For Maria Karchilaki, a crisis is not an unfamiliar situation. She has been reporting from war zones and conflict areas for almost 20 years, including the war in Bosnia, the 1997 uprising in Albania, NATO’s bombing campaign in Kosovo and Serbia, the 2003 war in Iraq and Al Qaeda’s terror campaign in Saudi Arabia are some of the topics she has covered for the most popular television station in Greece, MEGA channel.
Unfortunately, Maria’s home country of Greece is now in the eye of the storm for another type of crisis: an economic one.
Along with numerous changes that such a crisis brought to so many people in Greece, the role of the journalist seems to be in question once again. Maria Karchilaki is probably one of the most suitable people not only to paint a picture of the media landscape in a country that monopolised the headlines of global media stations for quite some time, but also to discuss what being a war correspondent means.
Greece has historically had a disproportionately high number of print newspapers and magazines for its population. In the last two years we have observed that many of them were forced to shut down, mostly due to low advertising expenditure. Do you think that crisis played the role of catharsis?
It’s not only the low advertising expenditure that leads many newspapers to bankruptcy. Banks also are partly responsible, as they stopped issuing loans to people and businesses. However, Greece still has many more media sources than necessary. On the other hand ‘catharsis’ is such a hard word to use when behind every padlock there are so many people that are losing their jobs. For me a better description would be that whoever has feet of clay these days, will fall very soon.
Your work as a journalist enjoys great respect. However, you discontinued your cooperation with the TV station Mega Channel after a long career. Why was that?
Allow me to use this word that I haven’t used for my colleagues before. Catharsis is what happened to me. I didn’t like what I was doing in the last years for Mega channel, especially being the presenter of foreign affairs for the main news bulletin. I am interested in war correspondence, coverage of big international events and investigative journalism, in this order. This is journalism. Everything else is just the work of talking heads. I did it though, in a professional way, but always awaited my next mission beyond the borders of my country in order to get refreshed as a journalist.
Due to the economic crisis, all these missions felt like economic burdens, as they cost thousands of euros. In addition, the continuing salary reductions made my wage equivalent to my pension and my employers forced us to agree to a new contract under which I wouldn’t be able to get any kind of compensation if I was made redundant. I felt for a long time that I wasn’t part of the team. Due to the latest circumstances I decided to quit a job that didn’t offer me satisfaction nor help me to evolve as a person and as a journalist.
Before 2009, there were plenty of jobs for journalists. That meant that many professionals were guided by others interests. Now, since many of these journalists are unemployed, they have decided to open their mouths and shout. Furthermore, we must not underestimate the power of the internet, as it is infinite and gives the potential to anyone to express themselves.
Do we learn everything we should, or just what we want to?
Everyone who wants to regard himself as an updated citizen must not rely on just one source to learn what is happening in the world. There are plenty of opportunities to obtain deeper knowledge for the things you are interested in and also listen to useful opinions. Otherwise, you can just stare at your television and swear.
As a war correspondent, what is your main motivation for putting yourself in dangerous war zones?
Actually this is JOURNALISM, all in capitals. This is not a job for everyone, and it is only for those with great strength. War correspondents are neither war junkies nor are they seeking an adrenaline rush. We try to deliver the screams of the people who suffer unbelievable abuse during a war, and at the same time have the great privilege and responsibility to record history as it happens.
Finally, how do you imagine Greece in ten years?
I am not so optimistic. In Greece we are surrounded by ideas such as political opportunism, bullying, corruption, favoritism and individualism. We are missing all the elements that make up a well-governed and mature democracy. Unfortunately we are lacking a strong civil society that could put the brakes on government arbitrariness and manipulation.