The smiles do not hide the cold atmosphere
The issue was the falsely reported meeting between the prime ministers of Greece and Turkey by a group of respected Greek newspapers, headed by TO VIMA, (and followed by Ethnos and Elefterotypia). The meeting was going to take place when Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan was to visit Athens two Sundays ago to participate in the opening of the new Museum of Acropolis. At the last moment the Turkish delegation cancelled their trip but their "visit and meetings" were reported as if they took place on the Sunday editions of those newspapers. Being one of such instructors, but trying to work as a journalist covering Turkey and Greece, I have found myself often fantasizing together with my students about this media world where journalists would never report on news that never happened, never publish news without double or triple checking their accuracy, separate facts from comments and even sacrifice their jobs in order to defend their story: a whole series of nice sounding principles that the students would rarely use in their professional life should they be lucky to find a job.
The chief editor of TO VIMA newspaper apologized for the "monumental gaffe" and explained that it was due to the fact "that the Sunday editions of newspapers, due to their high circulation, begin to be printed on Saturday morning. Hence often they include articles that refer to scheduled meetings É as if they had already happened," he states in his published article and goes on. "The gaffe by TO VIMA is the biggest as it also published a story about what the two prime ministers [would] have discussed between themselves. It is not unusual for a text to be written in advance regarding leaders’ meetings as unofficial but reliable sources (i.e. government sources or persons from the leaders’ staff, as well as the official government spokesmen) allow information to be leaked to accredited journalists about the meeting and the position of each side. This practice leads to gaffes as was this last one," he admits.
The press editors may be right. Newspapers are not online outlets, they cannot catch last minutes changes and this is one of their biggest disadvantages in their tough struggle for survival against the "flash news" journalism culture introduced by the advent of Internet. So gaffes occur and will occur. It is an occupational hazard of the medium itself. But that does not mean that in order to compete with the speed of Internet we manufacture news that have never happened! This is trespassing on the limits of what we mean by the very essence of journalism.
In the murky waters of Greek-Turkish relations newspapers and commentators have often encountered difficult dilemmas over keeping journalism principles away from what their respective government policies are. I still remember my TV editor asking me to include in my report on the 2003 synagogue bombings in Istanbul, that "I saw tanks on the streets" in order to keep the story juicy. But also I had to lose one of my childhood friends and a now an important player in the financial world when my Turkish editor chose to give a sensational negative headline to a relatively simple financial reporting story. So when a gaffe like this becomes really dangerous is when reporters try to "enrich" their (false) story with negative elements and innuendos. This meeting was between two elected leaders of neighboring countries and the way a story is written especially by respected press, has a serious influence on the public opinion. I remember taking part in the first Greek-Turkish journalists meeting in Athens in which the then Greek and Turkish Foreign Ministers Yorgo Papandreou and Ismail Cem also participated just after the tragic earthquakes in both countries over 10 years ago. The Imia-Kardak crisis was relatively fresh and the earthquake diplomacy had just started to bear fruit. There were lots of outspoken statements then by Greek and Turkish journalists, some of whom are today at the head of media outlets especially in Turkey. There were many grand statements about "what we did wrong" and many lofty promises to "leave the stereotypes aside and set up our own watchdog system to catch the ones who do not behave according to rule, to excommunicate misreporting, etc." Ten years later all negative stereotypes are there and independent and verified reporting on Greek-Turkish issues is very rare.
On the top, 10 years later, there is Internet. And Internet means that there is a new platform for the battle of misreporting, hate reporting and stereotypes. And as a lot of negative atmospheric pieces find their way to countless sites, the air in the media of the two countries cannot be cleared. For example, one of my apparently faithful readers - a Greek Cypriot - who is a blogger (address available) and I presume resides in London, was very keen in judging my journalism qualities on moral grounds. "This Greek woman regularly prostitutes herself for the Hürriyet Daily News, purporting to provide insights into Greece and Cyprus, but in fact she knows nothing about Cyprus, her knowledge of Greek politics is superficial and she generally adopts those positions most flattering and satisfying to her Turkish pimps," he wrote recently. There is indeed a cold atmosphere and sometimes it becomes difficult to smile.