x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Greeks find pure gold underneath the rust of economic misery

They may be in the grip of a crushing recession and riven by bitter internal political divisions, but Greeks are also trying to look on the bright side.

They may be in the grip of a crushing recession and riven by bitter internal political divisions, but Greeks are also trying to look on the bright side.

Never mind the massive debt, the salary cuts and tax increases: both ordinary people and the news organisations that serve them have started looking for a silver lining.

The trend began on blogs more than a year ago but now the mainstream media are starting to take notice too.

One of Greece's main television stations, Skai, makes a point of closing the main evening news on a positive note: a recent medical discovery or an offbeat item from the animal world.

The Kyriakides Group, another media outlet, has gone further. It sponsors olakala.gr ("all is well"), a website that actively trawls the internet looking for positive news.

The state broadcaster ERT's contribution to the war on gloom is Reservoir, a two-hour radio show where the host, Yiannis Daras, turns the news mantra "if it bleeds it leads" on its head.

"I always thought good news can sell," says Mr Daras, a 28-year media veteran. "It is not an easy task because the media only focus on the economy and politics ... people are tired, there is widespread disappointment, they don't know if they will have money from one day to the next."

Still, he adds: "Underneath all the rust, there is gold."

"Young minds, strong minds, scientists, people working for solidarity, people who cooperate, think, work and create."

Reservoir, he says, is like a tank that must be filled every week with emotions, initiatives and innovations that are otherwise drained by the pessimism spread by the economic crisis assailing Greeks with a daily drumbeat of bad news.

In December, national figures showed Greece's unemployment rate had risen to 24.8 per cent in the third quarter - up from 23.6 per cent in the previous three-month period.

The figures are even worse for younger people. In Greece, 57 per cent of under-25s were jobless in August and Greek unemployment has more than doubled since the start of the debt crisis in 2010.

Reservoir has acquired "fanatical" followers, who call in every weekend, Mr Daras says, and the programme receives hundreds of calls and text messages.

Greece is heading into its sixth year of recession, and the country's leading chamber of commerce last month warned that more than 40 per cent of limited liability companies were expecting a fall in sales this year.

The country has seen a wave of attacks against immigrants and minority groups in recent months and the far-right Golden Dawn party entered parliament after the June elections.

Thousands of businesses have shut down, and thousands of others have trouble paying their staff. The Kyriakides media group is among them.

But Thalia Spiliopoulou, who runs the olakala portal on behalf of the group, says the site has more than 7,000 visitors a month.

"We did not fix [the site] only for the crisis," she said.

"It was an idea to generally help and offer optimism irrelevant from this period," Ms Spiliopoulou says, as she prepared to upload a story on a rare butterfly species with transparent wings. "It is news you read and you feel something good afterwards," she says.

On the streets of Athens, Greeks agreed they were eager to hear good news from the media.

"People can't survive without being positive and thinking of better days," says Maria Vizeryiannaki, a 46-year-old unemployed accountant.

"No matter how bad things are, at some point you can see the light."

"It is nice to also hear good things and not continuously about our bad economy," says Eddie Keivan, a 17-year-old student. "We get sad hearing these miserable things."

* Agence France-Presse