BY DIMITRA KOUZI
I pass by Distomo almost once a month, on my way to Galaxidi (Delphi Municipality), a seaside village where my great-grandfather was born. Since today the destination is more important than the journey, I had never been to Distomo, although it is only a 2km digression from the main road. Known as one of the "martyred towns,"(1) the village, ravaged in the late phase of the Second World War, should have prompted my interest, since I am a German-school and -university graduate, and often work with German people. On 10 June 1944, German troops savagely massacred 223 civilians – mostly older men, women, children and infants – as reprisals for partisan attacks that cost the Waffen-SS unit 20 dead and 36 wounded(2) during the first week after their deployment in the area(3).
I first visited Distomo to conduct an interview for the ARTE-produced documentary Greeks and Germans – A Difficult relationship.(4)
The interview concerned an exchange involving two school clubs – one at the German School of Athens, run by the teacher Regina Wiesinger, and one at the Distomo Lyceum, run by the teacher Vasso Karanassou. Pupils of both schools learn extensively about this incident at the first grade of Lyceum (age 15). And this is where the interesting part begins: In both schools, they are introduced to it from the “Greek” point of view. The exchange is meant to encourage the children from both nations to meet and learn about the past of their countries. Could this contribute to reconciliation? What does reconciliation mean? Who must reconcile today, how and why? Germany is today central to Europe economically and politically; yet, when one brings up the name of the country in Greece, reactions are often biased or stereotypical (5). Media handling of the financial crisis did nothing to improve this relationship. (6)
THEY HAVE MORE IN COMMON THAN NOT
These pupils are expected to work on a common project over the course of six months, including three meetings of the two groups: one weekend in Athens, one at Distomo and a trip to Berlin. This year, the children will work on topics related to adolescence, inspired by the documentary film All This Panic by Janet Gage (79ʹ, USA, 2016) (7).
I can infer from discussions with them that the massacre looms heavily over the Distomo children, as justice is yet to be served; there has been no taking of responsibility, no acknowledgement. No families are spared: They all count victims among their members. As years go by, they worry: “Witnesses will die, and the story will fade.” The annual commemoration events help both forgetting and remembering. “I talk with my grandmother about it more during that time of the year, not in our daily life,” a second grade of Lyceum pupil said during my visit to the small school (40 pupils only).
They were born at Distomo, and this determines everything for them: “It’s not just a matter of war; this was a terrible crime, a massacre [...] Which is why we feel it our duty to communicate it.” Panagiotis, third grade of Lyceum pupil points out.
On the other hand, German-School pupils express their concern: “Is it right for us to visit [Distomo]? How could I meet [these people]? How could I face them?" Children with a double nationality (one parent Greek and one German) wonder: “Who am I? As Greek, I feel mournful; as German I feel guilty.” At the German School, I met with five pupils of the third grade of Lyceum who have already participated in the project; they are well-informed, concerned, at times intense and at times relaxed. Was there value in that interaction? “Yes, it helped us discover the country and experience history first-hand; it makes a world of difference,” according to Isabella: “Stereotypes are dispelled by personal contact. Up until yesterday they were only numbers; today they are people we’ve met.” After 70 years of historical analysis, do the Germans acknowledge any responsibility, and if so, how? It’s one of the questions posed in skepticism.
On 28 October 2018, I went back to Distomo. Catie Manolopoulou, a writer from Distomo who lost members of her family in the massacre, was invited to talk to the Lyceum pupils. “Post-war years were even harder... Nothing can replace a lost loved one. Yet, the issue of war reparations is not my focus; other people strive towards that goal. However, I expect good intentions on the part of the Germans – for instance, they might offer to establish a university at Distomo. For youth from all over the world to attend.”
This opens a channel of communication based on personal contact and interaction. The dialogue is ongoing. A German-School pupil Leandros, continues, “Distomo pupils who participated in the project and went on the trip realized that it's normal people that live in Germany, too. A certain reserve towards all things German is still evident; yet, these children are better informed than other Greeks are. There is hope to get over the horrors of war and let go of the past. Yet, the road ahead is still long."
(1) The Greek interior ministry compiled a list of "martyred towns" after the end of the war. To be included, a town or village had to either be entirely destroyed as a result of arson or shelling, have lost 10% of its population in mass executions, or fulfil a combination of these criteria. Seventy-two towns from this list suffered reprisals by the German army, most of them witnessing mass executions. “Massacre memories: German car sales and the EZ Crisis in Greece,” Vasiliki Fouka (Stanford University), Joachim Voth (Zurich University), https://voxeu.org/article/massacre-memories-german-car-sales-and-ez-crisis-greece. Retrieved on 23 October 2013.
(2) Χανδρινός, Ιάσονας, "Η σφαγή στο Δίστομο και στο Καλάμι (1944)" [Chandrinos, Iason, The Massacre at Distomo and Kalami (1944)], 2012, Encyclopedia of the Hellenic World: Boeotia (in Greek), Foundation of the Hellenic World.
(3) "Σφαγή, φωτιά, βιασμός, ληστεία. Όλη η τετραλογία της κτηνωδίας, προς δόξαν της φυλής των Αρείων" [Massacre, Fire, Rape, Robbery – The tetralogy of savagery, for the glory of the Arian race], newspaper Ελευθερία, 10-6-1945.
(4) I am co-author of the film, with Ingo Helm; the film traces the history and human relations of the two nations from King Otto’s reign until now; to be released 2/2019.
(5) Unfortunately, stereotypes about Greece abound in Germany, too.
(6) "Die Berichterstattung deutscher Medien in der griechischen Schuldenkrise", Studie, Prof. Dr Kim Otto & Andreas Köhler, M.A., Professur für Wirtschaftsjournalismus, Universität Würzburg
(7) Premiered and nominated for best feature-length documentary at Tribeca Film Festival, New York; nominated for a Grierson Award, London Film Festival. The two school clubs will watch the film at its Greek premiere at KinderDocs Festival in February 2019.
As the future fast approaches, Dimitra Kouzi, raises questions about how evolving technologies are impacting the way we produce and present information
published in Modern Times Review (the European Documentary Magazine) autumn issue 2018.
Three years after the shutdown of ERT, I realise that when ERT was shut down I was so much a part of that system that it was impossible for me to conceive writing what follows.
The shutdown and reopening of Public Television in Greece
· Tuesday 11/6/2013: An announcement by the government spokesman is broadcast on ERT at 18.00 that ERT will stop broadcasting at midnight that same day.
· 11/6/2013, 24.00: A black screen begins to be broadcast by all public channels.
· ERT employees continue (illegally – ERT is officially closed) to produce programme and broadcast online by host sites such as the one of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) until 19/8/2013.
· Late August 2013: A makeshift agency at the Ministry of Finance called “DT” (the acronym of Public Television in Greek) begins broadcasting on the frequencies of the former ERT channels. Some employees are hired (mainly from former ERT ones).
· 7/11/2013: Following a public prosecutor's order, riot police forces (MAT) raided the ERT building in Athens at night and evicted the remaining ERT employees who had stayed on for almost five months working for free.
· In the following days, ERT's main evening news bulletin, as well as some news programmes, were broadcast from the street outside of the ERT building. A few days later, ERT employees were moved to the ERT3 studio.
· All employees were dismissed and received dismissal payment.
· 30/1/2014: Inauguration of ERT Open facilities at POSPERT offices (the ERT Employee Union, except for journalists), across the street from the ERT building. Some of the former ERT employees continue to produce programme through ERT Open (without a salary).
4/5/2014–11/6/2015: The New Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (NERIT), the new public broadcaster of Greece, launches (incorporation and statutes were approved as of 26/7/2013). Its headquarters were at the former ERT building at Agia Paraskevi. There were three TV channels – NERIT 1, NERIT Plus and NERIT HD – and five radio stations. Its revenue came from a reimbursement fee and from advertising.
· 11/6/2015: all aspects of NERIT’s activity (radio, TV, internet) cease and are replaced by their ERT equivalents; ERT reopens after 2 years, again under the name ERT, and all its former employees who wished to return to their posts (within 5 days) were hired back.
Was there a report on how much it cost to shut down ERT and reopen it? (An investigation was announced by the government on 4/10/2017 regarding the cost of ERT’s 11 June 2013 shutdown.)
Why was ERT shut down and reopened just as it had been before?
