Last month, students from colleges and universities throughoutCanada and the United States traveled to Athens, Greece toparticipate in the first International Greek Media Seminar hostedby the Greek Ministry of Free Press. Although the purpose of theseminar was to learn about Greek media, participants also immersedthemselves in the culture and history of the ancient city.
From March 21-27, Dr. Thimios Zaharopoulos,chairman of the Mass Media Department at Washburn University andseminar organizer, brought together media professionalsrepresenting various organizations including the Foreign andDefense Institute, Associated Press and World Association ofNewspapers, to educate students from schools including HowardUniversity, Bowling Green State University, Washington StateUniversity, University of Iowa, University of Florida and theUniversity of Wisconsin at Eau Claire, Bridgewater State Collegeand Concordia University in Montreal, Canada about the Greekcommunications process. The three Howard University students inattendance were the only African American participants.
Students were required to participate in anapplication process, which began in January and by Februaryacceptance letters were in the mail. Out of the 27 that applied, 20students were selected and 19 actually attended the seminar.Although participants had to pay for their travel expenses, hotelaccommodations and food were paid for by the Greek Ministry of FreePress.
“The spirit of congeniality is the principleelement of this seminar,” said Zaharopoulos, a Greek native, on thefirst day of the seminar. “We are here to engage in a mutuallearning process.”
Meeting daily at Zappeion, a parliamentarybuilding and former Olympic site that sits above the NationalGarden in the middle of Athens, both students and panelists gaineda great deal from the experience.
“The seminar has made me familiar with therange of media outlets, the appetite of the Greek audience, and thestandards that Greek communications practitioners follow,” saidRozanne Neil; a Howard University broadcast journalism major andseminar attendee.
Panel topics included, “The Role of Greece inthe International Arena: Diplomacy, Economy, Culture,” “The Imageof Greece Abroad,” “The Views of Foreign Correspondents Working inGreece,” and “The Status of Greek Mass Media.”
Students were amazed to learn how much Greekmedia differs from and is similar to American media. Just as in thestates, television is the dominant media form in Greece, Realityshows, soap operas and talk shows remain the most-watched programsthroughout the country.
According to Henry Boyvier, a journalist forthe French Agency in Athens, private television channels emerged inGreece in the 1980s without guidelines and strategies, which madeway for unorthodox forms of news coverage.
“Television news in Greece has developed aprogram strategy where journalism is out of the hands of anchors,”said Boyvier. “The interviewer is not in control, which does notlend itself to insightful coverage.” Although mediocre journalismdominates the field, Greek television remains one of the mosthighly rated in the world in terms of graphic design and productionefficiency.
Sensationalism also dominates radio news inGreece. On March 25, students traveled to Athens Town Hall Radio(Technopolis) for a tour. Just as on the television screen, sportsjournalists engaged in an uncontrolled heated debate in theirnative tongue about a recent game. Each journalist screamed overthe other to be heard, leaving one to wonder how listeners gainedanything from the interview. Depending on their target audience,stations play a mixture of native and foreign music and sometimesair live recordings.
Print journalism in Greece is almost at astandstill as their media market tends to be a half-step behindthat in the United States. Studies have shown that Greeks have lowreading rates and that there is a decreased usage of newspapers andbooks to obtain information.
According to Konstantinos Kamaras, vicechairman of the JAB in Europe, national newspapers in Greece sellless than regional newspapers in the United States. He cited threereasons Greek print media has not reached full development. Thesereasons include a lack of systematic research to look at users’needs and interests, a contradiction between excellent product(design/production) and very poor content and high cost structuresdue to union power and regulation.
Although the main objective of the seminar wasto educate, students and professors also made time to navigateGreece and immerse themselves in culture and history. Participantsvisited places in Athens like Acropolis, the “sacred rock,” Plaka,the oldest place in the capital, Monastiraki, the flea market whichsells Greek and foreign goods and Lycabettos Hill, which rises 909feet above the city.
Like her peers, Lauren Childress, a juniorbroadcast journalism major at Howard University contends that thiswas a “trip of a lifetime.”
“There is no other way to describe it. It wasa trip that gave me a chance to represent my race, school andculture,” said Childress. “It was a triple-fold benefit forme.”
Tommy Hudock of University of Wisconsin saidthe trip helped him realize the fast-paced and work-oriented natureof American society.
“We are very stressed out and we’reworkaholics. They balance their life around work so that they getthings done. But I think they are a lot more stress free than weare,” said Hudock about the Greek people he encountered.
Given the fact that Greek elections took placetwo weeks before the seminar and the government had changed hands,Zaharopoulos maintains that the seminar turned out better than heexpected.
“I compare it to my experience doing a FrenchMedia seminar when I took students over there and there is nocomparison. This was great,” says Dr. Z, as he was aptly called bystudents. “My wish is that this experience has been life-changingand eventually I think people will see it as such. There arecertain things that happen when people travel abroad that enrichestheir lives and if this seminar had anything to do with enrichingpeople’s lives, then it has been a success.”