A model of how NOT to do media crisis management: a course to be taught at college

by Antonis D. Papagiannidis

As a model of how NOT to do crisis management in fraught situations where international media are involved – such is the way in which the Greek Government has been dealing with the latest crisis of Greek secret service wiretappings of political figures and journalists (along with the suspected use of illegal spyware, of the Predator sort, that has been plaguing Europe for quite a time now).

A country used to have a fair image in the global media – even a usefully friendly/supportive one when it went through the agonies of its de facto default over its debt and its tough-love rescue at the hands its European partners – is now vilified day after day. One has to try hard to have the Editor-in-Chief of Politico write of “the disgraceful treatment of [Politico contributor] Nektaria Stamouli, a brave and distinguished reporter, [who] was subjected to a torrent of abuse […] encouraged if not instigated, by a government spokesman and senior advisers to the Greek government”. It gets even better, that is worse: “Having spent most of my journalistic career in an authoritarian (trending totalitarian) state (China), I know firsthand the dangers and pressures facing journalists who dare to commit proper journalism”. Ouch! One could say, but this is just one occurrence of over-zealous officialdom trying to give the lie to a reporter, whose colleagues bite back. Of course, insinuations that N. Stamouli was politically motivated in her reporting of the EU Commission getting interested on the Greek wiretapping did not help…

Earlier on, an opinion piece by investigative reporter Alexander Clapp hosted in op-ed mode by the New York Times, spoke of “The rot in the heart of Greece [being] evident to all”. Leaks from official sources tried to discredit not only Clapp – an old timer of things Greek, who reportedly did work at the American School of Classical Studies along with some digging at the Athens Agora – but also… the New York Times, as something close to a liberals’ viper nest. Then, officialdom realized this was not really a good avenue to explore and stepped back; efforts to obtain some sort of retraction by the NYT backfired: instead, the story was given front-page eminence in the paper international edition; not good!

To make things even worse, social media supporters of the official position (missing the stepping-back part…) tried to “explain” Clapps’ bias by his having a Greek journalist girlfriend – of leftist beliefs (albeit working in a Right-wing paper): not exactly a clever way to go.

The list does not stop there. As everybody familiar with the crowd instinct in international media, criticism towards Greece soon turned to a stampede. Along with earlier negative coverage of Greece’s treatment of migrants at the Evros border, the country and its Administration got negative coverage and biting comments by the likes of The Guardian, Der Spiegel, Le Monde, Washington Post, Handelsblatt, Euronews, Le Soir, RTBF, Libre Belgique, Radio France, RTS (Suisse), the F.T. (somehow more guarded, here, with official leaks quoted, pointing a finger at potential Russian involvement). The list has grown within days.

Still, the piece by Hugo Dixon at Reuters/Breakingviews, styled “It’s time to worry about Greece again” may cause the most of harm to the Greek cause. It speaks of political instability growing out of the wiretapping scandal and its official treatment; it pens the opinion that “if there are further damaging revelations, Mitsotakis may struggle to hang on until the [forthcoming] election”. But – most importantly for a sort of media that plays directly on the screens of traders and the suchlike (even at P.M. Mitsotakis’ own coterie of advisors) – Dixon’s quote “there are already signs that investors are getting anxious […] yields on Greek debt have risen faster recently even than Italy’s” sounds damning.

And… wait for the close! “Last week, the European Commission ended its “enhanced surveillance” of the Greek economy on the basis that the country was finally out of the woods. That is a decision it may ultimately regret”.

Once more “ouch!” One just hopes that Greek officialdom will not try to impugn Reuters credibility or look for suspect Greek  influences over Hugo Dixon – unless the aim is to prepare free material for a course over how NOT to do media crisis management, to be taught at College, freshman year.