Why and where did the evaluation and what the government had in mind to achieve by closing ERT fail?
What was right in all this process?
What have we/they learned from this process that was then applied to the "new" ERT after the shutdown to make it better?
What does the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) have to say about it all?
How does Greek Public Television operate today? There is talk of a bias, censorship, and news manipulation at ERT now as in the past. How is ERT's independence guaranteed?
How does ERT cover journalistic-interest events?
What was the position of ESIEA and other journalists’ unions about it?
ERT – My Personal Experience
I became an ERT contractor in autumn 2001 to work on the morning show and do broader research. I was not aware that you could be hired by ERT without being a permanent employee; I did not know anything about “contractors.” I was, of course, recommended by someone who knew my work (a journalist working on the news). As a journalist I worked at the morning news programme covering breaking news and live broadcasts (2002–2008), the daily culture show Simeio ART (2010–2013), and the radio, where I produced and presented a talk show on documentary (the first of its kind on Greek radio). I worked at ERT until 2013. In the meantime, I was appointed as Head of documentary acquisitions at ERT Digital (2008–2010) and became the ERT representative at ARTE in Strasbourg (where I attended the monthly programming meeting under ERT’s agreement for international co-productions with ARTE). When ERT was shut down, I was made redundant, and when it reopened I returned within the time frame stipulated (five days). I stayed for about one month, working in the protected environment of the Radio, exploring my options and thinking that something was bound to have changed. I resigned when I realised that, not only had nothing changed, but things were much worse than before, because the two years of shutdown had to be made good from one day to the next. TV staff was in a panic: Not only did they have to manage to produce the programme but they also had to prove that they were not lazy public officers hired back. I feel profound relief for resigning and have not regretted it once in the past three years. In retrospect with the necessary distance today, the situation when ERT reopened was identical with before, and unfortunately it continues to be so, in my opinion, to this day.
· Party-appointed persons, usually having no relevant experience or qualifications, in executive positions
· No interest in meritocracy and evaluation – excellence
· Focus only on news and bulletins that serve the government
· Introversion and obscurantism (e.g. the agreement for international co-productions with ARTE was, and still remains, neglected)
· Efforts for factory-type total control of staff (especially journalists), while certain people returned to ERT salaries yet failed to show up to work every day
· Poor-quality journalism
· Under-representation of arts & culture
· Even fewer islands of freedom and creativity
· Even more powerful POSPERT (administrative and technical unionists, other than journalists)
· An endless misery pervading the very building itself, reflecting the prevailing financial situation in Greece
· Scant personnel since those who returned sought to retire as soon as possible
· Low viewing (much lower than before shutdown)
ERT before the Shutdown
There was always a rumour that ET2 (one of ERT’s three channels, the arts & culture channel) would be shut down. It is not clear why exactly, but it was there. Perhaps it was due to the fact that it had poor ratings (less than 2%) and was the "cultural channel” – therefore served the interests of no administration. Personally I was shocked when the shutdown came, although I worked there and I, and everyone else, should have known better and been prepared). I found out a few hours later by fellow journalists, political editors at VIMA newspaper who I run into on the street after work, around 4 p.m. on 11 June 2013. They already knew; they had information to that effect, which was finally being confirmed. In the evening I went to ERT, like most others, where I stayed overnight so that the "bad guys" who were closing us down could not come and close us down for real. As long as the microphones were on, we had power. We were the public television – without any government intervention for the first time ever.
ERT after the Shutdown
On 11 June 2013, the Greek government, through a joint ministerial decree, announced that on midnight of the same day, the ERT broadcast signal would be cut off, which was effected using riot police at broadcasting antenna facilities. Ironically, the announcement was made on the 18.00 ERT news bulletin. The bubbles of our "open-ended" contracts, which "ensured" that we could never lose our jobs, burst. According to the statement made by the then government spokesman, after a brief (but unspecified) time period a new public broadcaster would be established, which would be up to date, completely independent, disengaged from the corruption and wastefulness of the past, whose staff would strictly be selected on merit and at much lower numbers than the "old" ERT, to number less than 1,000 persons. ERT was the first state-owned company to be shut down under the government's agreement with the Troika for shutting down state agencies and organizations, as well as for civil servant layoffs. Thus, 3 television channels of national coverage (one in Thessaloniki) plus 1 for the Greek diaspora, 7 radio stations, 19 regional stations, the archive/museum, 3 orchestras, and a television magazine (the latter had ceased publication a month earlier) went out of operation. Automatically this meant that some 2,656 ERT employees would be laid off and compensated. In spite of the theoretical (1) budget surplus ensured by the fee embedded in every electricity bill, paid by all, whether they had a TV set or not), the government spokesman described ERT as a "shelter of waste” that cost more and had less viewers than private media. (2)
Employees take an Active Role
ERT employees held a general assembly to determine their stance and issued this statement:
"ERT must be open: to society and its contradictions, issues, concerns, ideas, and actions. ERT must be open: to culture, the world, the various trends, pursuits, and dynamics. ERT must be open: to every citizen of the world in Europe, the Americas, Asia, Africa, Australia. Public Broadcasting has the power and the will to upkeep the public good of information, culture, and sport. It has the courage and determination to fight to stop ERT from being manipulated by any single-party or multi-party administration. We, its staff, are still alive and will prove equal to the circumstances. We will strive for an institutional framework for the operation of ERT, which will consolidate and safeguard the independence of public broadcasting, will finally cut off the umbilical cord with the government and every centre, visible or not, of political and clientelist interventions. ERT must be open – the property and true asset of all Greek citizens. Those who draft plans to shut down ERT can only serve other types of interests. They are dangerous. We, the journalists of the Hellenic Public Broadcasting Corporation, firmly state that we will keep ERT open by all means. We call on every citizen, from Gavdos to Evros, to prevent this nightmare. To prevent any attempt to mute the national Public Broadcaster. Let those who dream up nightmares remain in a fairy tale, or wake up before it's too late. We are awake. We are in a permanent General Assembly and we invite citizens, social and political actors, academics, literary and cultural figures to ERT building at Agia Paraskevi at 19.00. We won’t budge. ERT IS AND WILL REMAIN OPEN.
What Changed in the Employees' Attitude with the Shutdown
I single out from statements of the time:
“It […] will finally cut off the umbilical cord with the government and every centre, visible or not, of political and clientelist interventions.”
“It has the courage and determination to fight to stop ERT from being manipulated by any single-party or multi-party administration,” which say a lot about how what went on in ERT.
Something else that happened was that, in the panic of the shutdown, ERT’s potential awoke from its slumber of long years. "We are still alive" and other such melodramatic statements were made, which resonated with other parts of the population, which feared for its future (especially holders of indefinite contracts with other agencies of the sprawling Greek state administration). Yet, there were other voices saying, "They did well to shut it down, we paid for them, we paid for nothing, ERT's partying is over." Everyone was right, if we had to say who was.
The General Assembly of ERT Journalists: "The ERT employee assembly decided on Tuesday night that all employees would remain both in the Agia Paraskevi building and in the buildings of the regional stations; they called on Athenians for support, and announced open-air protest concerts in ERT’s headquarters. Partying and protesting at the same time, and as the medium broadcast the message, it reached all those who had their own reasons to protest. Using satellite services, some offices and other facilities not yet shut down, journalists continued to broadcast online via EBU (until 19/8/2013). However, it was a time of diversity and some wonderful things came out, produced democratically. This was the first time I have ever had an experience like this. And it lasted for a month for me. Almost a month, which I spent at ERT, producing and presenting shows about the issues I knew best – culture and documentary. Everyone had an incentive to demonstrate that ERT should remain open, and they along with it. It was a matter of principle, a reaction of pride. Yet, why did it have to get to that point before we reacted? Why didn’t anyone speak out earlier? Was this material evaluated?
