Do Greeks love Trump? How corrupt is Greek media under a weak Democracy? What is the future of journalism? Thanos Dimadis, President of Foreign Press Correspondents Association-USA talks this and more in an exclusive Pavlovic Today interview.
THE PAVLOVIC TODAY: Recently the U.S. State Department in its annual human rights report referred to you as a case of a press freedom violation in Greece stating that you “were slandered by a former Minister”. What’s the meaning of your case for the state of journalism and press freedom in Greece?
THANOS DIMADIS: In September 2016, the former Greek Minister Mr. Pappas of the former leftist SYRIZA government, who was in charge of supervising the media in the country, manipulated the government-owned media in Greece to report the false story of me being arrested in New York. Then, in his statements, the minister ensured the public in Greece that the false story he had created and orchestrated against me was true. During all these years of fighting the legal battle against the previous Greek government’s associates in Greece and their Minister, I’ve dedicated all my energy, time, and passion to public speaking and writing to raise public awareness about governments’ practices to retaliate against journalists and shut them down. Besides the extreme cases of killing or imprisoning journalists in countries with authoritarian regimes like Turkey, in Western democracies, journalists are also under attack in other ways as well. One of those attempts comes from special interests to undermine credibility, assassinate the character, and defame a journalist by using misinformation as a weapon of choice. I am confident that my case can certainly shed some light of hope for the future in Greece and hold the government accountable for actions against journalists and abuse of power.
THE PAVLOVIC TODAY: Does reporting for a foreign media company change your perspective on American politics?
THANOS DIMADIS: Absolutely. Initially, I became aware that US politics are more polarized than I had thought from reading the international news. Additionally, I realized the important role money and celebrities play in political campaigns, more than anyone can imagine. Also, reporting about US politics made me see how polarized American politics are and how deeply divided American society itself is. Over the last ten years that I've been in the US, I see these social and racial divisions becoming larger and larger. However, the fact that issues such as racial or sexual discrimination, equality of opportunity between men and women, and inequality between the wealthy and the average citizen are being discussed in American politics gives me hope that something is changing.
THE PAVLOVIC TODAY: In what way, if any, American press freedoms inform the way foreign correspondents report back home?
THANOS DIMADIS: The United States is a democracy that is strong and robust due to solid checks and balances, and because press freedom and freedom of speech are constitutionally protected. Journalists coming to the United States to serve as correspondents for their media are taught a valuable lesson about what it means to truly do deep investigative reporting without fear of repercussions from the government. That is extremely important, especially for journalists from countries with authoritarian regimes or countries with weak democracies where journalists don't have the freedom to do their jobs independently, such as Greece. My view is that freedom of the press in America influences how foreign journalists working in the U.S. do their job with more confidence and determination. Being a foreign correspondent in the U.S. is a life-changing experience for any journalist coming from abroad. At least for me, it made me appreciate the principle of free speech and encouraged me to stand up against governmental or political forces that bully or intimidate journalists in my country, Greece.
THE PAVLOVIC TODAY: You worked for Greek media, what is the situation regarding the state of journalism in Greece in comparison to the United States?
THANOS DIMADIS: There are no independent media in Greece, but instead, the media are complicit with the government's interests or political parties. American media serve partisan ideologies of left or right, but the difference is that in contrast to the US, Greece has zero conflict of interest policies in journalism. I can give an example: in Greece, I worked for the biggest broadcast network in the country, "ALPHA TV." The director of news, whose name was Mr. Vasilis Papadrosos, was found out to be working simultaneously as an employee for the government, and his boss was the Minister who was controlling the media in Greece, including the channel Mr. Papadrosos was serving as news director. Can you imagine this happening in the US? No way.
This example reveals a deeper problem in the country: the lack of checks and balances and the lack of solid conflict interests policies. The Union of Journalists in Greece, which is the body of representation of working journalists, is served by board members affiliated with political parties and governments that come in power each time. If someone attempts to speak out and break the status quo of this corrupted relationship between journalists, media, and politicians in Greece, then the person is pushed out of the system and gets marginalized, potentially losing his or her job and paying the toll of his or her resistance. Nobody wants to pay this toll, which makes journalism have no independent voice, and journalists fear retaliation from political and partisan powers.
