The debasement of public discourse

on . Posted in English texts


Nothing is strange about the fact that a handful of people spread gossip and rumor via the press-gr blog. What is strange is how many people took this blog seriously. There are good blogs and bad blogs all over the world, but Greece is the only country where these are thrown into the same pot and where a blog can become a subject for debate in Parliament.

The issue of blackmail, on the other hand, is extremely interesting, and not just in this particular case, where so many questions remain unanswered, such as why didn't the authorities wait for money to change hands so they could nab the guilty parties in the act? Can an anonymous e-mail actually form the basis of a blackmail case or did the government make such a fuss simply to silence a vulgar and annoying blog? The main question is: Can blackmail be committed via a popular blog like press-gr? Sure, why not?

Parasitic publishing activity explains how so many newspapers and television stations can survive in a country the size of Greece. That blackmail occurs is not strange. What is strange is that there are so many people susceptible to blackmail and so many blackmailers.

But there is also a paradox here. For while Greece has extremely strict laws on the mass media, we also see widespread impunity. A look at the number of lawsuits against journalists would have one believe that Greece is an extremely puritanical society, where everything runs like clockwork and people take offense at the drop of a hat. But, if people are so deeply sensitive to criticism, then they are also vulnerable to blackmail. The real problem, however, lies elsewhere: In the great bowl of porridge that now passes for the country's public life, all speech - instead of being free - is given the same weight. The same importance is attached to everyone and everything. Rumors become mixed with information, urban myths become official theories and ranting extreme-right politicians perform on the same playing field as distinguished academics.

We appear unable to understand that the right to free speech does not necessarily entail an obligation to believe what is being said. The result is that the country is now in the grips of a debate about a few insulting comments posted by anonymous writers on some blog.

In the pre-dictatorship years in Parliament, someone made some insulting comment about Georgios Papandreou: "Who said that?" asked the head of the Center Union Party. "I did," answered a deputy of the ERE National Radical Union. "Well, then, who cares?" said the brilliant Papandreou. The problem with public discourse today is that such judgment no longer exists.

KATHIMERINI English Edition, 04/03/2008