From the very first moment of the announcement, there were strong reactions from the entire political world, which seized the opportunity to make statements. Already on Tuesday 11/6/2013, at 19.45, SYRIZA President Alexis Tsipras (who eventually reopened ERT as it was before, when he became prime minister, in 2015) visited ERT and stated: “In the old days there were royal decrees – today there are legislative acts. This is the 19th in a row. This is a coup, directed not only against workers but also against the Greek people as a whole. They lie to the Greek people, saying that they seek to eliminate wastefulness; they lie because ERT gives to the budget, it does not receives from it. I warn the government not to try to cut out the signal. If it does, it will be accountable to justice. Public service broadcasting is a matter of democracy. It is the Troika that must be shut down." (3)
Ιn the years when I was working at ERT (2001–2013), often there was watercooler talk to the effect that the only way to rid ERT of idlers, trade unionists, party-appointed worthless employees (which were only too many) and salaried people who never showed up for work (some 80–100 persons, two of whom I personally knew) was to shut it down after having evaluated everyone and reopen it the next day after doing what needed to be done. In other words, to get rid of the "useless” ones, make the best of the untapped potential, and, with a new organisational structure drafted in advance without compromise, to build a new, streamlined public television. It was also a common secret that ERT was basically "run" by contractors, not permanent employees. There were contractors in all specialties – technicians (the so-called “outsourced crews"), administrators, and journalists. Even trainers (there was a gym, of course, at ERT) and gardeners.
Permanent and Semi-permanent Staff
The “permanent” staff was a nightmare to work with for the 12 years I had to work with them. Simply because most of them worked as if they were making a personal favour to you. “Don’t worry, be happy" was the technicians’ motto whenever they were asked to actually do their work. The unprecedented loafing of some people who were just wandering around aimlessly at work was hard to put to words, and of course if you were willing to go the extra mile at work you were accused of “unfair competition." To be able merely to get your job done required careful social engineering; to manage to work with colleagues of this kind you had to have a world of patience with technicians, or if it were your lucky day you might get someone who shared your willingness to work during your shift. How much energy wasted! On my very first shooting, the sound engineer told me, "I wanted to get a job at Olympic Airways, but my guy only had connections at ERT, so here I am." This mechanism was so firmly established that it could crush you if you did not play along. As long as I could, I always sought islands of safety.
My own contract was as a journalist, also as a contractor initially and then an "indefinite" contract based on a 2005 Law that converted all outsourcing project contracts at the time to indefinite status for those who had three successive such contracts within a certain period of time. This Law made permanent ERT’s last 1200 contractors. More than half of those did not even have a university degree. Yet, the Journalists’ Union (ESIEA) didn’t say anything about those 600 journalists without a degree who were hired under an indefinite-time contract. As a journalist I had the right to work on the side, with a side work permit, or to claim an "exclusive" contract with ERT (in addition to the indefinite-time contract), through which I could have another salary, a much higher one (of course). I got such a contract (a 6-month agreement for 2,500 Euros before tax, instead of 1,800 Euros) when I was appointed as Head of documentary acquisition at ERT Digital (a post which did not even exist in the organisational chart).
What Was Happening at ERT?
The issue of “permanent status" was inhibiting all areas of work and productivity. The ERT salary served as a basis for working on the side, and therefore work for ERT had to be done expending the minimum amount of energy. Journalists’ self-promotion and privileges were a motivation for work (and claiming more privileges – exclusive contracts, for instance) but to the extent that the management allowed you to do your work. There was the "fridge". If you were not liked by the management, or did not suit it politically, they did not drive you away (because it couldn’t), but it set you aside for some time – on the shortwave radio for example. I spent time "in the fridge," when the administration decided to shut down ERT Digital television overnight.
The Golden-Boys Era
In mid-2000, the most successful show, for example, was Lyritzis and Economou, where I worked for 7 years covering breaking news and live interviews. Lyritzis and Economou, who had radio experience, where they had a very successful political show, did not have an indefinite-time contract, but a contract in the order of 350,000 Εuros per year each, for ERT’s daily morning news zone (6.00-10.00).
Of course, journalists, as I said, enjoyed a better status and more freedom (or at least an illusion of freedom) than the administration. Good shows were untouchable, the news bulletin was the flagship of the news department, sports always came above shows and news (very often the TV and radio programme was shifted around for their sake). The only opportunities to do other things, perhaps more creative and worthwhile, from 2001 on, when I was at ERT, were for example culture and radio.
ERT Digital – A New ERT (which did not last long) within the Old One
From time to time, certain exasperated efforts to get over the status quo of ERT’s operation were made. One of these was ERT Digital, where I worked in 2008–2010. ERT Digital operated like a separate ERT, without an organisational chart of its own, yet with a distinct status and budget, with the tolerance of “mother" ERT, as we fondly called it, because it was under the protection and management of one of the three ERT chairman’s advisors, and enjoyed flexibility and freedom. ERT Digital was the first attempt to re-invent ERT while it was in operation. In other words, a concurrent ERT, which seemed to be intended to replace mother ERT eventually. Employees were contracted from the private sector; there was a news channel, a channel for people with disabilities, an art & culture channel, and a sport channel. The most privileged ERT employees and some who were qualified, such as myself (not that I was privileged – I was simply being lucky), were transferred from mother ERT to staff ERT Digital. This was in 2007–2010.
It was an experiment: for instance, a 24-hour arts and culture programme was built, having ARTE as a model – Cine + – on a budget of 1 million Euros. Perhaps that is precisely why it was shut down. Perhaps so that it was not competitive to pay-TV channels. Or so as not to compete with mother ERT, which always saw ERT Digital with suspicion (and rightly so, as the latter was more "independent" and did not operate under the mother ERT's hierarchy, obviously). A few years later, three to be exact, ERT would be shut down completely for two years under a right-wing government and another prime minister.
Greeks and ERT
The government shut down ERT without imagining the impact. The people, however, always turned to ERT for reliable information on all big events, when the channel showed its best self. I remember the tsunami in India, 9/11, elections, extreme weather – the people always switched on ERT for information on such events. So, the shutdown, which became known as “the black screen” did not go down well with the people. And people “rebelled," demonstrating outside ERT and blocking the road for days on end. I do not know if this reflected the majority, but they were determined and certainly had nothing to lose. Yet, this was the same ERT that we all claimed back – the one that in 2012 censored a kiss between a gentleman and a male servant in the first episode of Downton Abbey – and after the uproar decided to broadcast, a few days later, the episode, with the scene in question, after midnight.
I believe that the pressure of the people, the Greek sentimentality, and the, albeit brief, explosive reaction, helped to put on pressure for a solution. (Yet, was there finally a solution?) Even the timing helped, being in June and hence summertime, and good weather facilitated concerts, demonstrations, endless debates and protests in front of ERT’s main building, in which hundreds of thousands of people participated passionately. From day one, you would be forgiven to believe that it was a fair, with dozens of illicit (naturally) street vendors roasting souvlaki and corn, the smoke covering up the dozens of banners and slogans from various trade unions from all over the country that hung across the front on the fence. They had ruffled the Greeks’ feathers by closing “the people’s ERT". The same ERT, which others blamed for “a program that sucked, government-manipulated news," saying that "we're paying for loafers, lazy buggers who enjoy a permanent job while people all around are being fired and face the crisis." Do not forget this was 2013. Emotionally reacting, Greeks responded to the cuts they suffered, to the pressure they were under, due to the insecurity caused by the financial crisis and a future that looked bleak. ERT (its employees) had a moment of awakening and began to give and to demand, to open up to its audience, to whom it had turned its back until then. The symphony orchestras went out to the courtyard and gave free concerts for the people every day. The archives were put to good use, for once, as a way to fill in the gap in the programme. There was contact, a common ground, dialogue, great programming – everyone gave their best, and a large part of the people responded. Public television was a public good: Everyone could claim it, and finally did.
This was also a time of public consultations using democratic procedures, and debates on democracy, on “what kind of public television do we want,” moderated by journalists. We all volunteered to offer what we knew how to do best, and the broadcasts, structured in zones to which everyone had the opportunity to contribute, were on 24 hours a day. Films were provided free of charge, royalty-free – everyone gave what they could. I think this was a phenomenon that called for a psychological analysis. I stayed on for about a month. Then I began to think about what I was going to do with my career. Others went on at ERT Open, going without a salary for two years, until ERT reopened and they all returned to their posts or were promoted to a "coordinator" position.
