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ANALYSIS: Varoufakis Vs The Media

There comes a point in any crisis where we have to look at all the players involved and ask who ultimately is responsible, in other words, where does the buck stop? In the case of Greece it’s rather muddled, there are more villains than a Tarantino movie. But it appears that the former Finance minister, Yiannis Varoufakis, has found himself with the finger of blame pointing squarely at him.

The “revelation” that Varoufakis had a contingency plan for Grexit after all has led to the filing of two lawsuits, one by the Mayor of Stylida and the other by the head of a new political party Teleia – which translates as ‘full-stop’ (yes really).

By sandie Robb

At the moment Varoufakis is protected by political immunity and will not have to face trial unless the Greek Parliament decrees otherwise. But as talk of ‘treason’ gains traction it’s important to remember what our frame of reference for all of these events is – the media.

Everything we think we know about this crisis, every opinion we have formed and our knowledge of the people involved, including Varoufakis, starts with what we read and watch and how we then process that narrative or ‘story.’

It’s important to grasp that news narratives come with an array of potential variables that might influence how we see them, the cultural experiences of the author for example or the pre held-prejudices of the reader.

The question then is how those involved, whether it’s the IMF, Greece or the EU, can push the public to accept their version of the narrative because capturing the public’s much coveted validation provides a cloak of legitimization for decisions.

The answer is media manipulation. The systematic warping of news narratives happens everyday almost everywhere. To demonstrate this we can start by doing what governments and institutions such as the EU do daily – analyze the media output.

Greece = Corruption

In the run-up to the Greek elections in January, when it was looking likely that Syriza would win, global news related to ‘corruption’ in Greece skyrocketed and has maintained relatively high levels until now 

Yet, during the same period no major corruption scandals came to light. Syriza as a virgin government can claim to be untainted at that time. So why with the arrival of Syriza is there a corruption narrative flooding the airwaves and printing presses and sticking there?

The media monitoring software reveals that this ‘corruption related to Greece’ news is present overwhelmingly in the IMF’s homeland – America (see below). It’s important to point out here that stories starting in the US impact massively because they are regurgitated far and wide.

Understanding the corruption narrative is crucial to this tale because it is so horribly powerful. It propagates the idea of “self-blame” which has been used with alarming frequency in the US media in recent times. Its primary purpose is to absolve those in power of fault. ‘You’re homeless? Well you should have worked harder!’

Professor Naom Chomsky identifies the ‘self-blame’ narrative as one of “10 strategies of manipulation” used by the media. Chomsky tells ThePressProject, “The [US] media played a role [in the Greek crisis] insofar as they repeated myth and illusions and suppressed what was actually happening.  There were notable exceptions, like Paul Krugman in the New York Times, Mark Blyth in Foreign Affairs, and some others.”

Interestingly the use of self-blame has also been cited as a habitual feature of colonial reasoning, whereby responsibility for the plundering, suppression and general havoc wrought by the colonizers goes unacknowledged and is instead blamed on the colonized.

Haters Gonna Hate

In Fig.3. the data reveals, somewhat bizarrely, that media mentioning “Varoufakis” and “hated” enters the discourse at precisely the time the newly elected Syriza government formed a coalition – January 26th. The numbers are smaller that the ‘Greece-corruption’ output, but it is there nonetheless.

‘Hated’ could be a personal reference or it could be with regards to policy or a whole multitude of things, but its mere presence alongside ‘Varoufakis’ is questionable because at that time he had not been around long enough to actually do anything that might be ‘hated’ in the media. So why does the data show otherwise?

One possible explanation is that the EU, IMF and Greece’s circle of despotic media owners saw in Varoufakis a credible threat and one they meant to pre-empt. The then finance minister was an accomplished economist and academic who did not agree with the status quo and was very vocal about it. He fast showed himself to be that most dangerous of things – a politician that people could actually understand – and worse still he could communicate matters of economics.
Varoufakis was going from one newspaper and TV station to the next ripping apart the nonsensical narratives in defence of austerity and exposing the sham policies of the Troika in a way that resonated with people across the globe.

