Paul Mason
© Graham Turner for the Guardian Paul Mason: ‘The European political elite is trying its utmost to suppress and get rid of the first left government in Europe.’
Ex-Channel 4 News economics editor tells International Journalism Festival that making a film about Greece gave him new insight into reporters' knowledge

Paul Mason has warned political and economic journalists that most of the time they have no real idea what is going on.

Speaking at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Mason said he was now in a position to see both sides of political and economic reporting. "And I think we need to understand that we [journalists] generally know very little about what is really happening."

He specifically questioned whether journalists covering Labour in the UK had any understanding of what was actually happening within the party.

This lesson, he said, was one of the key things he learnt from covering last year's Greek crisis very closely, in the process of making the documentary This is a Coup.

The film-making team were granted unprecedented access in 2015 to the inside workings of the Alexis Tsipras government during pivotal moments of Greece's ongoing economic crisis. Mason said that, having been on the inside, he could see "there were times when we would sit among other journalists, and we would realise they had no idea what's going on. They were really good, and it's not their fault, but they had no idea what was going on."

He had some sympathy for the plight of the press pack in Brussels: "If you are one of those poor people who have to report Brussels, you'll know how difficult it is, even for the guys with the press passes, to get the story. They just get handed effectively a series of semi-leaks and spun information."

Mason appeared on a panel with journalist and film-maker Theopi Skarlatos who directed the documentary ahead of a screening of at the festival. The four part programme, available via YouTube, was initially crowdfunded, raising £45,000.

During the course of the panel, Mason was typically forceful in his criticism of Greek media coverage of the crisis.
"You may know that the previous government closed down the state broadcaster. Syriza reopened it, but it only reopened several days before the referendum [on the bailout conditions held in July 2015]. It started to create a momentum for the no campaign, because suddenly people realised what they'd been missing up to now: relatively objective state-funded journalism with good production values. The private media has good production values but its all owned by oligarchs, doesn't pay any tax, and doesn't even have a licence to use the frequencies they broadcast on."
Mason also expressed concerns about the future of Greece, currently under a great deal of pressure due to the refugee crisis, saying "I do believe that the European political elite is trying its utmost to suppress and get rid of the first left government in Europe."
"If Syriza falls, there won't be a conservative government. It will be replaced by a technocratic government. That's the plan of the Greek establishment. This technocratic government will mess up. We are really lucky that the fascists want to be black-shirted type hoodlums, because in other countries fascists have developed a brain and reinvented themselves as democratic politicians. We are lucky for the moment that the fascists have no chance of ruling Greece, but that may not be the case forever."
Mason recently quit his role as economics editor at Channel 4 News, citing the constraints of broadcast impartiality rules as a factor. He has recently been publishing articles on Medium, with titles such as "IMF's criminal neglect on Greece" and "Steel crisis: they do not give a shit - You're about to get a textbook lesson in neoliberalism" hinting at how frustrating he may have been finding the broadcast format.

You can watch Mason, Skarlatos and host Leonardo Bianchi talking about This is a Coup on the International Journalism Festival's website.