But back then nothing had happened – under the pressure of this unexpected people’s reaction for ERT, the government had to do something. Constitution of the Hellenic Republic, Article 15: (Cinema, Recording, Radio, Television)
1. The press protection provisions of the previous article do not apply to cinema, recording, radio, television, and any other similar means of transmitting audio or video. 2. Radio and television are under the direct control of the State. Control and enforcement of administrative sanctions fall within the exclusive competence of the National Council of Radio and Television, which is an independent authority as defined by law. Direct control by the State, which also takes the form of the status of the previous license, aims at the objective and equitable broadcast of information and news, as well as of the products of literature and art, ensuring the quality of the programmes imposed by the the social mission of radio and television, and the cultural development of the country, as well as the respect for human value and the protection of childhood and youth. The compulsory and free broadcast of parliamentary proceedings, as well as of election messages by the political parties by broadcasting media is provided by law.
The two State Council decisions following ERT’s shutdown said, in free translation: "You were wrong to shut it down – there must be a public television." A Ministry of Finance agency was promptly set up, named Public Television (DT), and began broadcasting makeshift programme in late August 2013. Certain employees were in fact hired (by a process that is not clear to me). I was asked by phone to "go and give a hand," which I did not do. I remember the phone call was promising a lot; it was on a weekend on my cellphone, while I was at Galaxidi (in Delphi Municipality) just before or after the 15 August holiday. At the same time, the tribute I was working on as a journalist and presenter at ARTE – a 24-hour tribute to Greece without bias and beyond the headlines – aired.
Public Television (DT) (initially called Hellenic Public Television, or EDT) was the transitional public broadcaster, which broadcast a television programme between ERT’s shutdown and the launch of NERIT. The legal entity running DT was the Special Asset and Liabilities Manager of the former ERT S.A.," under the Ministry of Finance. DT broadcast on the frequencies of the former ERT channels. From the late January 2014, DT’s management had passed to the Board of Directors of NERIT until the new broadcaster went into operation, while DT staff was rented out to NERIT.
The law provided for a Board of Directors and a Supervisory Board, and, in early May, NERIT began to broadcast a program that was largely makeshift and full of repetitions. The intention was to hire another 650 people by October. The ratings were sad. It was already one and a half years since ERT’s shutdown, and now there were two television stations (essentially only one in operation) and three radio stations – the First Programme, the Third Programme (external production), and Kosmos FM, airing a play list, which was also intended to be outsourced. NERIT also had a symphony orchestra and the museum/archive. There were some 900 employees (850 were hired by DT to continue until their contracts expired at the end of 2015 and 40 by NERIT).
What was happening in the administration? NERIT executives, including the CEO of the Board of Directors and his deputy, resigned, denouncing direct government intervention in their work. (4) Members of the Supervisory Board followed suit, complaining of government manipulation. (5) At the same time, the Single-Member First-Instance Court of Athens annulled the redundancies of former ERT employees, and reports of illegalities and fake certificates in the NERIT recruitment procedure were published. In 2014, a total of €190 million was collected from the contributory fee in electricity bills, of which 91% was allocated to NERIT (the remaining went towards Greece's debt). The total revenue was €194.2, but due to the compulsory retention of revenue, NERIT recorded a loss of €3.8 million.
The NERIT project was left incomplete, and ERT reopened “just as it had been," again hiring all former employees. Chatting with former colleagues three years later, in 2018, they all unanimously said, “You’re so lucky you left," and, “Things have never been worse."
(1) Why should ERT's budget (which covered wages and content) equal the contributory fee? And be determined by it?
(2) A partially correct observation for points 2 and 3.
(3) Does ERT actually give back to the budget? It receives the compulsory contributory fee included in all electricity bills and gives it to the budget. So it is not ERT that gives – it’s the Greeks who give (again).
(4) What was previously permitted could not continue now. The question arises, “Since they did not want to intervene, and that was one of the reasons why they shut down ERT, why did they continue to intervene in the new ERT?"
(5) Pantelis Kapsis, who was in charge of the transition from the shutdown ERT to the new broadcaster, stated in his capacity as press secretary responsible for public television:
"I was tasked with building the new broadcaster, but there was a decision by the Council of State to the effect that a programme had to be restored immediately. Since the two new entities – the Supervisory Board and the Board of Directors – were established, I did not have any competence over them, only political oversight,” noted Kapsis, who went on to say, "In the struggle to set up NERIT, my role was auxiliary. And it was a big struggle, an unprecedented effort, to establish a public utility from the beginning. Now I realise that you cannot make a public utility under such stifling political, social, and time pressures. It’s practically impossible. I don’t feel I could have done something different. Perhaps in terms of the persons involved, it can be said that we did not achieve the best chemistry for this endeavour. Yet, I feel that when two centres of authority are put into place, this creates the conditions for friction." A recent amendment to the NERIT Act passed by the Second Summer Parliament House, provides that one of these two "power centres", the Supervisory Board, will be designated by the respective government. There were many reactions. "The NERIT Act in fact required time-consuming procedures, but the solution is not restoring government control. The Supervisory Board can and should be appointed by a more representative body, not by the House majority,” remarked Pantelis Kapsis. (Kathimerini newspaper, Giouli Eptakoili, "NERIT: Neither Public Nor Television,” Tileorasi, 28.09.2014)
The literary author Christos Chomenidis (who then resigned from NERIT’s Supervisory Board, in which he participated gratuitously) remarked: "The only way to avoid being criticised is to do nothing. I accepted the post because I considered it as an opportunity. I have an outlook on things that unfortunately is being refuted by reality. If this government cohabitation was sincerely aimed at reforming, it would have changed the rules of the game in Greece. It would also sooner or later force the opposition to enter into a game of substance. Yet, no one seems to be willing to make any reforms. We live in a pretext, rather than reality. And an apt case in point is public radio and television broadcasting." To the Chairman, Supervisory Board, NERIT, Professor Theodoros Fortsakis, Athens, 15 September 2014
Christos Chomenidis’s resignation followed the resignations of the CEO, Antonis Makrydimitris, and the deputy CEO, Rodolfos Moronis, last week.
Welcome to the fifth edition of KinderDocs – the documentary festival of award-winning films made for children and teenagers,as well as their friends, teachers, and parents, running all year long in Greece and Cyprus. Discover the magic of documentaries, explore new ways of communication, get inspired by stories we all care about, have fun. Each film is a story on teenage life – friendship, family, education, social media, creativity, art, music, dance, psychology, migration, environment – an opportunity to enter the colourful world of kids and teenagers, a platform for constructive dialogue and after-screening events, building tomorrow’s thinking viewers today. Founded in 2016, KinderDocs premieres for the fifth season, in collaboration with the Benaki Museum (Athens) and the MOMus Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art (Thessaloniki), supported by the biggest documentary festivals in Europe – IDFA (The Netherlands) and DOCX! (Germany). Since November 2018, KinderDocs Greece collaborates with Festival dei Popoli in Florence, Italy (est. 1959).
For Schools KinderDocs documentaries are a great educational tool and source of inspiration for modern educators looking for ideas for their lesson plans and ways to train students in media literacy. In specially designed events for schools, each screening is supplemented by lm-inspired discussions and activities, featuring select guest speakers. All lms have age recommendations (elementary-school children aged 10+ up to lykeion students – see individual lms); they can be integrated into classwork to inform and encourage dialogue as a means to improve bonding in class. Supplementary teaching material a hole method developed by our team for the whole program and each and every film, the KinderDocs Toolkit, helps to prepare students before the screening and provides guidance in the classroom during the follow-up exploration of the KinderDocs experience. Starting February 2018, a special preschool children programme (ages 4–7) was launched at MOMus (Thessaloniki); also, KinderDocs Art Lab, a workshop for children aged 9–12 Check out all the online programme www.kinderdocs.com
Immediately after the liberation of Greece in 1945-46, my grandfather Mitsos (Mastorikos) gathered a group of friends at his pharmacy on Bouboulinas Street in Piraeus and together they re-founded the Association of Galaxidians (Galaxidi, Delphi Municipality). This group comprised Takis Angelis, the Admiral, Dionysis Katsanakis, the Hellenic Navy pharmacist, and Jannis Skaftouros, who had the coffee shop in the narrow street immediately behind and parallel to Akti Miaouli, the main quayside thoroughfare of Piraeus. Mastorikos was also fortunate to have on board Costas Avgeris, a prominent journalist, along with two or three others (does anyone remember them?), and there, at 9 Bouboulinas Street, they decided to recommence publication of To Galaxidi newspaper as an integral part of the association. They would get together almost every afternoon at the pharmacy, which was a popular meeting place for Galaxidians. In time, others joined the cause: Giorgos Kontorigas, Giorgos Mitropoulos, Giannis Mitropoulos, Giannis Gerosideris, Manos Hatzis, Andreas Perdikis, Giorgos Makris and several others who someone may remember.