It was clear that Varoufakis, unlike his toothless ‘yes-men’ predecessors, was not going to play ball.  Instead he was going to be a thorn in the Troika’s proverbial side. He simply had to go.

A Daily Dose of Discredit

A veritable hate campaign ensued designed to discredit and eliminate Varoufakis from the picture. It’s a David and Goliath story on steroids – the EU and IMF’s public relations and spin machines with their combined hundreds of millions of euros financing versus Varoufakis’s twitter account and blog.

Emotive words including ‘hated, isolated and crazy’ were dropped surreptitiously into the mainstream media. Incidentally the US tops the charts once again (by a massive margin) for the highest presence of the word “hated” alongside “Varoufakis”.

But the vast majority of articles were not so direct with their language. Instead they used “loaded language” to infer the same thing. Loaded language in the media refers to words that are seemingly innocuous but actually carry much emotional weight; they act in essence as ‘trigger’ words.

When we read that Varoufakis is “out-spoken”, or “a maverick,” or “unorthodox,” (see Fig. 4.) those loaded terms trigger in us negative interpretations of a pushy, difficult and strange person. Though most of us have never met Varoufakis we will fast form an idea of him.

It could well be that Varoufakis has all those negative personality traits and more to boot, but there is no way to know for sure without spending significant time with the man. What we do know is that none of those characteristics should necessarily detract from how he manages his job.

This gives us something else to consider, and that is the context in which the media frames its narratives. Varoufakis had to be vocal and forthright because from day one he was confronted with one of the most hostile work environments in the world. Pushing for change within a circle of modern day courtesans and their emperor is no small feat and it’s this crucial situational context that is many times missing from the narrative.

The Greek media, an all too often complicit accomplice to these damaging news output, rather than protecting its national interests as everyone else was doing (see Part II) instead served to further compound the problem. The handful of media despots running the show in Greece absolutely did not and do not want Varoufakis altering their cosy arrangement as puppet masters of the country’s politicians. Especially when he had made it very clear that their era of rule was going to be under the spotlight like never before.

It’s also possible that there was a more sinister ploy behind targeting Varoufakis so early on in the debate – to provoke regime change. If enough pressure were placed on Syriza to cause a schism between Varoufakis and Tsipras the latter may well have lost his majority thereby forcing general elections.

This would be the antidote to the venom poisoning the EU’s position on their austerity policy – their fear of other upstart eurozone leftist movements demanding change too. The repeatedly present Varoufakis is “isolated” narrative (see Fig.3.) may well be one that fits into such a scheme.

Perhaps the most revealing data of the ectopic nature of today’s news can be found in Fig.4. This chart shows the “sentiment” (how positive or negative) of the media over the past five months towards Varoufakis. What is of note here is the single green bar poking out.

The green bar indicates that on one specific day – May 3rd – there was an unusual rush of positive news. If one were to bet on what happened that day to cause such joy in the news world the smart money would be on Varoufakis offering his resignation. In fact, it was the opposite. That is the day he announced he would not be resigning.

We Hate the IMF

On the 29th of June (after the referendum was announced by the Greek government and capital controls were imposed) there was a tsunami-like surge in media activity. Except now Varoufakis was not the only focus of ire. Around this time the IMF and the EU saw their popularity levels facing the threat of an extraordinary pummelling.

Confronted with a deluge of negative news output (see Fig.6 above) the IMF moved fast to distance themselves from the EU and shore up credibility. Just days later (2nd July) Lagarde announced that, actually, Greece’s debt would need a haircut after all. They had masterfully employed the media manipulation technique of “distraction” (also one of Chomsky’s top ten).

In one fell swoop the IMF had steered the media narrative away from questioning their disastrous role in the Greek debacle (and various other IMF induced global economic debacles) to one of being a harbinger of hope and moderation.

In reality the IMF were asking for what Varoufakis and a number of the world’s leading economists had asked for all along. Nothing had changed in the IMF’s doctrines or ethics; the only change had been public opinion. A responsive press finally galvanized by outrage into breaking from the ‘xerox journalism’ cycle of reproducing news that did nothing to advance narratives had made a difference.

