Saturday 31 January 2015

Greeks, the BBC and go-to people

Here's a curious stat about the recent Greek election results which I've not heard much about on the BBC (or anywhere else for  that matter). Despite voting being officially compulsory, the turnout in the latest Greek election was 63.87% [lower than  the UK's turnout in 2010].

This means that the great red (as opposed to golden) dawn of Syriza on 36.3% of the vote was actually given to them by just 23.2% of Greece's eligible voters. 

Or, to put it another way, that 76.8% of eligible Greek voters didn't vote for Syriza. 

Paul Mason, Owen Jones, the BBC - take note!

And talking of Owen Jones, he was one of the invited guests celebrating the turn of events in Greece alongside Greek leftist Maria Margaronis. [The other guests were U.S. journalist Jeffrey Kofman and pro-Saudi writer Mina al Oraibi].

"Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive/But to be in the Dateline studio was very heaven."

Maria has been Dateline's Greek voice for a couple of years now. Typically for Dateline, her way of seeing things has been the sole lens through Dateline viewers have viewed the Greek crisis. Her sympathies with the radical shores of Greek leftism have never been in any doubt. She's also been the main Greek commenter for the BBC more generally, appearing regularly on Newsnight, The World Tonight and hosting Radio 4 documentaries on Greek affairs. I rarely watch the BBC News Channel, but I've even seen her on that a few times (including while passing the TV in reception at work, which is permanently tuned to the News Channel).

It's funny how that happens with the BBC. They find someone they like and they stick with them. When anything happens in France, they habitually turn first to Agnès Poirier. For Middle Eastern affairs, it's straight to Fawaz Gerges. For U.S. matters, Michael Goldfarb is the man. (He almost seems like their deputy North America editor at times). And for Greece, it's got to be Maria Margaronis.

Of course, this is an exaggeration. But it has more than a grain of truth to it, doesn't it?

This familiar point (the "speed dial" complaint beloved of us BBC bashers) struck me again because I found something surprising this past week - that I already knew two key Syriza ministers for the economy - Costas Lapavitsas and Yanis Varoufakis. Both have been regulars on the BBC throughout the entire Greek crisis, which I've been watching closely for years

Whilst on the BBC, of course, they were presented (up till now) as independent Greek economists -which they may have been before joining Syriza - but it's still interesting that the BBC has made so much use of them. What is it about this pair of anti-austerity, Marxist economists which first attracted the BBC to them (as Mrs Merton might have put it)? [There was a young, female advisor to PASOK who made a lot of appearances too.]

For old time's sake, Costas appeared on Monday's Newsnight and Yanis appeared on last night's Newsnight. The former found Evan Davis in a friendly mood; the latter found Emily Maitlis in an unfriendly one.

Yanis's unexpectedly hostile reception from Emily Maitlis appeared to take him by surprise too. He blogged:
As a fan of the BBC, I must say I was appalled by the depths of inaccuracy in the reporting underpinning this interview (not to mention the presenter’s considerable rudeness). Still, and despite the cold wind on that balcony, it was fun!
Monday's edition of Newsnight was given over entirely to the implications of the Greek election. Some commenters (elsewhere) had problems with this programme's pandering to far-lefty enthusiasm, with Katie Razzall interviewing a bunch of happy British Marxists (including Radio 4's Michael Rosen). I didn't mind it, and thought it was quite balanced on the pro- and anti- sides of the austerity debate. Katie's report even ended with her saying that the happy British Marxists were still a long way from where the British debate is. 

My qualm about this edition is that there were no right-wing Eurosceptics in sight. (Kenneth Clarke was an interesting choice). The nearest things to Eurosceptics on the programme were Diane Abbott and Costas Lapavitsas - and neither is strongly Eurosceptic. This lack of a key kind of voice on the subject persisted throughout the week, and suggests pro-EU bias on  the programme's part (conscious or otherwise).

Hey, what's going on? We've got a Frau Merkel on the line, requesting a song. Well, we don't normally do song requests here at ITBB? but she says Costas and Yanis will like this, so in the interests  of spreading harmony, and because she asked so nicely....


  1. Stage Performer Maitlis started off angry in her intro, even before the interview began. She was clearly livid about what she thinks is happening and going to happen in Greece, and she was already itching for a fight before Varoufakis opened his mouth.

    Having said that, though, he's a very slipper character, isn't he? I don't know how he's come across in the past, but here he was practically the guest star villain on Colombo or one of those crime shows, reading the usual cliché evasions. I half expected him to respond to one of Maitlis's questions with, "I'm sure I have no idea what you're talking about." Beeboid interviewers can be unfairly rude when they aren't getting their way, but in this case the guest couldn't have been more evasive, an apparently denying things he's already said.

    What's funny is that he's totally right about the situation, and about the bailout kabuki dance. I just didn't see him even try to offer an actual solution other than, "We just want to work out an arrangement". Greece is obviously not going to pay their debts, and probably want their own currency back. Then we get to watch the other corrupt socialist dominoes fall.

    Maitlis was so angry that Greece is going to screw up the European New World Order it was hilarious. She was still right to be short with him for being evasive and dodging everything, though.

  2. Most of my memories of Yanis Varoufakis, David, are of repeatedly finding myself Googling him after his latest BBC appearance.

    I kept trying to find out if he was, as I suspected, a Marxist - in order to prove the BBC guilty of using communists as their go-to men.

    And then I'd keep remembering that I'd done precisely the same search several times before.

    [My excuse for this is that there are lots of people called Yanis in Greece and I needed to check if it was the same one.]

    The curious thing was that I could never completely nail him as a Marxist (part of that slipperiness perhaps, and my own lack of ideological certainty).

    My main memory of him back then, though, was of him repeatedly reminding his readers of his dislike of Mrs Thatcher (on his various websites). That didn't pre-dispose me to him one bit.

    And now, when he's in power, he's gone and declared himself a 'libertarian Marxist' (an oxymoron?)

    He'd have made my blogging easier if he'd have done so much earlier!


    This post uses Kraftwerk - of 'The Robots' fame - for jokey purposes. I'm now reading a function on my own blog (and Lord knows how it arrives here. It was me, but I don't know how) that says "Please prove you're not a robot".

    So there goes our chance of getting an appreciative comment from a member of Kraftwerk.

    "Vee are ze robbots".

  3. Ah, so the far-Leftoids are turning against each other. Like it. While similarly searching for his name after posting my comment, I found this Forbes piece defending him, sort of, and suggesting that the BBC did get it wrong.

    I think the way the author is also unable to pin down any specifics about what Varoufakis intends to pursue backs up our impression that he was very slippery indeed.

    But the scariest part was at the end where she says that he just wants a "New Deal" for Greece, and for most of Europe. In tears it will all end.

  4. Given what Syriza promised - a tie-less moon on a stick - it surely will all end in tears.

    The BBC, from what I've seen and read, is giving Syriza's Spanish counterparts Podemas (which translates as 'Yes, we can wear pony tails') a fair wind, repeatedly saying that "some opinion polls show them ahead". As they do. Though some also show the Popular Party (centre-right) ahead.

    Another thing I noticed from 'Newsnight' this week (but forgot to mention) was that, when giving a sympathetic interview with former socialist PM George Papandreou, the programme explicitly that the election results showed a humiliating defeat for the two mainstream pro-austerity parties which have dominated Greece for the past few decades. Actually, one of them - the right-leaning one - had held up quite well, barely falling back (% wise) since the last election. It's Mr Papandreou's former party, (the Labour Party-aligned) PASOK, that's collapsed to under 5%.


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