Government pulls plug on ERT

Backlash after government slams 'unique opacity and unbelievable wastage' of public broadcaster

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Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou cites chronic corruption and mismanagement as reasons for immediate closure of ERT. Public television and radio broadcaster to reopen with 'much smaller' staff. Outcry from opposition parties and ERT employees, who say they will oppose the plans. Junior coalition partner Democratic Left says broadcaster should remain open during restructuring and Pasok calls for urgent meeting of three coalition party leaders

The ERT signal went shortly before 11pm in most of the country (EnetEnglish) The ERT signal went shortly before 11pm in most of the country (EnetEnglish) The government has started its shut down of the national broadcaster ERT.

Screens went blank in many parts of the country shortly before 11pm.

In Corinth, for example, the broadcasts ceased at 10.50pm, just after presenters in studio said that riot police could be seen approaching transmitters. 

Earlier, the government has announced the radical measure to shut national broadcaster ERT with immediate effect and reopen it with a "much smaller" staff.

Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou - a former state TV journalist - cited corruption and mismanagement as the key reasons for the decision. However, junior coalition partners Pasok and Democratic Left said they do not support the move.

"ERT is a characteristic case of unique opacity and unbelievable wastage. And that ends today," Kedikoglou said in a televised address. "The government has decided to close ERT. In its place will be established a modern television and audio broadcaster that will operate as soon as possible."

He added that the new organisation will operate with a "a much smaller" staff. He did not give a timeframe, although a period of three months was originally mooted.

Existing employees, he said, can reapply for new positions.

The New Democracy-led measure was, however, not supported by junior coalition partners Pasok and Democratic Left, who did not sign the a hastily passed law allowing the closure. The legislative decree takes immediate effect but ultimately requires parliamentary approval.

Fotis Kouvelis' Democratic Left issued a statement later in the day, saying it opposed the closure and that the public broadcaster should remain open during the restructuring process.

Pasok called for an urgent meeting between the three coalition leaders after accusing the government of ignoring its junior members.

The POESY media trade union federation accused the government of sacrificing the broadcaster in order to satisfy troika demands. Some 2,000 state sector dismissals are expected within the summer as part of bailout commitments.

ERT announced that 2,656 staff members faced the sack across its national radio and television operations and regional radio stations. 

Kedikoglou said that the cost of ERT to Greeks on their electricity bill is around €300m a year, with an overall cost of "three to seven times as much as other TV stations and four to six times the personnel - for a very small viewership, about half that of an average private station."

There will be no ERT fee until the new organisation has been established, he said, adding that the new charge is expected to be significantly lower, with the overall amount reaching €100m a year.

Staff have vowed to resist the plans, insisting they will continue broadcasting on a 24-hour basis and will guard the company's headquarters.

The broadcaster's General Assembly of Journalists issued a statement saying that the staff have "the bravery and the desire to fight for ERT to stop being manipulated by every single- and multiparty power."

It added: "We, the workers, are still alive and we will stand up to circumstances. We will fight for an operating framework that will will guarantee and protect the independence of public broadcasting."

Main opposition leader Alexis Tsipras said that the government was "lying" to the public and had bypassed parliament. "Public broadcasting is a democratic necessity," the Syriza leader said. He urged the government to reverse its decision and call a parliamentary debate.

The general secretary of the Communist Party, Dimitris Koutsoumbas, described the decision as merely serving to "pass the wealth of public sector broadcasting into the hands of private [broadcasters]".

A new legislative decree, published in the official government gazette on June 11, allows ministers to shut down public entities. The degree was signed by President Karolas Papoulias, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and all New Democracy ministers and alternate ministers. 

Four ministers did not sign the decree: Antonis Manitakis (administrative reform) and Antonis Roupakiotis (justice), who were nominated by Democratic Left, and Evangelos Livieratos (environment) and Athanasios Tsaftaris (agriculture), nominated by Pasok. 

Late last month, Syriza said it would transform ERT along the lines of the British BBC. Part leader Tsipras said that the broadcaster needed to be freed from its relationship with the government and to focus on domestic production.

He said the uncompleted licensing procedure for television and radio stations needed to be started from scratch, with companies owing debts to employees, social insurance and pension funds excluded from the bidding.

An ERT newscaster announces the government's plans on air

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