Minister Nikos Pappas at the LSE, on the 27th of February 2018.

Greek Minister Delivers Speech About Fake News And Propaganda In London

Nikos Pappas, a key player in the reform of Greek media , delivered a lecture at the Hellenic Observatory. We were there.

As I walked into the room, Greek was bouncing around the walls. The event named “Fake news, propaganda and media in Greece” was organised by the LSE Hellenic Observatory. A key figure of the SYRIZA-led Greek government, Nikos Pappas, Minister of Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Media, was the keynote speaker. As expected, the audience was overwhelmingly Greek.

The theater at LSE was fairly close to maximum capacity. Representatives from the national Greek media were present, accompanied by a Greek diaspora audience. This small demographic of London life is particularly interesting. It’s a weird mix of nostos and political critique. They stay up to date with news, visit as often as they can, but they are removed from the everyday reality of Greece. Many of them belong to the upper strata of society. As such, they are conservative liberals, and they are not exactly fond of Syriza. They are usually highly educated and/or hard-working people, who have moved abroad to pursue their goals away from what they perceive as the limitations of Greece. In other words, they are not an easy audience.

In another unsurprising turn of events, the event was 15 minutes behind schedule. You can take the Greek out of Greece, but not the opposite.

Prof. Featherstone introduced Mr. Pappas, as an academic and politician. Pappas holds a PhD on population economics from Strathclyde University in Glasgow. He stepped into the spotlight when he was elected to parliament under, “interesting times,” in Prof. Featherstone’s words. In 2015, he was appointed State Minister. A little over year later, he came into the post which he holds now.

Mr. Pappas took the podium to deliver a lecture on fake news and propaganda in Greece. Starting from the invention of the press, he made clear that fake news has been around for centuries and asked if the term has lost its analytical value. He answered this in a simplistic way, namely that technology has progressed so much that fake news spreads quickly and effectively. The term has a new meaning now.

As his address continued, he started using examples from his administration. “When Syriza came second in national elections, there was a consistent campaign of misinformation about our agenda. There were countless articles about our intention to take Greece out of the Eurozone. Guess what? We did not.”

He seemed especially proud of the television licenses tender. When he entered the cabinet, “Whoever had guts could put up a channel. Private channels without licenses kept broadcasting for 30 years.” The lack of regulation in his eyes, was what allowed TV channel owners to gain power. “We are now in a position to say that TV licensing is going to be in order. We have a new regulator, and soon television will fall in line with our Constitution. You have to abide by the rules if you want to emit. This is a major shift in terms of state policy.”

Another piece of legislation that he considers innovative for Greece is the online media registry. “If a website wants to runs government ads, they need to be on the registry.” This means they need to follow rules for libel, defamation and fact-checking. “Are we secure? No.” Mr. Pappas recognised that many websites neither need nor seek revenue from the government, and are thus indifferent to the registry. He sees it a first step in regulation of digital media. “I would happily sponsor legislation to establish a committee that would ensure the rules are followed.”

Media access to politicians has been democratized. “40 years ago, who had access to spokesmen and legislators was a closed club. That’s all finished now.” He emphasized.

After about 40 minutes, the floor was open to questions. I was fortunate to be one of the first members of the audience to be given the privilege to address the Minister. I asked why so many recent studies show that the state of pluralism in Greek media is worse than ever, especially with regards to monopolistic ownership.

He replied that “quality standards are higher than ever, and are regulated for the first time. We have rules about the size of TV studios, the equipment used, the amount of employees that contribute to the programmes and the coverage of the broadcast itself.”

The audience did not like this answer. The comments and questions that followed were somewhat accusatory, and Mr. Pappas found himself defending his policies. Megakles Rogakos, an art historian and curator who lives in London, told me that he was not impressed by the Minister.

“Mr. Pappas did not convince us that the national channels in Greece offer world coverage, are meritocratically staffed, serve pluralism, and are properly audited/regulated. What is more, he could not explain why Greek citizens should be charged a standard huge amount monthly, as part of their electricity bill, when they do not wish to have a TV or find the national channels to be a means of propaganda.”

He made it clear that he is trying to solve problems far more fundamental than media pluralism; unregulated broadcasting that doesn’t reach the remote corners of Greece. To his credit, he is making progress in that field. Whether questions of pluralism, transparency, independence, truth and fairness will be resolved by this cabinet, remains to be seen.

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