In recent weeks, thousands of Greek citizens have taken to the streets in an unprecedented series of protests.
These protests have been a response to the economic difficulties that the country and many of its citizens are facing during the present crisis, the policies that have been undertaken by the government in response to the crisis, and the harsh new measures that are now being imposed.
These policies and proposed new measures include tax increases, salary cuts (in both the public and private sector), cuts to pensions and social services, layoffs in the public sector, and the privatization and selling off of key national assets, including airports, harbors and electric and water systems. These harsh measures, being implemented at the behest of the European Union (EU) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have been met with a strong display of disapproval by large numbers of Greek people, many of whom have seen their salaries or pensions diminished or who have lost their jobs.
What is particularly noteworthy about these protests is that they have been almost entirely organized through the use of social networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter, with the support of many Greek bloggers. In a country where civil society has traditionally been associated with political parties and labor unions, the current protests have represented an unprecedented, spontaneous, grassroots mobilization of the populace.
Protestors have been congregating each evening at 6pm at Syntagma (Constitution) Square in Athens, outside the Greek Parliament, and this past Sunday’s protests are estimated to have drawn as many as 500,000 people—the largest protests in modern Greek history. Similar protests have taken place in other cities and towns throughout the country, while some protestors have even begun to camp out at the main protests sites on a 24/7 basis. The Greek protests—known as the “Angry in Syntagma” movement, named after the central square in Athens that is the epicenter of the protests—were inspired, in part, by similar protests taking place in countries such as Spain, which have also been heavily affected by the economic crisis.
For many people in Greece, this year’s protests bear at least a bit of a resemblance to protests which took place in 1973. Those protests, largely organized by university students, were aimed at overthrowing the military junta which ruled Greece at that time. Just as in 1973, young people have been at the forefront of the protests, even if for a very different cause.
One of the lingering memories of the student uprising of 1973 was the pirate radio station organized by the protestors—broadcasting the voice of the uprising at a time where any dissenting voice risked brutal suppression. This station played a major role in spreading the word about what was taking place in Athens, and other pirate broadcasters throughout Greece began to rebroadcast its signal, spreading word of the uprising outside of Athens. What has changed in 38 years, and what role is radio playing in Greece during this current wave of protests, in an era dominated by social networking and blogging?
Certainly, the nature of the protest is different. Greece is now a democracy (albeit with a very unpopular government at the moment), and unlike the tightly-controlled state-run media of the military regime, Athens boasts at least 60 FM stations, most of which are privately owned. How have these stations covered the protests?
Perhaps the most notable example is Radio Entasi 100.1 FM. Based out of the Department of Legal, Economic and Political Sciences at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, the station operates without a license, aided by the academic asylum haven that is afforded university campuses in Greece, where police and military forces are barred from entering. Since the start of the protests in late May, the station has set up a makeshift broadcasting facility in Syntagma Square, at the heart of the protests.
Comprised of little more than some basic equipment, a computer and some hand-painted signs, Radio Entasi has become the radio voice of the protest movement, with live broadcasts of the public assembly and speeches that take place there each evening. The station’s broadcasts are also available online and are also rebroadcast by one of Greece’s few community-based radio stations, Radio Kokkinoskoufitsa 88.2 FM, in the city of Agrinio in Western Greece.
Aside from Radio Entasi, however, most radio stations in Athens have continued with their normal programming, and a quick scan of the radio dial in Athens would not really lead to any indications that a large protest movement is brewing. Most news and information radio stations have earned a reputation of being largely in favor of the Greek government’s economic austerity measures and the “bailout” by the EU and IMF, and have not devoted a great deal of attention to the protests, downplaying their significance. While the protests have indeed been a top story on many radio newscasts (especially on Sunday, June 5th, the date of the largest protests to date), more detailed coverage of the protests has often been lacking. The exceptions have, at times, however, been surprising.
