MINDING THE MEDIA: Greek Finger To Germany Controversy

“What you say or do in public or on the media can come back to haunt you big time, especially if you are Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis.”

Yanis Varoufakis Finger

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During the past few days, Germany has been outraged at the idea that they were given the finger by Mr. Varoufakis in a propaganda smear campaign YouTube video that’s going viral on the internet. Watch Video

Varoufakis is capable of handling himself fairly well in stressful on-camera interview situations, for example, this aggressive BBC Newsnight interview in early February, however, the Greek Finance Minister still has some things to learn about the television media and the consequences of not getting it exactly right.  Watch Video

Varoufakis Denied The Gesture

Varoufakis recently appeared via satellite on the German TV program Günther Jauch and denied having made the gesture at all. He claimed the finger shot, from a conference appearance in May of 2013, was manipulated and part of a campaign to discredit him. Watch Video 

Translated from German: ”I am embarrassed that you think that I would do something like that. but you probably did not know it was manipulated. I never showed that finger. This a fake video just like there is another doctored video that is circulating in Greece that shows me where I extend my hand and quickly pull it back.”

The Germans do not seem to be buying his denial and I have my doubts as well. Conveniently, a German TV presenter Jan Bohermann, host of satirical programme "Neo Magazin Royale" on public broadcaster ZDF admitted today that he and his team faked the finger shot. See Article

I studied the finger portion of the video frame by frame and I suspect that he did indeed give the finger, even so, taken in context of what he said and when he said it, the unfortunate gesture, served to illustrate his message point. Here is the full clip of Yanis Varoufakis speaking at a conference published on YouTube in May of 2013. Judge for yourself. See Video

Here’s what he said: "My proposal was that Greece should simply announce that it is defaulting, just like Argentina did, within the euro, in January 2010, and stick the finger to Germany and say well, you can now solve this problem by yourself".

Best Choice: Denial or Mea Culpa?

In spite of the “manipulated or not” video controversy, there is a lesson to be learned here. Only the Greek financial minister knows the real truth of whether he made the gesture or not. So there were two other possible options for him during the satellite interview:

Option #1 He made the gesture.

When asked by the interviewer to confirm the date the video was recorded, Varoufakis confirmed 2013, but again denied having given the finger which just made things worse and further eroded his credibility to the audience.

In my opinion, Varoufakis should have immediately admitted that obviously, at the conference in 2013, he did show the finger, but as a mindless illustration of what he was saying, followed by a mea culpa, apologizing to the German people that this portion of the video, taken out of context, resulted in an offence to them, and that it was not meant in that way.

Afterwards, he should have clarified that the offensive shot was taken out of context from a speech he gave in 2013, long before he took on the role of Greek Finance minister - that he simply gave an unfortunate visual illustration of what he was saying, for which he is deeply sorry.

Option #2 He did not make the gesture

When asked to confirm the date the interview was recorded, Varoufakis could have explained that the video had been manipulated and edited in such a way as to discredit Varoufakis and to purposely anger the German people - that he did not make the gesture, but wishes to apologize for the hurt, anger and misunderstanding that this cynical video caused them.

This is called “showing human face.”

About the author:
Working in Europe since 1990, senior executive trainer Rudi Goldman is the founder and managing director of Media in English. His 40+ years as a communicator includes the production of many successful and award-winning television programs from Los Angeles, New York, London and Hilversum. Media in English specializes in media training and consulting, crisis communications, executive presentation training & speech coaching, on-camera training & video production in the English language.