The Greek media “bailout”: Debtocracy shows the way


A lot of controversy has emerged in Greece lately regarding the reliability of its media.

Under the current financial and political situation in Greece, being a journalist and working for a news organisation requires above average skills.

As soon as a new piece of information reaches the newsroom, journalists must take two possibilities into account: the information might already be outdated or its source not valid.

Greek news media called into question

In a recent case, the Greek media was called into question when most news outlets on June 4, 2011, announced a new government plan to appoint foreign “commissioners” to the ministries.

Reportedly, the task of the “commissioners” would consist in supervising the ministers’ work and making sure that the Greek “bailout” plan was being properly implemented.

A few hours later the government issued a wrathful disclaimer denouncing the “dangerous disinformation on the part of the media, which poisons the public opinion”.

Public bias against the media

The Greek public has long been biased against the media industry. The general consensus is that “the media and journalists are not telling us the truth”.

Unprecedented, massive daily protests have been taking place in Greece since the end of May against the austerity measures imposed by the “bailout” plan.

The expression “Bums, pimps, journalists” is one of the most common slogans chanted by the demonstrators, who resent the way the protests are being covered in the media.

Demonstrations in front of the the Greek Parliament, 29 June 2011 (source: Wikipedia)

Bright side to a sad story

Can the situation be changed? Is there a way to make the Greek public regain its trust in journalists and the media?

The Greek state is no longer able to subsidise media houses and in a period of deep economic recession, media organisations have suffered a dramatic drop in advertising revenues.

Even the survival of the larger media organisations is now at risk.

As in many sad stories however, there is also a bright side to this one, because it offers journalists their biggest chance to start working independently.

The example of Debtocracy

Independent initiatives in the Greek media market are still rare and are triggering a lot of debate, as illustrated by the film project Debtocracy.

Debtocracy, a documentary film by Katerina Kitidi and Aris Chatzistefanou

Debtocracy is a documentary project undertaken by two well established journalists in the Greek media scene, Katerina Kitidi and Aris Chatzistefanou, on the topic of the Greek debt crisis.

More specifically, Debtocracy “seeks the causes of the crisis and proposes solutions, hidden by the government and the dominant media”. (source: website)

In many aspects, Debtocracy is seen as an innovative initiative, compared to mainstream Greek media productions.

For the first time in Greece, crowd funding was used as a means to finance a media production.

The producers managed to collect the necessary funding within fourteen days by asking the Greek public for financial contribution.

Half of the collected money was used to cover production costs and the other half for promotion and distribution purposes.

The public showed the same willingness to support the project when the producers called for their voluntary contribution throughout the various stages of the production. Tasks such as scripting, authoring, translating, dubbing and subtitling were done by the public.

For the first time in Greece, the public became co-producer of a widely distributed media production.

Last but not least, the documentary première took place online on April 6, 2011 on a dedicated website hosting the entire project.

The creators and the production team of Debtocracy succeeded in what the Greek media had never managed before: winning the public’s trust.

Regaining the public’s trust

The components of the documentary’s success are threefold.

Its creators worked entirely independently.

They did not sell the outcome of their research to any of the main players of the Greek media market.

This allowed them to avoid censorship. It is very doubtful that a major Greek broadcaster would broadcast this type of content. The majority of the broadcasters have not showed the will so far to present an alternative view on the origins of the Greek debt crisis and ways to solve it.

Furthermore, the public contributed to the realisation of a media production through direct and active participation in the project.

Debtocracy provided a good example for non-journalists or people who do not work for the media to understand that independent journalists are also capable of carrying out independent media productions.

The third component that helped to win the Greek public’s trust was transparency.

Right from the start, the creators and the production team of Debtocracy introduced themselves to the public.

They informed their supporters about the purpose of their project and kept them posted on their progress.

They also published the entire name list of the people who financially supported the production of the documentary. They even published the amount of money donated by each one of them.

From time to time the film makers also informed the public about the amount of money collected and the way they were using it.

In general, the directors treated the public as if they were full members of their team.

Katerina Kitidi and Aris Chatzistefanou

A new era for the Greek media landscape?

The future will tell if similar collaborative and independent practices will be applied on a broader scale or perhaps even dominate the Greek media landscape.

What is certain for now is that journalists have the “know how” to win the public’s trust, while to a certain extent the ground on the public’s side seems to be fertile.

The restructuring of the Greek media landscape seems to be taking place as we speak and the chance for it to reemerge free from political and financial dependencies and gain the public’s trust is unique.

Related link: Greece: Is the media part of the problem?, Al Jazeera, 25 June 2011