Media accused of extreme bias in favour of Yes vote

Newspapers and TV are ignoring support for a No, one content analysis concludes

A demonstrator wears No stickers (Oxi in Greek) during an anti-austerity rally in Syntagma Square in Athens, yesterday. Photograph: Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

A demonstrator wears No stickers (Oxi in Greek) during an anti-austerity rally in Syntagma Square in Athens, yesterday. Photograph: Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

 

A mere glance at the front page of any Greek daily over the week-long referendum campaign was more than enough to indicate the political preferences of the newspaper in question and its stance towards the government on the vote.

Most major dailies are highly critical of the government’s decision to call a referendum and overall approach, with conservative Kathimerini headlining on Thursday with “Games with the institutions and euro” and Eleftheros Typos with “He damages Greece, cheats Greeks. Tsipras burns bridges with EU”.

On the other hand, “No to Schäuble and the domestic troika” was the message from Avgi, which is affiliated with prime minister Alexis Tsipras’s Syriza party. “Mechanism of terror” proclaimed the headline on left-leaning Efimerida ton Syntakton, alongside a graphic of cogs depicting, among others, Angela Merkel, Christine Lagarde and Antonis Samaras.

One of the cogs depicted the logos of Greece’s private TV stations, which this week in the battle for hearts and minds ahead of the referendum were accused of being grossly disproportionate in their reporting of the two major No and Yes rallies held in the centre of the Greek capital on Monday and Tuesday, respectively.

Appalled journalist

Markos Petropoulos

“I was so angry and furious at what I saw and heard that I decided I needed to analyse the entire news bulletin. They were interviewing people outside banks and supermarkets, and not one person had anything good to say about the referendum. Everyone they interviewed was complaining that they were shut out of the banks, that they had no money, and so on,” Petropoulos said.

As a much-shared infographic he produced shows, of the 36 members of the public interviewed by the channel – Greece’s largest private station and controlled by a prominent shipping family and the publishers of two of the country’s biggest newspapers – not one spoke in favour of the measures. It also wasn’t until the 70th minute that the large No rally, which had started more than an hour earlier on Syntagma square in Athens, was mentioned in a report – and the segment lasted just 40 seconds.

On the following day, when the same channel devoted more minutes to the Yes rally taking place at the same time on the same square, Petropoulos then decided to analyse the evening bulletins on the six main TV channels.

That required him to watch on internet playback 12 bulletins, some of which were up to two hours long, from the two days. “I used the stopwatch on my mobile phone to count every second then they referred to the rallies, and nothing else.”

What he found confirmed his suspicions: that time devoted by the private stations to the Yes rally far exceeded that given to the No demonstration.

The discrepancy was no greater than on Skai TV, which is linked to Kathimerini, which gave seven minutes 15 seconds to the Yes rally but not a second to the No rally the previous day. Over on Antenna, the Yes gathering got 14 minutes 30 seconds, compared with just 90 seconds for the No rally. Only the newly reopened public broadcaster ERT seems to have struck a balance between both rallies, affording each a slot just under five minutes long.

Mere eight minutes

But Petropoulos, who believes stations must be required to strike at least a “60/40 balance, because we all, after all, have our opinions”, says the “editorial decisions” taken by the private stations could backfire.

“I think that sometimes, if you go very far with one opinion, it can have the opposite effect. By pressuring the people so much, they might not get the result they want. Many people will say ‘enough is enough’ and vote No.”

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