Vox pop journalism as a system of domination: Syriza edition

[The BBC, in its wisdom removed the video I first linked to. I found another that works, and it’s linked to above. However in searching for it, I came upon the BBC’s version which is on this link and which begins after the official over-hyped introduction and ends half way through, before the most egregious bits.]

When the French and Russian Revolutions occurred, the existing order asserted itself through the intervention of foreign nations. Recognising this, and decrying it is not to endorse either revolution, but to note how powerful and self-reinforcing systems of domination are.

A much more trivial example is the minority government that emerged in Australia in 2010. I thought some of the things that occurred offered excellent opportunities to do some worthwhile resetting – of our parliamentary procedure for instance. They offered the prospect of restoring to Question Time some semblance of democratic utility. But somehow the surrounding forces that had produced the old equilibrium managed to wrest the same result from the procedures introduced by the new parliament.

This interview with Australian Greek Yanis Varoufakis shows us our bankrupt institution of vox pop journalism as a similar system of domination. The most basic cause of the simplistic bombast one sees in this interview is that it sells – it arouses emotions (which are the engine of engagement well ahead of reason) and it keeps things simple and personal. It’s Greece versus the Troika. Varoufakis verses Merkel. It’s ultimatums, struggle. Someone wins. Someone loses. It’s responsibility and fiscal conservatism versus naïve utopianism etc etc. Never imagine that some new kind of meaning might be forged in an exchange of views – the only task is that of fitting the interviewee – however reluctantly, however invidiously, into one of numerous pre-ordained pigeonholes.

In this interview with ‘broadsheet’ journalist of some intelligence and, one imagines repute – one who would imagine herself as a thoughtful, well briefed journalist not overly simplifying or sensationalising – Yanis Varoufakis tries to explain himself. He seems very lucid to me. But his attempt to put his case is constantly frustrated by the interviewers’ resolute instance on not listening to him or engage with him on his points – or to simply allow him to get his message across. Of course a good interviewer will help shape the conversation, but she’s going to dominate it. He’s going to have to answer her questions.

What’s the ultimatum? Will he deal with the Troika, etc et. Now in some circumstances this makes some sense. When the interviewee’s technique is built around obfuscation, some gotcha questions or insistence on ‘yes’ or ‘no’ may be in order. Here Varoufakis is trying to explain a whole different way of seeing things (which it isn’t my purpose here to defend). My point is that he isn’t obfuscating. He’s seeking to explain himself – which he does with great clarity and according to the rules of journalism and political communication which is to say, he keeps things simple and compelling and illustrated with examples. So he asks the interviewer if she’d recommend that someone took the help of a friend if the friend was offering to lend them money to pay interest on a debt they couldn’t repay.

Anyway the interview goes on – Varoufakis is remarkably calm and lucid throughout. He does get angry, but it doesn’t contaminate the mood of the interview as it would if I were in his position. And the incomprehension just rolls on. How sad. How unfortunate that whole professions can manage to arrive at a modus operandi so antithetical to achieving what they would regard as their objectives. Still, journalists wouldn’t be the only profession in that position would they?

The interview of the blogpost: 

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11 Responses to Vox pop journalism as a system of domination: Syriza edition

  1. Fyodor says:

    Well said, Nicholas. That’s a surprisingly biased and rude approach from the BBC.

    Despite his socialism I’m very impressed with Varoufakis and more than a little proud of his Australian connection. I fear that he won’t succeed in bargaining with Greece’s Eurozone masters but it is tremendously encouraging to see such a brave, lucid and public-minded economist be in a position to drive what could be the first truly rational response to the Eurozone crisis and the Greek tragedy.

    For those interested, his blog is very good. Let’s hope he stays so candid:


    Interview with Phillip Adams

    What a good interview with Varoufakis looks like

  2. Fyodor says:

    Sorry, Phillip Adams interview linky no worky, for some reason. It’s on his blog.


  3. Patrick says:

    I don’t think I could listen to Philip Adams but do far i am willing to give Syriza and Yanis the benefit of good faith. I like that he is continuing to blog and I like that they appear to have a fairly sensible overall view of what needs to happen.

    My fears are that they are not good enough at politics, as it is practiced in the EU, and that they get shafted for that, or that they succumb to the communist parts of the party and kill whatever is left of Greece’s economy.

    I will certainly watch with interest.

    As will the people of the EU. The BBC journalist is such a loser because she is scared of the UKIP. But many potential UKIP and front national voters will be watching to see how ‘alternative’ government fares.

  4. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Patrick, I just listened to the Philip Adams interview and there Varoufakis says what I’d want him to say which is that ultimately this won’t be solved for Greece or anyone else by a tiny country like Greece confronting Europe. It needs to be solved for Europeans. It seemed a clear reference to reflation in the North which has always been the win-win staring everyone in the face.

    Anyway, I’m a believer that great good can come from such disjunctures in business as usual – but that’s quite different from an expectation that it will happen. It still seems painfully long odds, in which case there aren’t too many worthwhile options for Greece or anyone else!

    My two favourite lines on this are a tweet a few years ago to the effect that after 70 years the Europeans have finally got back to the monetary system that gave them the great depression. And more recently someone commented that the Europeans are discovering that years of 1930s like economics is producing 1930s politics. Who would have thought?

    • Patrick says:

      I disagree reasonably strongly with the Krugman quote (the second one). Perhaps he meant 1930s central banking policies?

      I think the strength of the various ‘nationalist’ anti-establishment parties has more to do with a revolt against the sort of elite plot that is European politics in all the Southern nations (including France, these guys are disgustingly inbred and so disdainfully corrupt) mixed with a genuine anti-Muslim sentiment. Unlike anti-sesmitism of the 30’s this is driven from the ground up in reaction to an actual hostile mass movement (how that movement was created is another question! ).

      I don’t see 1930s politics much over here.

  5. B.L. Zebub says:

    Frankly, in this particular case, I see little reason for all this outrage.

    I say that both as a lefty and actually a bit of a fan of Varoufakis. The interviewer was doing her job: to ask questions about specific things. Unfortunately, perhaps for linguistic reasons, perhaps due to previous misunderstandings, perhaps due to inexperience, Varoufakis wasn’t being clear enough. But she is not there to put it with that.

    For his own good and that of the Greek people I hope he will lift his game media-wise, sooner rather than later: if you can’t stand the heat, don’t go into the kitchen.

    This, respectfully, goes both to him and to you.

  6. Patrick says:


    You may have already read this, and you probably already ‘knew’ the content, but it is a very useful bit of background information / reminder to help you digest various bits of ‘news’ about Greece: https://medium.com/bull-market/whats-going-on-with-the-ecb-and-greece-3821de717625

  7. Murph the Surf. says:

    The ghost of Jeremy Paxman haunts the BBC Newsnight.
    It is there is the tone of voice and the style of questioning.
    Add a flippant dismissal at the end and it’s practically Paxman in a wig.

  8. paul walter says:

    Asif the troika would doing anything but react against Syriza.. I am in mind of the scene from Oliver, where the starving kids cry, “food, glorious food”, but the miserable bankers only rob wheat from blind fowls.

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