At the Delphi Economic Forum held in spring earlier this year ("To Galaxidi", issue no. 740, March 2018), one of the subjects discussed was almost fake news as the symptom of a press facing problems. In this time of information overload, one can easily make the mistake of underestimating the value of a local newspaper. The truth is, however, that the role of local newspapers is now more important than ever. On the one hand, they create space for the publication of local news of which there is a lack, while on the other, these local news items – precisely because they are about a small place where everyone knows everyone and with which everyone is familiar – are less likely to be fake, or almost fake. Sadly, though, our local newspaper has already fallen victim to the phenomenon.
It was suggested at the forum that news, like food, should carry a label, so that we know what it contains and where it comes from. A survey by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford and similar research by Stanford University in California show that when asked if they knew the source of the news they were reading, e.g. Facebook, the majority of respondents answered in the negative.
There is currently much discussion about self-regulation and the role of the state in matters pertaining to the threats and challenges facing the "traditional media", which are in danger of disappearing, given that 80% of online advertising in Europe goes to Google and Facebook. And at Delphi we heard from Margaritis Schinas, Chief Spokesperson for the European Commission, that Europe feels alone in its battle against fake news. "We have no help or encouragement from civil society, no support from the media, not even from the Erasmus generation," he said.
The Commission spokesperson went on to say that the various platforms were partly responsible, since they cannot be compared to the postman who did not know the content of the letter he was delivering. Schinas noted that 75% of inappropriate content is already being removed. But the question is: what happens with the remaining 25%? And at a time when Facebook receives 500,000 posts per minute, is effective editorial control over content even possible?
Another topic for discussion at this year's Delphi Economic Forum was the future of journalism, with the participation of guest speakers from all over the world. According to one speaker, an interesting phenomenon has been observed in Greece since the beginning of the ongoing economic crisis. Because of the inability of the middle class to express itself (and be heard) through the traditional media, a new type of information propagation appeared, namely through social media. In 2017, Greeks lay second from bottom worldwide in the confidence they have in the standard mass media (akin to their lack of confidence in public transport, higher education institutions, the national health system and the pension system). So it would be of particular interest if one were to carry out a study focusing on social media posts in Greece since 2009/2010. What first happened in Greece, we are now seeing in the UK with Brexit, in the USA with Donald Trump, and so on, according to Alexis Papahelas, Executive Editor of Kathimerini newspaper. Societies that close their doors and isolate themselves, yet at the same time interconnect, provide fertile ground for misinformation to flourish. And we understand what this means when authoritarian regimes are 'flourishing' in so many countries. To ensure that news continues to be produced, we must learn to pay for it, according to Achilles Tsaltas, Vice-President of International Conferences at The New York Times. For the digital version of his newspaper, readers pay one euro per day, just as they pay 3 euros for a coffee. Because real journalism, which should be the backbone of any democracy, has a cost.
Meanwhile, media literacy – with respect to both analogue and digital technologies – is more necessary than ever, and it can begin with local newspapers. Perhaps a visit to the Delphi Forum (held annually in early March) would be of interest to some local teachers; and it could provide a good source of topics for the composition class. It could also 'feed' our local newspaper, which is an ideal platform for transparency, a space for accurate news that is worth learning so that we can discuss it and come up with solutions. After all, this was the vision of its founders, my grandfather and yours.
Recommended reading: Free Speech by Timothy Garton Ash
Photo caption: Mitsa Palaiologou in a dance move, next to Mastorikos (wearing glasses). (From the photographic archive of Maria Mastorikou-Kouzi)
Article first published in TO GALAXIDI newspaper, July 2018 issue.
Dimitra Kouzi: The idea is to open the discussion about audience development, impact producing, and outreach using journalistic skills to create audiences, to reach audiences, to talk to audiences. What do broadcasters do in that direction?
I thought that talking with somebody with your great experience as a commissioning editor and as a journalist, working at the same time in a channel like SVT would be fantastic in order to share some insights on how broadcasters have the power and mechanism to support documentaries to reach a bigger audience. Or do they?
Axel Arnö: So that's quite a new thing; there is a new profession going: impact producers. And I was at Good Pitch in Copenhagen, where it's all about how to create impact.
Dimitra Kouzi: What would your spontaneous reaction be, if I asked you how you understand the phrase ‘audience development’? What is the audience for you? Who is the audience?
Axel Arnö: I think all filmmakers must have some idea of whom they are speaking to. Sometimes filmmakers are so immersed in their own story that they are not really talking to the receiver. Their focus is to be true to their artistic beliefs. I totally respect that, but we must also be aware of the fact that there is somebody at the other end. It's very important to visualise that someone is receiving, which is something I very often say to filmmakers. You need to understand that even if you think that this film communicates really well, if an audience sits there in the dark and doesn't understand what's happening in the film, if you lose that audience because you are making decisions so as to make the film more visually appealing to you, then I think you are on the wrong path. I think you always have to think about who is going to receive your film, and what you want to say with that.
We often have discussions about impact as well, of course – how to present the film in the best way. Impact for us publishers is probably the best we can do to release it at the right time to give the film as much attention as possible. In terms of long-term impact, we can help with exposure, but we don't do impact campaigns. I think our role as commissioning editors is to work together with the filmmaker to make the film as powerful as possible, as understandable as possible, as true to fact as possible in order for it to become a tool for change – which is what many filmmakers want. We are in this business to change the world, so we want to have change, we want to make a difference. I'm really sad when a film I've been working on has low ratings, or nothing happens – nothing in the papers, no reviews – it just feels like a waste of time. We now think even more, together with the filmmakers, how to prolong a film’s life.
Dimitra Kouzi: How do you do that as a channel?
Axel Arnö: Here in the documentary department, we call ourselves ‘web-first’. Ratings are not as important. We need to be out there on the platform where the audiences are. The problem for us is that we have an audience that is quite big in broadcast, but on the web, it's significant smaller. Because we have multinational competitors. SVT has a market share of around 35% in broadcast, and we have been very stable; we are still the biggest broadcaster. And on the internet, we have around 12% market share, and we are number 4 after YouTube, Facebook, and Netflix. With Facebook, it's because they have this autoplay, when you scroll through the Facebook stream, they count the streams even if they are quiet, which is not really fair.
Dimitra Kouzi: Are you competing with YouTube, Facebook, and Netflix?
Axel Arnö: YouTube has a completely different audience. But it's an audience that we want, too. It's really difficult to compete with YouTube. And Netflix, of course, they have a lot of money now. So, we will probably struggle to keep at the top. As a public service broadcaster, we need to be everywhere – your mother, my mother, us, our kids, which is a challenge. Those are very different audiences, and one particular film might have more of one kind of audience than another.
Dimitra Kouzi: In current affairs, you probably have more men and older men, don’t you?
Axel Arnö: That is probably true. All traditional current affairs will be viewed by an older audience. They are used to talking heads and a voice of God that tells you how it is. Which is not the way young audiences understand the world. But I have to defend solid journalism with real facts. So, I think it is a good thing that we do what we do. And I strongly protest against anyone who says that objective journalism is dead. We strive to be correct, fair and impartial. It is really our mission to be true – otherwise we will be dead very soon.
A creative documentary can of course be more subjective. Then, you have to be transparent about how subjective you are and what you are doing. You cannot lie.
Dimitra Kouzi: I agree that objective journalism is certainly not dead, and strong and good journalism continues to be a public broadcaster’s strong card. You often see this tendency to train people who are reporters, cameramen, sound recordists on the spot, like kamikazes who cover the news where it is happening, in order to cut expenses. This is an interesting situation happening everywhere: to use citizens to replace journalists or reporters. How do you as a public broadcaster use these other media which are available? I mean the radio and all the others in order to report, share, and promote the content you create?
Axel Arnö: We are special cases. In Sweden, public TV broadcasting and radio broadcasting separated in the 1970s. I think the reason was that they didn't want television to ‘eat’ everything, because we have so many expenses and we are so much bigger than the radio. But there is now a fear to break this freedom about our presence online. National-newspaper editors think they should go back to broadcast television. But then we are answering that this is just stupid and wish that we were all online. Nobody will tell newspapers to go back and be printed on paper only. So, we all are going to be in the same arena. But I think, thank God we have public television, because we still have money to do real investigative journalism, and soon enough we will be the only ones to have the power to do that.