One of the best locations on the dial for dialogue and conversation between listeners about the protests and the overall economic and political situation is an overnight call-in show, “Anemologio,” which airs on Skai 100.3 FM, which is consistently the top station in the Athenian ratings charts. The program airs from 12 to 5 am five nights a week, and features calls from listeners, often of an extended nature, with little interruption by the host of the program, Konstantinos Lavithis.
As can be expected, the predominant topic of conversation since the start of the economic crisis, and especially in recent weeks, has been the state of the economy, and more recently, the protests that have been taking place. Many regular callers to the program seem to be on a first-name basis, while it is not unusual for callers to respond to each other’s comments over the air. Interestingly, while Skai 100.3 and its television counterpart, Skai TV, have maintained an editorial stance that is squarely pro-IMF, pro-austerity and pro-bailout, this overnight program has featured intriguing conversation between listeners, many of whom are against the austerity measures that have been undertaken and which are being proposed.
Another popular radio show which has addressed the protests as well as the larger economic issues facing Greece is a satire program called “Ellinofreneia.” Ellinofreneia was, until recently, broadcast on Skai 100.3 but has recently moved to another news-oriented station, Real FM 97.8. Ellinofreneia has become known for its satirical coverage of politicians and political events taking place in Greece, and in the past week, its hosts participated in an open conference call sponsored by an online journalism initiative, The Press Project, which was open to members of the “Angry in Syntagma” protest movement.
Interestingly enough, talk about the protests and the current economic climate has also been present on the city’s sports talk stations, including ERA Sport 101.8 & 100.9 FM and NovaSport FM 94.6. While the topic of conversation on these stations is centered about sports, many listeners that have been calling in, especially during the overnight hours, have discussed the protests and economic issues with the overnight hosts.
Extensive coverage of the protests has also been afforded by Sto Kokkino 105.5 FM, which is operated by the left-wing SYRIZA political party. The station has featured extensive interviews with protestors and academics about the protests and their ramifications. Some of these interviews are also available as podcasts on the station’s website. Another news-oriented station, Radio 9 98.9 FM has featured numerous live reports from Syntagma Square with its on-site reporter, Maria Georgari, who has interviewed numerous protestors and provided hourly updates as part of the station’s newscasts.
Finally, web radio has gotten into the mix as well, with the live webcasts of “Radio Zougla” from the heart of the protests at Syntagma Square. This web radio station is operated by zougla.gr, one of Greece’s largest online news sites, and has featured live audio and video coverage of the protests, including numerous live interviews with protestors who are on site. The live audio and video streams can be found here.
Unfortunately, even with the above examples, most of the Athenian radio dial continues to feature highly commercialized programming, while much of the news and information programming has continued to downplay the protests and have not given much of an opportunity for the protestors to be heard, in contrast to the many interviews that have been aired with members of Greece’s political establishment. Clearly, in an era of social networking tools and blogging and in a country where most citizens still get a large amount of their news from television, radio is not playing the role that it did 38 years ago, during the students’ uprising against Greece’s military junta.
However, radio does continue to give an opportunity for the everyday person’s voice to be heard—even if their voice is heard on small, unlicensed stations such as Radio Entasi, or is relegated to the “graveyard shift” on major news stations such as Skai 100.3. And since radio remains, for me, a magical medium, I have taken the opportunity to provide reports about the events going on in Greece to radio listeners back in the United States—including a live interview which aired on the University of Texas’ KVRX 91.7 FM on Wednesday evening, and an interview with Austin’s NPR affiliate, KUT 90.5 FM which will soon be available on the station’s website.
Michael Nevradakis is both a radio academic (currently a Ph.D. student in Radio-Television-Film at University of Texas at Austin) and a radio practitioner. Much of Michael’s academic research has centered on radio, both in the United States and globally, and his first academic publication, “Government-Sanctioned Anarchy: Greece’s Chaotic Airwaves” is scheduled to be published in the fall of 2011. In addition, Michael is the webmaster and editor of www.media.net.gr, an online resource on Greek radio and television. Michael also hosts “Austin Hellenic Radio,” a weekly program dedicated to Greek music and culture, on the University of Texas’ student-run radio station, KVRX 91.7 FM.
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