THE PAVLOVIC TODAY: What is the role of foreign correspondents in covering the Biden administration?
THANOS DIMADIS: My view is that foreign journalists' role does not change based on who's President and which administration is in power. The media had been very tough against the Trump administration scrutinizing everything the previous administration said. They did well as that was their role; to keep Trump's power accountable. Under the new Biden administration, foreign journalists and the media, in general, are facing a distinct challenge: they must maintain the same high standards of holding the powerful accountable, as they did with the previous administration.
Foreign journalists are shaping with their work the image of America worldwide, and I believe the new administration will show foreign journalists the respect they deserve for the work they do. This means offering foreign correspondents the same access to resources, briefings, and other sources of information as offered to American correspondents.
THE PAVLOVIC TODAY: Do you expect them to be more or less critical of the President than the American press is?
THANOS DIMADIS: From what I have seen so far, there is no doubt that both American and foreign media have taken a position of greater tolerance for President Biden than President Trump. There's an explanation for that. The country is still engaged in a war against the virus, and each new administration is given a grace period. However, it is too early to clearly assess whether the media will remain more tolerant of Biden than Trump. I hope that won't be the case because if journalists apply different setup standards, this will undermine their credibility and raise questions about their objectivity.
THE PAVLOVIC TODAY: Did Greeks love Trump?
THANOS DIMADIS: Trump achieved something remarkable from a political perspective. His slogan of "America first" brought together voters from all sides of the political spectrum who felt frustrated by the impact of globalization. Immigration is the primary cause of these problems, especially in Greece, the country that has been hit the hardest by illegal immigration compared to all other European countries.
In particular for Greece, Trump's agenda of "our nation first" was fueled first and foremost by the previous leftist SYRIZA Government whose Prime Minister Mr. Tsipras was elected with a similar slogan of - quote- "go back Madame Merkel". The leftist SYRIZA government applied Trump's isolationist approach and "nation first" perspective in Greek politics in response to the Greek people's frustration with the sequential austerity measures imposed by Germany and the EU partners of Greece. This is proof of how the political platform of Trump penetrated and influenced the agenda of a government and a political party that theoretically belonged on the left side of the political spectrum.
THE PAVLOVIC TODAY: What do you see as the biggest problem in the American news landscape at the moment?
THANOS DIMADIS: It seems to me that the U.S. media are feeding the political polarization in American society, and the American society's political division is reflected in American media that are divided between those that are pro-democrats and pro republicans. At the same time, American news is usually a mixture of direct or indirect commentary in their reporting, making it harder for the vast majority of people to distinguish the fact from the interpretation of the fact that each media makes based on its ideological or partisan approach. This creates confusion about the role of news and journalism in conjunction with another major problem that is the rise of new technology, smartphones, and new media have embedded public opinion globally, the belief that news is free and that the information is free.
Social media built the culture of free access to information but were unprepared and incapable of educating the public that easy and accessible transmission of information does not make it accurate, verified, and reliable information. Over the last 10-15 years, people established the perception and belief that because the information is free, the news is also free. In the new digital era, journalism will survive if companies like Google and Facebook commit to supporting journalism financially. Not simply through donations but in sharing a percentage of their profits with journalists and journalism who are part of the easy access to information they provide to their customers.
THE PAVLOVIC TODAY: What's the future of journalism?
THANOS DIMADIS: I believe that journalists – especially those who are in their twenties – should be comfortable in accepting risks and not solely pursuing roles in big media organizations. The future of journalism belongs to those who develop their own voice and build their audience and be able to navigate in the digital landscape to develop and promote their “product” of verified information and accurate news. The future of journalism belongs to those who will be ready to convert their traditional business models to the new forms of sustainable journalism. The news will no longer be for-profit businesses and journalists should be developing skills and knowledge to adjust to the emerging nonprofit environment of news.
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