Dimitra Kouzi: How much is the budget you have?
Axel Arnö: I have a pretty flexible budget so that I can buy, pre-buy, and co-produce films. And sometimes I make a full commission, depending on the subject. Often, I find new projects through the EBU Documentary group, or through my own network. I also try to push my colleagues when I see that we should do more about a specific issue, like you probably heard about Why Slavery? That came from a couple of broadcasters, and it's now going to be six programs about modern slavery. So far, more than 30 partners have committed to broadcasting during the same week.
Dimitra Kouzi: When is the premiere?
Axel Arnö: Right now, the launch is expected in October 2018. I think in terms of impact this is really something we as public-service broadcasters can deliver. By pooling our resources and broadcasting simultaneously, we hope to create a big world-wide discussion about modern slavery.
I can use my network to initiate new projects or to talk about what we should do as public-service broadcasters. We can make a huge difference!
For example, we did a film called India's Daughter, and that film was phenomenal, because it was broadcast in one week, I think in 20 countries, and it exploded all over the world – mainly because India decided to ban it, and that made headlines everywhere. It was a very good film, and luckily we could make a coordinated effort so everybody aired at the same time, and it was a huge success.
We also collaborate to find the best new films, whether already in the market or upcoming. And, of course I go to all these financing forums, I go everywhere. But that's because I want to find the best material.
Dimitra Kouzi: You also act as a producer. What is the target you want to reach? You said that you have to be everywhere – that's a big task.
Axel Arnö: Yes, it is. But the headline of your talk will be ‘creating audiences,’ or do you mean ‘finding audiences’? I think you have to be true to your own personal beliefs. I'm not going out there chasing young audiences; I think young people will come when we do a big thing. I see in festivals, as well, there is a much younger audience, and they like these investigative films. In a documentary film, an investigation can be presented in so many ways. You can do a personal film like in Gasland, or an investigative piece like Inside Job. Icarus is also a very investigative film, but very personal. It can be both: investigative and personal.
Dimitra Kouzi: There’s a gap. On the one hand, television is trying to reach young audiences. On the other, these people do not watch TV. They also don’t go to the cinema. Some of them go fanatically to festivals, and then after the festivals the films are ‘lost’ again.
Axel Arnö: In terms of views, I think it's much more. All the films here that go on cinema have very low ticket sales. But again: exposure. Sometimes we agree to a holdback, because it's better for the momentum, so you can go touring with the film, you can get headlines in all the local newspapers. But sometimes I don't want to wait for a theatrical window, or an Oscar run. If you really want to have impact, I think it might be good with a short festival run; then, it should go to television, because people will want to see the film.
Dimitra Kouzi: There’s a recipe: do a film festival run and then go to television.
Axel Arnö: I want the message to lead the audience, and we still have the mass audience. My first slot, which is 52 minutes, I'm trying to experiment a little both in terms of subjects and in terms of storytelling. It's gaining recognition and viewership, and this is after 35 years. But it's not only the old people – there is a generation that is finding out these things. I think we can do a lot more when it comes to finding the audience. We have to work a lot in the future to have contact with the audience.
Dimitra Kouzi: But how? How would you go about it if you had freedom to do it now?
Axel Arnö: I have freedom; I don't have time. I would probably go somewhere in rural Sweden. It's a big country, with many areas where we never really go and talk to people about their needs and what they want. I think we should do that. I don't know exactly how to do it, you know, how to have a dialog with the audience. Sometimes I'm not the best one; filmmakers might have a better recipe for finding their audiences. Because if you know who you are speaking to, if you know where you are coming from, it’s always good. But we also have different objectives sometimes, filmmakers and television. We are public; we need to reach the whole population and make sure that we can offer something for each and every one, and we should be everywhere in the nation.
Dimitra Kouzi: But what about rural Sweden? What is going on there?
Axel Arnö: I think, because there is a notion that we have the same development as in most European countries and the United States, that there is a growing disbelief about mainstream media, and that's bad for democracy. We should go out there and listen. And American media doesn't listen, and the way the media in Germany or the Netherlands do it is maybe too little. We have to be aware of what's going on.
Dimitra Kouzi: Offering programmes after listening to what the people say.
Axel Arnö: Perhaps yes, but we are the public broadcaster. We can't have groups of people that don't find the public broadcast interesting or that don’t take part in what we do. We need to be there for them as well, and there I think we’ve failed and we should be better. We have to try hard to find them.
Many people are not aware of what we are doing. When I tell some people what we offer, they find it fantastic. They just didn’t know. We need to be in people's agendas somehow.
Dimitra Kouzi: What is your personal listening and viewing habits? I know that you are a broadcast fan of these crime series. Or is it over?
Axel Arnö: You mean True Crime? I'm a bit tired of it. How much true crime can we have?
Dimitra Kouzi: I would like to hear you as audience, what are your personal viewing and listening habits?
Axel Arnö: Oh, I watch so much! But I mainly watch rough cuts, so I'm pretty damaged. Yet, I like to watch well-made series. O.J. Simpson: Made in America is very good; I like The Promise. That is a crime story, about a murder case in the U.S. I watch other series and documentaries, as well. In my spare time, I can watch Homeland or an arts and culture doc. I'm very curious, so if it's a good drama I will watch it. But I'm a journalism junkie, so if there is an investigative story with a personal touch, that will be my favourite. I saw a couple of great films at Sundance, such as Icarus; unfortunately, Netflix picked up many of them. It’s really hard for us to compete on American films. Of course, if a cool film premieres at Sundance with all rights available, Netflix will take it. I think they spent 20 million dollars on documentaries this year. Crazy.
Dimitra Kouzi: Is that good for the documentary industry?
Axel Arnö: Well, it's more money into the business. We as public broadcasters have to adapt by making more and better things ourselves. So, I had a discussion yesterday that we need to commit a bit earlier, work closer with the filmmakers that we like, and secure our territories. It's going to be a rights war for VOD rights. Because everybody wants sort of the same thing now.
Dimitra Kouzi: I wanted to ask you about VOD programmes.
Axel Arnö: Yes, we have to be as attractive as anyone. We have so much on our VOD platform. And it's free.
Dimitra Kouzi: I was talking to Simon Kilmurry about his job at POV, and he was telling me, of course they have a different structure there, that every time they launch a film they sit down together with the marketing and the communication departments and make a strategy for that. People don't know – that's the problem. Because we are the public broadcaster, we think that people know about it, but people don't.
Axel Arnö: I can give you one example of where we made a difference and how we treat the audience. We had a film called Cries from Syria, which is an HBO film by Evgeny Afineevsky. He was Oscar-nominated with his previous one, Winter on Fire. So, he made this film. It's about the victims in Syria. It's long, it's extremely graphic, and it's devastating to watch. You are filled with rage, sorrow, and despair. It’s an important film but very hard to watch. So, we made a special introduction where one of our news anchors interviewed Evgeny; then, there was the film, where we warned right before the most graphic images, and after the film, after almost two hours, we went to a studio discussion on Syria. This is how we can create an atmosphere around a film. Because the audience has many needs. And just because we did these things, I think the film landed very well. Had we not done anything, we might have had the audience against us. It got a lot of love, and it's spreading now. But it was a long discussion.
Dimitra Kouzi: I think that this is what all the event-based screenings in cinemas also do. That's why they are successful, they engage the audience to react. And these theme evenings are really something special, and should be on television, too.
Axel Arnö: How to create an audience is also marketing. If you have done a journalistic job, you need to use all your tools to make as many people as possible to watch it. We have our own trailers, of course, we have our audience, we have also sometimes used social media to promote what we do; we make small excerpts of the film, hoping they go viral. We have a newsletter with around 60,000 subscribers, in which every Sunday morning they get links to all the upcoming films and can watch them.
Dimitra Kouzi: On the VOD platform?
Axel Arnö: Yes. We try to engage with the audience as much as we can, and we can always be better. It's about the audience finding us, and us finding the audience. We also have focus groups. We have all the tools of a public broadcaster.
Dimitra Kouzi: You have focus groups and working groups? So, you talk with representatives from the audience?
