A holiday package offering the chance to Guardian readers to get a first-hand feeling of crisis-stricken Greece caused uproar both in Greek social and mainstream media and among other international news outlets, and resulted to a retreat and an apology by the British newspaper.
The 7-night package for Samos and Athens, costing £2,500 per person (excluding flights) promised to get travellers close to the hotspots of both the refugee crisis in Samos and the socioeconomic crisis in Athens.
The Guardian, in collaboration with the ‘Political Tours’ travel agency, would provide meetings with the paper’s correspondent in Greece, local journalists, an unidentified ex minister, NGO officials and even everyday families struggling to make ends meet.
The holiday offer was quickly condemned as “shameless slum tourism” or “crisis porn”. The fact that the Guardian has been in the frontline of the Greek crisis coverage, particularly with regard to its impact on the people of Greece, made the anger expressed even stronger.
On the day that the offence and betrayal felt by many became clear, the Guardian Holiday website removed the Greek trip post, as well as the other two offers in conjunction with Political Tours, for Bosnia-Herzegovina and Ukraine.
On the same day, a Guardian News and Media spokesperson told this Agency that “on reflection, the project has been paused in order to reconsider our approach.”
Subsequently, the Guardian News and Media group issued an apology: “ The Guardian was working with Political Tours on a trial project, which included a Greece trip aimed at people who wanted a deeper understanding of the country’s political and social landscape. We have now cancelled this project and apologise for the offence caused. The Guardian remains committed to our independent reporting of Greece and always will be.
“This was an initiative led by a commercial team and not by our journalists. Helena Smith, the Guardian’s Greece correspondent, had agreed to give a talk but had no involvement in organising, leading or promoting the trip.”
Political Tours, run by a former New York Times and BBC journalist, has been taking travellers to many countries around the world, organising tours that would appeal to a journalist or a documentary maker.
In the case of the Greek trip offered through the Guardian, however, it seemed like the organisers would be using ordinary people and refugee hotspots as a sight to be visited and observed. Charging for this kind of ‘sightseeing’ made the idea a gross misjudgment that was indefensible.
In a wider context, the whole issue could also be used as a case in point about how insensitive we’ve become over stories of fellow human beings suffering. In an era of relentless news coverage and with social media providing us with an easy and costless way to channel our grief or anger, images of war, death and poverty have been rationalised and often commercialised…. / IBNA