Last Thursday, April 2, the leaders of the world’s 20 largest economies met among the ruins of the global economic order to seek consensus on how to deal with the crisis and what steps to take toward the foundation of a new international system. The meeting – which was also Barack Obama’s first foreign sojourn since his election as US president – was an historic event both because of its timing but also because the leaders of very different nations set aside their differences and worked toward a compromise. Irrespective of whether decisive steps come out of the London Summit, it comes at the end of one era and the beginning of another.
On the same day, central Athens was blocked to traffic by an ongoing protest by textile workers who had encamped on Syntagma Square days earlier. Also, as the major labor federations had called a 24-hour strike to protest against the global economic crisis, demonstrations made the center a no-go area – unless one wanted to spend hours stuck in traffic.
So, both inside and outside Greece, Thursday, April 2, 2009 was a day of major import to the Greek public, whether one wanted to know where the world was going or whether one should dare go to central Athens.
But, this being Greece, no one in the public could learn anything about the world or his or her own city – because the journalists’ national federation suddenly called a 24-hour strike to coincide with that of the other labor federations. In a triumph of stupidity that would surely rank as a chapter in a textbook on journalism if the subject of public enlightenment were ever taken seriously in Greece, journalists managed to cast a mantle of darkness over their readers, viewers and listeners on precisely the day that the public needed the best possible information on global and local events. In this way, journalists stressed both how important their work is and how incompetent they are in evaluating its importance. They also highlighted their own irrelevance: People who cared about international developments could read all about them on international news sites or watch foreign television channels, whereas, locally, several news sites and blogs not affiliated with professional publishers were able to keep chattering away.
The journalists’ unionists must have been very proud of themselves because of the success of the blackout they imposed on an already benighted population. For years they have shown an impressive immunity to the painful truths and mortal challenges that their profession faces. As the global and local economic crisis hits mainstream journalism at its heart – advertising and circulation – the journalists’ only weapon is to prove every day how necessary they are for a well-informed public. It is madness to point members of the public to other sources that do nothing to put bread on publishers’ or journalists’ tables. Pulling the switch on information at a time of such crisis is like picketing our own funeral.
Milestones&Footnotes comment in AthensPlus, 10 April 2009