Axel Arnö: My department does it all the time. And we have other tools, for example an audience group that have agreed to be interviewed by us, and that can be segmented according to education, age, everything. So, you can have a slice of that group and post questions to them, engage with them, and find out whether something works, if they understand it, if there something that would interest them. We use it more and more.
Dimitra Kouzi: Is this new?
Axel Arnö: That's new. We have done it in different ways before, such as focus groups, more irregularly; but now the tools are getting better.
Dimitra Kouzi: This is great. Do you know if other EBU members use that?
Axel Arnö: I would definitely think so.
Dimitra Kouzi: But you are very innovative, so I don't know if other countries from Eastern and Southern Europe do it.
Axel Arnö: I don't know. I get the impression that the broadcast world is getting a bit divided. Some of us are still going mostly for ratings. Ratings are still very important but will become less and less important. When we exchange statistics from the web, it seems that it's a big difference. So, it’s a beginning: We don't really know much about the web audience; we should know more about them.
Dimitra Kouzi: Can you elaborate a bit on exchanging internet clicks?
Axel Arnö: It's just the way we see the shift from broadcast to the web. People stop watching linear television, that group is getting bigger by the week, they cut out television from their habits. And then everything will be by choice – you will not just adapt to the programme because you are watching TV. You have to actively choose. So, what do you choose? And then, in that universe, we don't only have all the channels available in Sweden, but we also have all the VOD giants. So, it's completely different. And we don't know as much as we know about our television audience, because the television measuring system is very easy to work with, and then we know pretty much everything about these families. On the internet, how can you get the same depth of information for people sitting in front of a computer? We don't. Not yet. But I am told that new measuring tools are coming soon.
Dimitra Kouzi: I think this trend is something all EBU members together should explore. It's huge and it's there. You hear it all the time: ‘I don't watch television.’
Axel Arnö: Indeed. You can talk to the media director. Or the TV director. They will, now, because they do services, they develop tools, and they can speak more about how divided Europe is in terms of how people are watching TV.
Dimitra Kouzi: Do you think that these changes will also apply to documentary viewers?
Axel Arnö: Documentaries are at the forefront. Most people who watch documentaries will watch them online. Most people my age and downwards watch films on computers, on phones, or on the iPad, not on television.
Dimitra Kouzi: Then it makes sense that there are television broadcasters that screen documentaries at midnight, because nobody would watch them anyway.
Do you have any statistics for that from VOD, when do people watch documentaries?
Axel Arnö: No, I don't. But we should find out.
Dimitra Kouzi: Because the slots are very specific, and when you see the numbers, when people see documentaries, this could bring about change.
Last but not least, could you tell me what documentary slots or whatever the documentaries at SVT are? You have the current affairs, you have feature length etc. Just briefly tell me what is being broadcast as documentaries.
Axel Arnö: We have many slots. Weekly, we have a lot of prime-time slots. But let's go through the week: First of all, we publish every Sunday for the coming week. Then, on that Sunday night is the first slot, a 60-minute slot at 10 o'clock. And that is about 35-40 programmes per year, comprising the best journalistic documentaries that I can find. It's topical: films about war in Syria, about U.S. elections, French elections. My ideal is that by watching these programmes you will understand what's happening in the world. Whereas the news is only fragments, this will be the whole picture. And then, I have a feature-length slot, like a year-round film festival, where I try to find the most talked about, the best new awarded films made in the world. I try to be part of them. And that's also about 35mm films. Then we have the domestic documentaries, films about Sweden. And that's a weekly 60-minute prime-time slot, Thursdays at 8 o'clock.
Dimitra Kouzi: When is the feature documentary film festival?
Axel Arnö: It's at 22.00 on Tuesdays. They are pretty strong on the web. People find them. I try to find documentaries that are oriented to the festival crowd. But in a really cinematic festival, like Nyon, a film will probably have a slow, poetic narrative, because that's what you do in cinema films. On TV or the web, the landscape is the opposite, you need to have a really strong narrative. In the cinema, films should have a good ending. In the TV or web landscape, you won’t survive without a strong start. Unless a film has had a prior life on cinema and people have a previous knowledge about it. But if you haven't seen or heard about a film, I think the start is everything. That's a message to filmmakers. Everything is about the audience. You have to hook them, and then tell them your story.
Dimitra Kouzi: At pitching, nobody asks how a film begins; everybody wants to know the end.
Axel Arnö: That's just to create an image in your head about what this person is trying to achieve. I think audiences nowadays are so spoiled with really strong storytelling that it also creates new demands for super-strong, skilful storytelling docs. There are now experiments, hiring feature script writers for writing the script for a doc, even if it is in production. Because you will have an A plot, a B plot, a C plot, and you need to know what to do with it. There is also an increased demand for series, but they are a bit harder for a broadcaster to place in their schedules. Sometimes we can, sometimes we can't. But on the web, everything is possible of course.
Dimitra Kouzi: But this is another trend, series.
Axel Arnö: Yes, it's a different thing: Some films work well as series. The Promise is a good example, because that film was made as a two-hour special, two times 90′, three times 60′, and six times 25′. That’s a good case study; it’s interesting to explore the different demands from different broadcasters.
I think that BBC broadcast the feature version, the one-time version. And then, simultaneously they put out the six-times 25′. And they had a million views the first week on the series.
Dimitra Kouzi: It’s interesting, but it makes sense, because the audience is different.
Axel Arnö: Yes, but if you want to talk about how to create an audience, you also have to be aware of that: different formats will probably suit different audiences. So, of course, you should do your director's cut, which is important for you. But then, it would also be good if you are open to cutting it in different lengths, because there might be different audiences out there for the film. Sometimes it's impossible because of budget constraints.
Dimitra Kouzi: Let’s go back to the slots.
Axel Arnö: Domestic is on Thursdays. Then we have cultural slots – that’s not my department – both domestic and international, every Friday at 8 o'clock. But, of course, super prime time on Friday is very difficult because there are very popular shows all around. But they are doing a good job. My acquisition colleagues are buying loads more topics – nature, history, wildlife. They have also started to buy Channel-4-type docs, which is more sensational. And, of course, they get an audience. So, there are many hours of docs. My responsibility is the current affairs and the feature-length slots. I do different things, as well, Swedish films, special projects.
Dimitra Kouzi: Budgets are not increasing to cater for the need to create impact campaigns around the films by the producers.
Axel Arnö: I'm not paying more because they need to make impact.
Dimitra Kouzi: Exactly, it's in the budget, and it has to be covered by the budget.
Axel Arnö: Yes, but that makes sense; we have to be independent, so, we can't fund the impact production. That's why they have things like Good Pitch. These are problems we can't cope with. They raise funds. For example, Borneo Case is now starting its tour, and I'm in discussions about when SVT should broadcast it. They've got some money from impact, from other sources. Could be interesting to talk to them about their impact campaign.
Axel Arnö became a Commissioning Editor at SVT in 1998. Previously a newspaper reporter. Since his move to national television, Axel has been reporter, editor and editorial executive. He became the Editor of SVT’s flagship current affairs magazine Striptease and later created the investigative documentary strand Dokument inifrån. Since 2004, he works at SVT’s documentary department, dealing mainly with international co-productions (current affairs, creative, social documentaries). He was an original partner in the Why Democracy? series. Axel is chairman of the Eurovision Documentary Group.
This interview was edited for clarity and brevity by Dimitris Saltabassis
Audience development builds awareness for a film in competition with both industry and viewers, and increases your chances to win a prize. Audience development can also take your career as a producer or director to the next level by developing your personal networking scope with decision-makers and press to know your latest film and support your next one.
Audience development means bringing people and cultures closer; it engages people and communities in experiencing, enjoying, and valuing arts and culture. The idea is to expand visibility and awareness, to diversify the audience, and to deepen the relationship with existing audiences.
The specialist involved in an audience development campaign – audience developer, communication strategist, outreach/impact producer – designs a strategy using tools including the press, social media, graphic design, posters, flyers, ambassadors, an expanded network, personally engages in matchmaking during the festival and guides you through the festival's opportunities.
The goal of outreach is to make an impact for a film or a festival. There is no recipe, no standard procedure – the fascinating thing about it is it's tailor-made for you and your film! It's all about networking, experience, and timing.
