European Parliament elections on the Media

published in Greeklish.info
The electoral campaign period for local and European elections is well under way: the European Parliament runs a public information campaign to encourage citizens to participate in the elections with the motto: ‘Act, React, Impact’  suitably translated in every European language and stating clearly that ‘this time it is different’. The Parliament refers to the blue elephant in the room: the role of Europe in the crisis. The EP has investigated, monitored and criticised the damage of ‘trojka decisions’ in the constitutional landscape of the countries under the memorandum and the distraction of their social fabric. The elephant in the room is that democratic institutions and processes in Europe are not only under sharp criticism, but that they stand to a near-total disconnect from a considerable part of Europe’s regions. 

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Photo credit: http://www.morguefile.com/creative/Prawny

Mainstream media continue with a coverage line that has not changed in these times of crisis. They fail to encourage citizens to fulfil their duty and defend the hard-won right for direct European Elections, as a matter of democratic process. Why should they have such an obligation, one could ask. If societies continue to regard the mission of mass media as watchdogs of power, because power abuse and disempowerment are bad for egalitarian societies, then the media have a role to play in providing the fullest and best researched information to enable citizens’ decision-making process. Part of this obligation is to inform and enlighten about the only institution in the EU that stands at the opposing end of unaccountable and inaccessible organisations, such as the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund, even the very European Commission, who are the protagonists of handling the crisis in the European Union.

 

Instead, media coverage is busy with micro-political ‘scandals’ who said what to whom, who is ‘in’ and ‘out’ of party lists, which, with the exception of the shameful and shocking case of the expulsion of the Greek Roma candidate Sabeha Souleymanoglou from the SYRIZA list, are largely trivial and insignificant. The media fill pages and broadcasting hours repeating slogans or hosting superficial debates and fail to ask the crucial, specific questions about the day after. The Greek media fail to encourage voters to attend both elections, municipal or local and European. They fail to show publics the relevance of these elections to everyday life. Questioning candidates feels more like ‘chatting’ in a coffee shop, not in the sense of fierce and fiery, substantial and courageous debate in the public sphere of Jürgen Habermas or Nancy Fraser, but as a leisurely  ‘salon’ chit-chat, small talk without consequence.

Questioning candidates feels more like ‘chatting’ in a coffee shop, not in the sense of fierce and fiery, substantial and courageous debate in the public sphere of Jürgen Habermas or Nancy Fraser

That concepts such as elections, democracy, crisis, change and justice have become words-cliché not accompanied by specific measures, positions, plans of action, sense of collaboration and orientation conveys the sad and dangerous feeling of disaffect. Perhaps politicians are ‘all the same’ – many of those who are different were eliminated early enough. Perhaps Europe and the elections are to many a futile process. It is a process we must revive and defend and not abandon. Perhaps Europe is distant and punishing. We must reclaim it and bring it down in the streets, neighbourhoods, schools and demand justice. The media and intellectual elites bear great responsibility in awakening and demanding public debates. Certainly, posing good questions would mean going against some media’s own private interests. Surely, it is obvious that citizens have abandoned them en mass and that they turn their attention to spheres closer to society. Yes, I will refer to ERT here, again, through its ertopen.com as one of these spheres. It continues to function as a beacon for democratic signals, almost a whole year after its ‘closure’.

It is not new that Europe is receiving no press or bad press. This has been historically a standard method to treat European integration when things at home become problematic. To point the finger solely to some distant place, raise one’s shoulders and claim ‘we had to do it’ is called in academic literature ‘policy laundering’. To treat all European institutions the same way is to resort to cynicism and populism, which ultimately means demagogy and disorientation. To treat processes of elections and voting with fanfare and anything other than meticulous, astute and detailed investigation and analysis is a gross disservice to citizens. This is where the media have a role to play and a duty.

Each candidate should have concrete proposals of significantly improving children’s living conditions, especially alleviation of poverty and universal quality education.  The media should be asking, again and again, like a broken record all candidates to answer these fundamental questions with concrete proposals. And they should test candidate on their knowledge of the legislative process in the European Union. Multiple Choice tests would suffice.

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