position. ("Athens
News" is part of the Lambrakis empire.)

12. There are many reasons given for the anti-Americanism among the
public and journalists, including the perception of: interference
of the U.S. in the Greek civil war in the 1940's, American support
for the 1967-74 junta, and American acquiescence in the Turkish
invasion of Cyprus in 1974, not to mention asserted American
"war-mongering" in Serbia and the Middle East. The U.S.-E.U.
relationship is also a factor, with the media concentrating on
trans-Atlantic disagreements rather than cooperation. (This played
out with the purchase of 30 F-16's and subsequent decision not to
buy an additional 10 F-16's being portrayed as Greece snubbing, but
then subsequently embracing the E.U., rather than getting the best
planes for their bucks.)

13. In addition, many media owners and public opinion shapers have
traditionally looked to the former Soviet Union for their
ideological beliefs. Some of the media owners have oil ties to the
Middle East. Some have ideological or financial reasons for putting
the brakes on globalization, fearing that it will harm their own
wide-ranging international financial interests. Finally, Greek
public opinion thrives today, as it did in 800 B.C., on myths,
scapegoats, and conspiracy theories, with the U.S. portrayed as the
"Planetary Ruler" who is to blame for Greece's domestic troubles and
for its lack of stature in the international arena. The U.S. is
also regularly portrayed as favoring Greece's neighbors in the
international political scene (Turkey, Macedonia, etc.) at the
expense of Greek national interests.

ATHENS 00001805 003.3 OF 003



14. The bottom line, though, is that the bilateral relationship is
a healthy, productive one, despite the characterizations by the
media. The U.S. and Greece cooperate regularly and well on a number
of issues. On the other hand, the media's own brand of pressure
contributes to the tendency of the GoG to downplay its cooperation
with the U.S. at times.

A Case Study: The Rice Visit

15. The Embassy considers the April 25 visit of Secretary Rice to
Athens as very successful. The Foreign Ministry said it was
positive and useful. Yet, private television stations that day
interspersed video of her meetings with footage of U.S. aircraft
dropping bombs and Greeks rioting in the streets. Following the
visit, pro-opposition media used glaring headlines to present the
Government of Greece as giving into the Secretary's "unreasonable
demands," while only a few pro-government papers saw the visit as
enhancing Greece's international stature. Government contacts and
journalists themselves have commented to us that the visit went far
better than the media let on. This dichotomy also underlined the
media's obsession with the U.S. Papers do not rush to characterize
as a "success" or "failure" the routine, virtually weekly visits to
Athens of one European foreign minister or another.

Upcoming Changes:

16. All private television and most radio stations have been
operating without licenses until now as there has been no framework
for licensing. A new media law is expected to require licenses and
sharply limit the number of stations in operation. Concurrent with
the need to impose order in the media is the expressed but, so far,
unproven desire of New Democracy to break the web of interwoven
interests. Previous governments, trying to get good publicity,
turned a blind eye to the media's illegal maneuvers in various areas
and even gave them tax breaks.

How We Deal with the Media:

17. The majority of the media put an anti-Bush and/or anti-U.S.
spin on any story with international dimensions, including GMO's,
poverty, the environment, and control of the internet. We have
succeeded in placing interviews, locally produced op-eds, and IIP
products on key foreign policy concerns, and we are attempting to
counter factual errors and omissions with telephone calls, letters
to the editor, and regular meetings with journalists, editors, and
publishers. We are also putting more resources into our dealings
with media schools and students, hoping that the next generation of
journalists may be freer of the prejudices that have characterized
the current and previous generations. Our interlocutors at the
media schools tell us that this is indeed the case, although they
also fear that changes in the media industry mean that their
students will not actually find many jobs in journalism once they
graduate.

Where will this all lead?

18. Even if the GoG implements a new media law, some are skeptical
whether the GoG can put the chaotic media situation in order because
it would involve a showdown with media owners. Should the media
ownership radically change and/or efforts pay off with media
students, we should see a gradual reduction in the knee-jerk
anti-Americanism that colors the media and a shift to more objective
and more factual reporting. The good news is that our relationship
with the GoG remains strong, despite the efforts of the media, and
the Greek public is comfortable venting against U.S. foreign policy
while admiring many aspects of U.S. culture.

Ries
 
     
 
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