Newspaper article International New York Times

For Greece, a Deadline Looms amid a War of Words ; Tracking of Debt Talks, and German Barbs, Turns into National Obsession

Newspaper article International New York Times

For Greece, a Deadline Looms amid a War of Words ; Tracking of Debt Talks, and German Barbs, Turns into National Obsession

Article excerpt

How the mutual media fascination in the two coutnries influences the delicate bailout negotiations has become its own point of discussion.

As a nightly news anchor for Skai TV in Greece, Sia Kossioni closely monitors Germany, checking the latest remarks from German politicians, studying public opinion polls or reading the German papers to learn what they are saying about the Greek bailout negotiations. She even speaks German.

It is not that just Ms. Kossioni is obsessed with Germany -- the entire Greek news media is obsessed with Germany. And vice versa. This is not surprising, given that Greece is staring at default and economic disaster, possibly as soon as Friday, unless it can reach a deal with creditors -- while Germany is the biggest creditor and most immovable objector to concessions.

So it is that every blunt utterance from the hard-line German finance minister, Wolfgang Schauble, can dominate the news, as can the typically more opaque remarks from the German chancellor, Angela Merkel. Even back-bench German lawmakers -- whose views might be ignored in the German media -- can merit airtime in Greece by tossing a rhetorical grenade about the bailout.

"The German politicians are covered as if they are our politicians," Ms. Kossioni said on a recent afternoon, a stack of translated German news reports on her desk. "We wake up and we know what the German newspaper headlines are, what the basic articles are."

How this mutual media fascination influences the delicate bailout negotiations is its own point of discussion. Some analysts and politicians have sharply criticized the hothouse style of media coverage -- often born of anonymous leaks from the negotiating room - - even as politicians or their proxies are frequently the sources of the leaks, and often with strategic intent.

At the same time, the rivalry between Mr. Schauble and his Greek counterpart, Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, has transformed what might have been a process-dominated economic story into a clash of styles and egos. Mr. Schauble has seemed to relish tweaking the Greek government, surely knowing that his remarks make headlines in the Greek media.

"I would actually welcome, from both sides, less microphones, less interviews," said Jens Bastian, a German financial consultant in Athens and a former member of the European Commission's task force on Greece.

Not so many years ago, the average Greek citizen probably knew or cared little about what, if anything, German politicians were saying about them, or what was in the German papers. But the Internet has spawned a media age where not only can someone in Finland watch a cat video streamed live from Malta, but so can an entire nation of Greeks track every shift in German public opinion -- or every blast from the German mass daily, Bild.

"Lies From Bild Again About IMF!" screamed a recent banner, two- page headline in a Greek newspaper, Dimokratia, referring to the International Monetary Fund.

The stakes are heightened because the January election of Greece's radical-left, anti-austerity government, led by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his Syriza Party, was seen as a direct rebuke to Germany, which many Greeks blame for the five years of punishing austerity policies that predicated the current showdown.

Giorgos Tragkas, one of Greece's most popular morning radio hosts, estimates that he has done 1,500 programs about Germany on radio or television since the onset of the financial crisis in 2009.

"When I speak about Merkel," he said, "I get 100 text messages at the same time saying: 'Bravo!'; 'Keep it Up!'; 'Keep Bashing Her!"'

And so he does. Mr. Tragkas -- a controversial figure in Athens, linked to allegations of tax evasion -- once put Ms. Merkel on the cover of his political magazine, Crash, in shackles and an orange Guantanamo-style jumpsuit.

He also unsuccessfully sought to sue her and other European officials for crimes against humanity in Greece. …

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