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Our local newspaper in the era of fake news

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.
Dimitra Kouzi
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.