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Greeks Question Media, and New Voices Pipe Up

October 31, 2013

By Rachel Donadio

Eirini Vourloumis for The New York Times Apostolis Kaparoudakis at the controls of the Athens radio station and cafe of which he was a founder.

Eirini Vourloumis for The New York Times
Apostolis Kaparoudakis at the controls of the Athens radio station and cafe of which he was a founder.

ATHENS — Late on a recent evening, crowds gathered at the Radio Bubble cafe in downtown Athens, drinking beer and talking politics. The cafe, in the trendy yet rough-around-the-edges Exarchia neighborhood, funds a small leftist online radio station of the same name, which broadcasts from inside.

At the sidewalk tables outside, where guests smoked hand-rolled cigarettes, the conversation inevitably turned to Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s unilateral decision in June to shut down the state broadcaster, the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation, known as ERT, overnight, turning an institution once seen as a bastion of patronage hires into a veritable martyr to press freedom.

“When a war begins, they send an army to protect public TV,” said Apostolis Kaparoudakis, who was a founder of Radio Bubble in 2007. “Here they sent it to close it down.”

As a song by the Beastie Boys played in the background, Mr. Kaparoudakis said he had started Radio Bubble to play good music, “which is a political act,” but also as a challenge to the mainstream news media in Greece, almost all of which is owned by the country’s business elite, who often dictate the editorial line.

The radio station, which has an active presence on Twitter, is one of many small, often left-leaning news media outlets that have cropped up in Greece in recent years. Although their audiences are still relatively modest, they are playing an increasingly vital role in the conversation, largely because they question the country’s dominant power structures.

Even before the economic crisis hit, polls showed that Greeks lacked trust in the mainstream news media almost as much as they lacked it in politicians, seeing both as intertwined in a kind of crony capitalism that helped push the country to bankruptcy.

Now, four years into the crisis, Greeks are even more skeptical of mainstream news organizations and even hungrier for information from nontraditional sources, especially if it veers from the government’s line that Greece has no alternative to the austerity policies demanded by its foreign lenders.

“There’s a great lack of trust that is no longer there,” said Ioanna Vovou, who teaches media studies at Panteion University in Athens. “It’s true that people, mostly younger people, say they have turned to alternative sources of media.”

At the same time, the economic crisis has fueled rampant speculation about the true sources of Greece’s misery, sometimes drowning reliable information in a cacophony of conspiracies. But alternative news media have increasingly tried to bridge the trust gap by fostering citizen journalism and taking on topics that remain taboo for the more established news organizations.

Some of the new sources, like Radio Bubble, the magazine Unfollow and the web portal The Press Project, lean left and are critical of Mr. Samaras’s coalition government, an uncomfortable alliance between the center-right New Democracy party and the Socialists.

The most interactive of the three, Radio Bubble urges its audience to use Twitter to send images and updates using the hashtag #rbnews during developing stories. The tweeted information helps fill out the picture of chaotic events, like street demonstrations when protesters clash with the police, who often fire tear gas.

“We call ourselves citizens’ media, not alternative media,” said Theodora Oikonomides, a former Radio Bubble editor who was a humanitarian aid worker before returning to her native Greece in 2009. Mr. Kaparoudakis added, “We don’t want listeners, we want citizens.”

He said the station came into its own in December 2008, broadcasting around the clock when riots broke out in Athens after a policeman killed a 15-year-old boy. Today, Radio Bubble has about 9,000 followers on Twitter and streams about 100,000 hours of programming each month on its online radio station. Bar revenues cover operating costs and only bar employees and the station’s two founders are paid. Read more in the New York Times.

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