Greece in crisis over state TV closure
June 13, 2013
GREECE is facing a new political crisis as the government confronts a storm of public protest and a looming general strike over its shock decision to shut down state broadcaster ERT.
The socialist and moderate leftist parties supporting the coalition government were to hold an emergency meeting to decide their response as Prime Minister Antonis Samaras refused to back down.
"We are eliminating a hotbed of opacity and waste,'' Samaras said at a European Investment Bank event in Athens. "We are protecting the public interest.''
The broadcaster's television and radio stations were abruptly pulled off air late Tuesday and its nearly 2,700 staff suspended as part of the conservative-led coalition government's deeply unpopular austerity drive.
"The ERT lockup amounts to a coup d'etat,'' leading union GSEE said in a statement. It announced a 24-hour general strike on Thursday, the third in the crisis-hit country this year.
There was also a protest by journalists in neighbouring Cyprus, where there are fears that budget-straining broadcaster RIK could go the same way as the government looks to slash spending in the island's own austerity drive.
The Samaras administration quickly presented legislation creating a new broadcaster called New Hellenic Radio, Internet and Television (NERIT) to replace the 60-year-old ERT.
"You can't fix a car while it is running, you have to take it off the road,'' government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou told journalists.
"It is a temporary postponement.... Everything will pass by parliament, I assure you it's all legal,'' he said, promising a "restart" during the summer.
But the sudden shutdown of ERT caused uproar, with journalists kicking off a 24-hour strike Wednesday while defiant staff staged sit-ins at the organisation's offices in Athens and Greece's second-largest city Thessaloniki.
Riot police were stationed outside ERT offices around the country to prevent "any destruction'', said Kedikoglou, himself a former journalist at the organisation.
The government has imposed sweeping public cutbacks demanded by the debt-laden country's international lenders in return for a massive bailout.
However, the spokesman insisted ERT's closure was not part of Greece's bailout obligations.
"This has nothing to do with the troika,'' Kedikoglou said, referring to Greece's creditors, the European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank.
Greece is caught in a six-year recession which austerity critics say has been exacerbated by successive pay and pension cuts imposed at the behest of its EU-IMF creditors.
Unemployment is steadily rising and now exceeds 26 percent, with half of young people out of work.
ERT employees, stunned by the sudden loss of their jobs, were defiantly transmitting rogue broadcasts on the Internet and the Communist party channel, vowing to resist the shutdown.
"We are not leaving the building,'' Panagiotis Kalfayiannis, the head of ERT's main union, said. "We are going to Greek and European justice. Even if they want to destroy democracy, rules still apply and I am going to fight.''
Thousands of people rushed to ERT's main headquarters in Athens and its Thessaloniki offices on Tuesday to show their support for the broadcaster.
The European Union said it did not question the government decision but that public broadcasting was "an integral part of European democracy''.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe's representative on media freedom, Dunja Mijatovic, also warned that ERT's closure could deprive citizens of a diversity of views.
"Public service broadcasting plays an indispensable role in a country's democracy. It is the only information source that by law has the obligation to provide objective news and unbiased information to citizens,'' Mijatovic said.
Media observers acknowledge that ERT has a long history of mismanagement and heavy-handed political meddling, but say the Samaras administration is not free of blame.
Recent controversial decisions include the appointment of a former deputy minister's daughter as a show host, and the ousting of two journalists who had criticised the public order minister on air.
Messages of support for the broadcaster have poured in from the Greek diaspora - for whom ERT is a vital link to the homeland - and the Orthodox Church.
The government said ERT would reopen with around half its current employees. All 2,655 current staff would be compensated and allowed to reapply for a job at the revamped organisation.
The shutdown followed months of work stoppages by ERT employees in protest at plans to restructure the broadcaster called for by Greece's creditors.
Athens has pledged to cut 4,000 state-sector jobs this year and another 11,000 in 2014 to keep drawing rescue loans under the EU-IMF package.
As a reminder:
Greece: The Rise of the Junta
...Using a NATO plan to protect Greece against a communist invasion, a handful of junior officers led by Colonel George Papadopoulos, fearful of the upcoming election and the rise of the left, overthrow the Greek government and declare martial law, outlawing strikes, labor unions, long hair on men, mini-skirts, the peace symbol, the Beatles, Sophocles, Tolstoy, Aeschylus, Socrates, Eugene Ionesco, Sartre, Chekhov, Mark Twain, Samuel Beckett, free press, new math and the letter Z...
... In June of 1967 the Junta announces Army Order No.13 which states that it is forbidden "...to reproduce or play the music and songs of the composer Mikis Theodorakis, the former leader of the now dissolved communist Organisation, the Lambrakis Youth because this music is in the service of communism ... to sing any songs used by the communist youth movement which was dissolved under Paragraph Eight of the Decree of 6 May 1967, since these songs arouse passions and cause strife among the people. Citizens who contravene this Order will be brought immediately before the military tribunal and judged under martial law." A short time later Theodorakis himself is arrested...
... In another major even of 1969 Kosta-Gavras releases his film Z about the assassination of Grigoris Lambrakis. The movie has been filmed in Algeria since it obviously could not be filmed in Greece. It is nominated for a large number of top awards, including an Oscar for Best Picture, winning the Oscar for Best Foreign Film It also wins the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Picture, and is named best picture by the New York Film Critics Circle Awards and National Society of Film Critics Awards . The film also is nominated for a Golden Palm award at the Cannes film festival. The soundtrack, by Mikis Theodorakis, who is under arrest at the time, becomes a hit record though of course like the film it is banned in Greece. The film ends with a list of things banned by the Junta which include the peace movement, strikes, labor unions, long hair on men, mini-skirts, the peace symbol, the Beatles, Sophocles, Tolstoy, Aeschylus, Socrates, Eugene Ionesco, Sartre, Chekhov, Mark Twain, Samuel Beckett, free press, new math and the letter Z , which means 'he lives'...
... On March 26, 1970 the regime closes the daily newspaper Ethnos...
... In October of 1971 Vice-President Spiro Agnew visits Greece, under heavy security. Two years later he becomes the first Vice-President to resign due to criminal charges, which include extortion, tax evasion and bribery. Two months after his visit the government of Greece announces that negotiations are taking place to make Athens the home port for the US 6th Fleet. A year later the agreement is signed. The Nixon-Agnew election campaign also receives a half a million dollar donation from the Junta, alleged to have come from the CIA, though a senate investigation of the donation is cancelled at the request of Henry Kissinger...
Photo: Greece, November, 17 1973