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Monday, February 18, 2013 - 3:15pm

Greece's Economic Crisis Reveals Fault Lines In The Media

Three years of spiraling economic crisis in Greece have devastated every sector of the economy. The Greek media are among the hardest hit. Many newspapers and TV outlets have closed or are on the verge, and some 4,000 journalists have lost their jobs.

Many people believe the country's news media have failed to cover the crisis and lost credibility along the way. And many Greek journalists acknowledge that a massive conflict of interest sooner or later had to explode.

Nikos Xydakis, a columnist with the daily newspaper Kathimerini, says the big media conglomerates never bother to analyze what's going on in society.

"A big part of the media is controlled by construction moguls and oligarchs," he says. "They reproduce the talk, talk, talk of politicians. This is not journalism, it is everyday propaganda."

Cozy Relationships

Freelance journalist Nikolas Leontopoulos says Greek media owners are too close to political and financial centers of power. "They didn't care so much to earn money out of their media businesses they cared more about winning state contracts," he says.

This exchange of favors news outlets that won't criticize the government or the banks in return for public works contracts and loans contributed to one of the most inflated media sectors in Europe. In 2009, there were 39 national dailies, 23 national Sunday papers, 14 national weekly papers, and dozens of TV and radio stations for a population of 11 million.

Some papers had a circulation of just 100 copies but survived thanks to ads by state-owned businesses

Now the country's economic crisis has wiped out both public works and advertising. Circulation is plummeting, media outlets are closing, and many media owners are no longer able to pay back the loans from their crony bankers.

Opinion polls show the media's credibility has plunged. And many reporters who still have jobs have seen their salaries slashed up to 40 percent.

Leontopoulos says worse is to come: "Recently there was a prediction that in the following year, in 2013, almost 50 percent of journalists that used to work for the media will have lost their jobs."

A Push For Transparency

But the crisis in the media is also producing some new, independent initiatives, especially online.

One such startup is the brainchild of a group of techies who used the profits they made creating websites to form a site called The Press Project to fill the Greek information vacuum. It started as an aggregator of foreign media articles on the Greek and eurozone crises, and has only grown.

"Eight months now, we have a full news portal for Greece, we have a newsroom with breaking news, we have some investigative reporters," says director Kostas Efimeros.

The 11 staff members and 10 paid freelancers have taken advantage of a new government website that Efimeros calls anything but transparent. In fact, he says it was created and designed "with the only goal that you can't find anything."

But Press Project's journalists have found plenty. They've decoded and indexed every single official decision and details of every public works contract and tenders and in the process uncovered numerous questionable transactions.

Efimeros and his colleagues are also working on a glossary of economic crisis lingo that is incomprehensible for the average Greek, terms such as "spread," "credit default swaps," "haircuts" and many more.

Press Project journalist Pandelis Panteloglu explains the site's purpose this way: "We haven't actually seen serious public dialogue in Greece for decades now. Well, it was about time."

Online media is increasingly popular, especially with young Greeks. But even alternative outlets are threatened by the reality of the crisis more and more newly poor Greeks are being forced to give up Internet access to pay for their minimum daily needs.

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