ERT closure worsening the Greek political crisis

Eugénie Rousak, translated by Florence Carré
1 Juillet 2013

The wave of this spring’s mass protests keeps going in the South-East Europe. Only few weeks after the rise of the Taksim square protests in Istanbul, it is Athens’ turn to be shaken by disappointed citizens.

Photo Credit -- Reuters
Photo Credit -- Reuters
On Tuesday’s afternoon, while tourists came to enjoy the sun and the Greek beaches, lazing about on their sun beds, sipping some “freddo cappuccino” (frozen cinnamon cappuccino), tension is rising in Aghia Paraskevi –a North-East Athens’ suburb-  in the Greek public broadcaster’s headquarter, Elliniki Radiofonía Tileórasi (ERT).

Originally a broadcasting radio between the two World Wars, the company got wider and created the first Hellenic speaking TV channel in the 1960s, today called ET1. This TV channel was only broadcasting from 5pm till 2am for the first 20 years after its creation. Nowadays, it could definitely boast about the historic and symbolic attachment it enjoys from the Greek population “ERT belongs to the Greek people (…) it is the only independent media and the only public voice,” says the GSEE union. According to Christos – a retired journalist- ERT is today: “a free media, the media of the people”. The company ran a TV channel, ERT1, five radio stations (ERA NET, ERA2, ERA3, ERA SPOR and ERA5/Voice of Greece), and had 19 regional stations depended on it, as well as KOSMOS (world music in FM) and FILIA (multilingual radio).
Event though it was well-established, on Tuesday 11th June, the company was shaken by the announcement of the government’s spokesman –Simos Kedikoglou- who declared: “ERT broadcasting will end when programs finish tonight (that is Tuesday 11, June 2013).” He explains the decision by the “exceptional lack of transparency and incredible extravagance,” of the Greek broadcaster. Following this statement, local media publicly announced a “provisional suspension of one month in order to proceed to ERT restructuring”. Meanwhile the Finance Department was revealing ERT did not exist anymore.
Consequently, nearly 2,700 employees lost their jobs last Wednesday 12th June. The government ensured they will receive compensation and they could apply for jobs once the broadcaster has been restructured.
Following this statement, ERT channels did not stop broadcasting, even after the evening programs end and after screens turned black at 11pm, local time (9pm GMT).
To protest against the decision, employees went back to their offices on Wednesday morning to record programs, which are only available on the company website at Protest rallies were organized straight away by employees and unions, and soon were joined by the population. Political reactions were also strong and sharp.

Opposition leader Syriza Tsipras denounced a “coup” while the socialist Pasok party said in a statement “we absolutely disagree with the government’s particular decision and management,” along with Dimar (from the Democratic Left) who affirmed that his party “will repeat its strong opposition to ERT closure”.
Thereby, Greek governing parties, already split by the economic crisis, now keep on fighting on the field of the media’s freedom. This is another opposition weakening -even more- the coalition government, already fragile which could lead the country right into political chaos.
Other organizations –such as shipping companies- are about to start strikes in support of ERT, which could definitely make the situation worse for the country, when it was expecting summer tourism to help improving the economic prospect.

“This public channel had very few audience and the quality of its programs was really low, therefore, a cut in the number of employees was totally worth it”, a cafe’s owner on Santorini Island told the Journal International.
In its eternal quest of budget’s cuts, the government tries to lower its expenses by limiting the medias benefits handled “in the Greek style”, which put the Greek political situation in total disarray. Is it worth to favor economic issues over political ones, risking at the same time to bring the country into a generalized crisis which could eventually end on a “coup d’Etat”?