Communion is your feature-length debut – what was the driving force that kept you going? Most probably the fact that this story is related to my own experience and inspired by my own childhood. The main protagonist is a fourteen-year-old child with adult responsibilities – just as I had been. In Ola’s family, roles are turned upside down: She is the one who cares for her parents and for her disabled brother. Her own needs are pushed to the background. Such ‘grown-up children’ aren’t rare, and not just in Poland, but they rarely become the subject of conversation. One can’t expect that a film will change the world, but if it provokes discussion, that’s something. I decided to talk about things that are important to me, and when I realised that the film was also important to its protagonists, I felt a kick of energy to push it and never ease up.
Could you describe Ola, Nikodem, and Marek in your own words? They are like characters from a fairy tale. The father is like a widower from the Brothers Grimm world: kind-hearted but completely helpless. The evil stepmother is replaced by the mother – a big girl who escaped from her children (‘Because I’m sad,’ she explains). And the son and daughter who have to cope with that. Ola decides to be an adult to fill the role others fail to deliver: She cleans the apartment, rebukes her brother, and tries to foster him and her father. She wants to organise Nikodem’s communion at all costs – so it would be ‘normal’. And she only breaks sometimes. Nikodem sees himself as a chimpanzee, or a horse. He hides inside a poetic world of his own – and from its depth, he makes the most acute comments.
Why did you choose to tell the story through Ola’s perspective? Because she feels closest to me. I could understand her feelings perfectly because I know them from my own life, just as I have experienced some of the situations presented in the film. However, it’s more about emotional images than specific events.
How did you earn your protagonists’ trust? The hardest thing was to win Ola’s trust. In her eyes, I represented the adult world from which she had suffered many wrongs. From the very beginning, the most important thing for me was to make sure that Ola and Nikodem felt safe with me. It was essential that they knew my intentions. Of course, I am aware of the fact that they didn’t really understand what they were taking part in. I had ethical dilemmas because of that: I was filming children, one of them autistic – I had a head start on all levels. I knew they were unable to defend themselves from me, to mark a borderline. Because of that I had to accept full responsibility for all that could have happened while we were making the film and after that.
A woman director, a women’s crew, a women’s point of view, a girl protagonist. Does this make for a different perspective? ‘A woman’s point of view?’ I don’t know what that is. Moreover, it wasn’t until after the premiere that I realised that almost only women made Communion. I’ve had to explain that in interviews and at meetings with viewers. But there was no conspiracy, no manifesto. The editor, Agnieszka Glińska, and the cinematographer, Gosia Szyłak, are both amazing artists and personalities, and that is why I invited them to work together on this project. Gender was of no importance at all. It turns out that men in film are something natural, while women are still perceived as an aberration. I can’t fully agree that Ola is the main protagonist in this film. Ola and Nikodem are both the leading characters; they are equally important. I wouldn’t decide to make a film about any one of them. They function together – one leads to the other, and one cannot exist without the other.
You once said, ‘It is easy in Poland to judge and blame a woman.’ Why?Motherhood is perceived as a mission in Poland, not as a woman’s free choice. The society expects much more from mothers than it does from fathers. But in Catholic Poland, 8 out of 10 men leave their families when a disabled child is born. Almost half a million fathers avoid paying child support for their own children, and it is socially accepted. It’s been years since anyone tried to tackle this issue in a systemic manner. But there is no social acceptance for women leaving their homes and children. They are judged very rigidly – with no regard to the circumstances that led them to their decisions. Ola, our protagonist, told me that she feels stigmatised, not just because she comes from a broken home, but also because her mother ‘abandoned’ her.
In another interview you said, ‘I was listening to their needs – not to what I wanted’. Whatdecisions did you make while directing the film?What I meant was that I didn’t try to forcibly arrange certain situations, if I felt that this was contrary to what Ola and Nikodem actually wanted. It wasn’t only about ethical issues and not crossing borders: Without listening to their needs, there would be no truth on the screen. That is why the preparation period was so important. I spent a lot of time with them – without the camera. I watched their reactions in a number of situations. That enabled me to predict their reaction to certain events when I was writing the script.
What was your ‘scripted’ intention, and what happened ‘magically’ during shooting? The film was – to a significant extent – based on a script. At first, I had trouble telling the story. There was no starting point, no foothold. I didn’t know where to begin, or where to end. When I came up with Nikodem’s communion, everything seemed easier. It wasn’t even because the protagonist was about to go through a process; the communion turned out to be a good metaphor of Ola’s growing up to be an adult – it served as a pretext to tell about her situation. In Poland, the first communion sacrament is a very important ceremony. It is an occasion for the entire family to meet and integrate. I knew that Ola, who lived in the hope of bringing her mother back home, would use this event as an opportunity for a family reunion. I wrote many scenes related to the ceremony using my own memories from my communion. Of course, I hoped that Nikodem would begin an interesting dialogue with the realm of religion – and he did. I wanted to show that he was very thoughtful when it came to spirituality – much more than I was, more than most children are. The scene with the priest leading Nikodem through an examination of conscience in church was my idea. But Nikodem’s brilliant lines about virtues and sins, as well as his performance at the altar, obviously happened, as you said, ‘magically’ during shooting.
How does the story unfold through the use of portraits? Camera motion wasn’t necessarily following the action. Camera movement was mainly used to provide an emotional interpretation and describe relationships between the characters and their complicated dynamics. But by insisting on getting as close as possible, we ended up being able to create a narrative through intimate portraiture. There is no need for, or reliance on, exposition, verbal cues, or any kind of reverse shot to what or whom Ola is reacting at any given moment. You can see this, for example, in the scene when the social worker comes to visit. The camera rests only on her face. In that face, we know everything. In this, we can see the system failing this family, time and time again. The girl is forced to lie in order to keep them from doing any more damage. At such a tender age, she has learned how to protect herself and her family.
How did you manage to track emotions without betraying the characters’ trust? I did my best to be cautious, not to cross certain lines, not to invade potentially painful situations with the camera. We decided on fixed lenses, 35mm and 28mm, to help us achieve both a specific approach to the characters and to acquire as much intimacy as possible. Closing the distance was difficult, but very important, as it meant overcoming barriers. Honestly, at the beginning of the shooting, we both felt very ill at ease, like intruders. It was difficult for us on many levels – as it was for the family, too. On the one hand, this makes it seem as if the camera is ‘invisible,’ but we were the ones evoking these emotions sometimes just by our presence and by how close the camera was to them. The emotions we see are sometimes a precise reaction to this, not necessarily to what’s going on. So, while there may be anger at the situation they are finding themselves in, there was also aggression because of the camera’s close proximity. The tension apparent in the film was with us throughout the whole process. At the same time, a true emotional bond developed between us – the crew – and the protagonists. At a point, we may have become a family, and everything is allowed in a family. No one held down.
I know you edited for quite a long time (how long?). How did you go about editing the film? I was lucky to work with Agnieszka Glinska, a prolific master editor working in fiction. I learned so much from her. We were working together for seven months and after that, Agnieszka had to start another project, so I edited on my own for another four months. It took this long to find the smoothest way of telling the story. But just to be clear, I did shoot with a script, so this is not a film constructed in the editing room – but it was still a lot of work to find the rhythm and the way the scenes needed to flow together.
What is not in the film? The process of Ola and Nikodem growing up as a topic made it necessary to limit all other threads of their story. The documentary genre carries an ethical dilemma that troubles me: As you decide to make a film about one person, everyone else remain just a sketch. Other people are not shown in the way they might deserve. I mean Marek and Magda, the protagonists’ parents. They are very interesting characters who deserve a complete portrait.
What element is it that makes your film universal? I made a film about the strength of unconditional family love. But I also wanted to talk about growing up and the association of growing up with disappointments, sometimes painful ones – especially when dealing with our parents. We see Ola growing up – from a girl who believes that, despite all obstacles, her family can be united, to a teenager who accepts the fact that it will never happen. Accepting one’s limitations is a necessary prerequisite for maturity.
What changed in your life after completing this film? Making something so close to your heart obviously has cathartic power. I felt that I wasn’t looking for the goal on the outside, but inside me. It was an urge to work through something of my own, something very difficult. Communion cleansed me. I went through a long process alongside the protagonists.
Why should EFA members vote for your film? I don’t know if they should. But one thing is for certain: I would like them to watch Communion.
How do you deal with the film’s success? Viewers’ very lively and authentic reactions bring me the most joy. I participated in many meetings after screenings. They are sometimes so full of emotion. I receive moving emails from all around the world. This motivates me to work on another film.