And therein lays the moral of this particular article’s narrative; in the end public opinion is a more powerful force than anything else in the world today. With that in mind, the question we need to ask ourselves is do we really hate Varoufakis and hold him responsible for a deal concocted as a punishment package by the EU…or have we been conditioned by (a mostly) unwitting media for the past five months to think that we do? 

*Images and data courtesy of Meltwater

Varoufakis Vs The Media – Part II


In the quest to find a scapegoat for the sorry state that Greece finds herself in the Greek media continues hot on the trail of…their own politician. Move aside Merkel, Schäuble, Lagarde and Draghi – Varoufakis had a Plan B to safeguard Greece and is therefore to blame.
The duplicity and sheer insanity of this narrative is, unsurprisingly, not being conveyed with much force by the despot-ruled Greek media. Suffice to say that the UK also had a plan B in the event of a Grexit as did Schäuble (pathetic though it was in the latter’s case). Fortunately – or indeed unfortunately depending on perspectives – the UK and Germany have not placed their respective politicians noggins on a chopping block for treason.
In continuing with the narrative of Part I of this article – asking where the buck stops and blame starts for Greece’s current predicament – we need to shift our attention away from Varoufakis for a while and approach the question more dispassionately as a mathematician would.

The common denominator


What do the bailout countries share in common (aside from the clear pitfalls of eurozone membership) that may have led them all to economic disaster? Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal share some significant features in common. For example, historically they have higher levels of clientelism and political mobilization, both of which can contribute to how an economy is managed.  
Ireland is the anomaly, sharing little in common with the Mediterranean countries, but that is telling in itself because the Irish economy managed to recover faster and stronger where the others did not. 
Among the bailout cases (excepting Ireland) there is one overriding common denominator – the media. In the multi-award winning book ‘Comparing Media Systems’ the authors Daniel C. Hallin and Paolo Mancini, study the media in 18 Western democracies and from this surmise three models of media and politics. 
One of the three models is the Pluralized Pluralist model and here sit five countries - none other than Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal and France. It makes sense that France is there too because had France not received its backdoor bailout (courtesy of Greece) they would have quite possibly been in the biggest mess of all by now. 
ThePressProject spoke with one of the authors, Professor Mancini, and asked, “Is it a coincidence that these countries share the same kind of media and all needed bailouts?” His answer was “No,” its not a coincidence, “there is a connection.” 
Mancini went on to explain that the pluralist model in these countries and especially so in Greece whereby the media is largely controlled by a small elitist group means that, “The state is not protecting its citizens [because] the wealthy Greeks who own the press are looking out for their own values alone.”  
This is in stark contrast to the other media models. Germany for example has a media that works more in line with the states narratives as do the UK and US. Tellingly this is absent from Greek media. The bulk of output is whatever suits the purposes of the handful of elite owners at any given time. The rest of the population, quite simply, does not matter. 

Those lazy Greeks


To demonstrate fully the culpability of the media’s role in the ‘Greek-crisis’ and indeed Varoufakis’s largely walk on role, would require a comprehensive comparative study of the Greek and German media from the start of the crisis until just before Syriza was elected – since everything thereafter is allegedly the fault of Varoufakis.
It just so happens that such a study does exist. Yiannis Mylonas, an associate professor at the University of Copenhagen and external lecturer at the University of Lund, analyzed hundreds and hundreds of select Greek and German news articles from 2009 until 2014.
Unsurprisingly, Mylonas’s findings of the German narrative (which focused exclusively on the respected Der Spiegel) found that: “Like the political and economic elites’ discourse, Spiegel does not perceive the so-called Greek crisis as part of a broader systemic crisis, related to the construction of the Eurozone and its asymmetries…austerity [is represented] as the only solution to the crisis of Greece and other Eurozone countries.”
What is surprising however is how damning Mylonas’s findings on select Greek press are: “The main crisis-narrative underlining these publications is the same culturalist narrative [as the] German media…this time though, the culturalist-orientated critique comes from ‘within’…The crisis is thus understood again as a matter of ‘our’ corrupt and backwarded self.”
In other words, Greek media was more or less exporting the same message to the world as German media. This localized “Greek bashing” narrative was then picked up and “launched by global media against the Greek people presenting them as lazy, corrupt and scoundrels of a supposedly innocent and benevolent Europe.”
The debate on “structural inequalities…degrees of responsibility and the international dimension of the crisis” that the muzzled media of Greece should have been pursuing was in effect “silenced.”

