Not just a pretty face

Women on Greek public television from the late 1960s to today

Damianos Agravaras (opens in new window) (Archive of the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation – ERT Archives)

On February 23, 1966, journalist and presenter Eleni Kypraiou welcomed Greek viewers for the first time by announcing the television programme of the day. This was the official launch of Greek public television, operated by the National Radio Foundation (EIR). Since then, the presence of women on Greek television in shows and documentaries has taken various forms, influenced by social and political developments in the country.

Greek television goes on air

The first steps of Greek television coincided with the imposition of the seven-year-long military dictatorship on April 21, 1967. The Armed Forces Information Service (initially named “TED”, later renamed to “YENED”) was the second TV channel. In 1970, EIR was renamed to “National Foundation of Radio and Television - EIRT”.

Within a militaristic, anti-communist, extremely conservative and patriarchal regime, Greek female TV presenters were trapped in the role of "hostesses" in fashion and beauty shows, children's programmes and culture shows, which were broadcast mainly on the YENED channel.

A trailer broadcast on this channel promoted a programme about women's interests (mainly shows of fashion, beauty and wellness).

Democratisation through TV

After the restoration of democracy in 1974, a more liberal period began in which women gradually gained more rights and wider participation in public life. In 1975, Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT) was founded as a successor of EIRT. The first female technicians began working on public television as editors and sound engineers. Nonetheless, they still encountered suspicion and prejudice from their male colleagues.

During this decade notable women in Greek public life began appearing on television, talking mostly about the importance of restoring democracy, the emerging new era that was beginning for the country, and female achievements. Melina Mercouri, an important actress and politician, spoke in 1974 on the show Reporters about her return to Greece, her plans concerning culture, and her intentions to direct a documentary about Greek women for the Greek National Television.

Another characteristic show from that period is titled Modern Eve. The journalist Elli Evangelidou hosted the show for more than ten years, discussing important contemporary issues with her guests. In this excerpt, Helene Glykatzi-Ahrweiler, rector of the Sorbonne University, discusses educational, artistic, historical and social issues with Elli Evangelidou.

The Greek feminist awakening

During the 1980s, major changes in Greek family law were made and, for the first time, women were largely equated with men. Public television broadcast documentaries that highlighted the contribution of Greek women to key moments in the country's history. In the episode ‘Women who participated in the Greek Resistance Movement’ from the documentary series Born a woman (1982), the participation of women in the Resistance during the Nazi occupation of the country (1941-1944) is highlighted.

At the same time, female journalists and presenters became more involved in presenting news bulletins or undertaking difficult reporting assignments. ERT journalist Evi Demiri visited Southern Lebanon in 1981, talking to young Palestinian fighters and the president of the Palestinian Authority and leader of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, Yasser Arafat.

During the 1980s, public television devoted a number of programmes to the promotion of female public figures, distinguished in letters and arts as well as ordinary women. Woman on television, a 1985 news programme, focuses on the representation of Greek women on TV.

The rise of private broadcast and public TV

The advent of private television in 1989 resulted in intense competition between private and public TV stations. The leading private broadcasters adopted successful formats, such as music shows, Greek sitcoms, dramas and soap operas.

In an effort to adjust to the new competitive television landscape, lighthearted programs made their appearance on ERT, reproducing the stereotypical image of beautiful women that were presented on the private channels.

This effort is reflected on the covers of ERT's official magazine Radio-Television, which for the first time featured glamorous and beautiful women.

Cover of the magazine “Radiotileorasi” (“Radio-Television”), issue 1093, 26/1/1991– 2/2/1991, ERT Archives. © In copyright

Despite the competition, Greek public television maintained a focus on quality and depth. More emphasis was put on informative and educational programmes, while more women made their appearance on Greek public TV in key roles. ERT journalist Liana Kanelli presented the talk show Logo Timis (‘Word of Honor’). In the following excerpt, Κanelli talks with French author Pascal Bruckner about European politics and culture.

Highlighting social and gender issues through TV

Through its long-standing tradition of producing high-quality documentaries, as well as through efforts to fulfill the needs of diverse audiences, the programming of public television during the 2000s addressed contemporary social issues, like immigration and racism. The documentary of director Pandora Mouriki, Home - My Sierra Leone (2007) presents the life of Antonia Medevi, a 14-year old, second generation immigrant.

Nowadays, women journalists host a variety of news and entertainment programmes. Contemporary productions, such as the documentary series Dangerous (2021-22), highlights issues from which women suffer today, like domestic violence, sexual identity and self-identification.

Women have played a decisive role since the beginning of Greek public television. Full of dynamism, as well as sensitivity and creativity, women continue to shine and be on the vanguard of television history, both on screen and behind the cameras.

This blog is part of the editorials of Europeana Subtitled, a project which enabled audiovisual media heritage to be enjoyed and increased its use through closed captioning and subtitling.