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Greece Insists On A Higher Standard Of Television

Television programmers in Greece who allow sexual allegations, scurrilous innuendo and soap box spouting onto television news have been told by the Government to tone it down or we'll turn it off. John Howard reports.

A new Greek presidential decree says television channels could be forced to suspend programs, pay fines of up to NZ$3 million and - as a last resort - lose their operating license if they don't adhere to a bolstered journalistic code.

The decree has brought opposition from critics who say it could stifle investigative journalism in a nation which has seen its share of corruption and major foul-ups.

But the Government says a license to operate is public property and the public are expecting higher standards, including from public figures.

The measures are the latest attempt to bring some order to the brash frontier of the Greek airwaves, where five private stations and more than 15 smaller channels increasingly dedicate news programmes and talk shows to any topic - no matter how flimsy or scathing the accusations.

Similar American shows play on New Zealand television.

The new decree has been widely supported by Greek journalists.

"A journalist is not a policeman, a prosecutor or a judge and cannot resort to keyhole reporting," the Athens Jounalist Union said in statement.

Commentators have insisted the television ratings race crossed the line long ago.

"It all started with the unrestricted competition in television which led to a down spiral into the swamp of mud," the Athens daily Eleftherotyopia wrote. "Human values were swept away, individual rights were ignored and all the rules of ethics were trodden on."

There have been cases in Greece where people have committed suicide after unsubstantiated sex abuse allegations that never made it to court were made.

Speaking from the United States veteran television news journalist Bill Moyers, who has 30 news Emmy awards, hammered the problems he sees in journalism.

"The industry has an obsession with celebrities, a need for speed over accuracy, and the proliferation of opinion and speculation over reporting," he said.

He blamed it on "megacorporations, making megamergers in search of megaprofits."

"Today, only six companies control most of what America reads in books, magazines and newspapers and watches on television and at the movies," he said.

Other political journalists are also upset with the decline in standards.

"Too many political journalists are falling in love with a particular candidate or party and they are adopting a policy of see, hear and speak no evil," said American television journalist Maureen Shouten.

"Journalists are supposed to be the eyes and ears of voters but their personal opinions are slanting the news and current affairs and the companies they work for are allowing it to happen. That can be dangerous for democracy," she said.

Bill Moyers said, "Because journalism has been so good to me, I'm sad when my colleagues and I discuss the state of our craft today."

Advertising executive, Roy Spence, said he views the Internet as a "ray of hope" because it has so far steered clear of corporate controls. But Moyers is not so sure and believes free access to the Internet will be a major issue in the next decade.

Around two years ago, Americans who had been harmed by, or through, television programs starting suing the stations. Most cases are still before the courts with the media arguing rights to a free press, but lawyers claim the television stations also have product liability.

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