Left un-said


A prime example of silenced or missed debate is the much-underreported role of the credit agencies. Professor Alexandra Ouroussoff, an anthropologist who spent six years interviewing people involved with credit ratings agencies, tells ThePressProject;
“As far as the current situation in Greece is concerned, the lending policies leading up to the Greek debt crisis (2009), were not only sanctioned by credit rating agencies; they would have been insisted upon in return for an investment grade rating. Unfortunately, the political impact of this point  - an unelected body imposing policy on elected officials - is diminished in the Greek case by the perception that the Greek National Statistical Agency lied about the figures.”
Had the Greek media been able to function effectively there would have been a discourse on this to steer the narrative that Greece had fiddled the figures into a more balanced debate, one that included Goldman Sachs shady shenanigans.
Ouroussoff continues: “The argument that they had no idea of the extent of corruption doesn't wash either. Corruption is a factor in the assessment criteria of any country and credit analysts have been working with Greek policy makers since 1988.”
Unfortunately for Greece none of this matters now, because ‘If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.’ Goebbels infamous quote is more relevant today than it has ever been.
Domestic and international media manipulation and propaganda have taken Greece on a disastrous journey for the past five years. It has been so very successful because the Greek media has been so very unsuccessful. When push comes to shove other countries have their media’s shoring up their national interests, Greece, in contrast, was murdering its national interest. 

You are not immune


If you are reading this article, it means that you have found your way to ThePressProject because you already know (along with 86% of the Greek public) that the Greek media is dangerously compromised.
You may therefore, understandably, assume that you have filtered the news output, possibly you have chosen to ignore all Greek news and have thus reached your conclusions on Varoufakis in a fair and balanced way.   
But this is not the case because there is a little deadly something called the “time-bomb” effect. An LSE study proved that if someone is bombarded and exposed to one-sided, bias news for long enough they will eventually succumb to the message.
Their research focused on die-hard anti-Europeans and proved that even their political views could be changed over time by the media and political institutions if they were, in essence, worn-down by opposing views.
Even social media can no longer claim to be the one place of refuge where media mind games hold no sway. Here techniques far more direct and sinister are increasingly at work. Documents published by the Intercept (from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden) revealed that a unit of the UK’s Government Communications headquarters (GCHQ) are hard at work finding ways to warp social media discussion and (in their words) foster “obedience” and “conformity” in the public.
Some of the techniques discussed include the uploading of fake videos to youtube to “discredit, promote distrust, dissuade…or disrupt” and “establishing fake online personalities” to support the communications. All of this is backed up by psychological research into how human thought and behavior can best be influenced.
There is no way of knowing for sure whether the EU also employs such creepy tactics to control public thinking, but anything is, quite literally, possible. Tsipras and Varoufakis, armed with only their ideology and their staunch belief in the truth of it, never stood a chance.
The mine-strewn ground had already been laid long before Syriza and the villain of the moment Varoufakis arrived at the scene of the crime. Greece’s media, rather than pointing the finger towards themselves, are wrapping all their fingers around the neck of Varoufakis. Unfortunately, trapped in our echo prison of lies and manipulations it’s almost impossible to decipher the reality of it all.
But there is hope. We know there is hope because for one seminal, surreal and sublime moment the people of Greece broke out of their echo prison and said “No”.
It is difficult to convey the staggering defiance of this to anyone who was not in Greece at the time of the referendum. The intense and invasive bombardment of the “Yes” campaign sent society into a tailspin of panic. Yet despite all the odds, in that one moment, Greece chose Greece and if it happened once it can happen again. 

Please note that Thepressproject is still trying to offer high quality investigative journalism under very difficult circumstances. Paypal will not accept money transferred from within Greece. Now, more than ever, we need our international readers to support us Read why

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