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Samaras stands firm as pressure mounts over ERT closure

Defiant taff continue broadcasting as coalition partners request urgent meeting with PM

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In another memorable day in the ERT saga on Wednesday, the prime minister ended proceedings by standing firm on his decision to close the public broadcaster, despite protests from the two junior coalition party leaders that ERT should remain open during its restructuring. Staff defied the closure by continuing to broadcast throughout the day, with online live-streams carrying the pictures. Thousands turned out at the ERT headquarters to show solidarity for the staff and the institution while – symbolically – the ERT orchestra continued to play inside the building, with their music being relayed to the crowd outside.

21.45 This is where our live blog ends for the night. A 24-hour media strike has been called for Thursday, in which EnetEnglish and Eleftherotypia are due to participate. 

21.10 If by any chance you are wondering why ERT matters so much to Greeks, read this report by Associated Press journalist Derek Gatopoulos: ERT survived the Nazis and the junta but not the troika

20.50 Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has just made his long-awaited speech at the Megaro Mousiki, as part of an Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry event. He repeated the line of his government spokesman yesterday that the public broadcaster symbolises a lack of transparency and waste. He said that ERT is not closing but that his government is undertaking a bold restructuring of public television. He also attacked unions for silencing the media, notably in calling strikes when a foreign leader visits Greece or something optimistic happens in the country. Rolling 24-hour strikes have been called by the main journalists' union Poesy for all media from Thursday. There was no mention of a meeting with his coalition partners.

20.15 The EBU, the alliance of public service media organisations, is now offering live-streaming of NET television, saying: "The EBU has been accessing the stream and retransmitting it via satellite to give Europe’s public service media access to ERT's news content."

19.55 Evangelos Venizelos adds that the three coalition parties should meet to forge a common ground over the ERT restructuring – with the broadcaster remaining open. He, too, questions the working relationship of the three-party coalition, or more precisely that of of New Democracy with its two junior partners.

19.40 Democratic Left's Fotis Kouvelis has just emerged from his meeting with Evanvgelos Venizelos and reiterated that ERT should be restructured but it shouldn't close. He also called for greater coordination among the three coalition parties that make up the government. Crucially, he appears not to be pressing the prime minister to take back his decision or risk the fall of the government and early elections.. 

19.30 There are an estimated 5,000 people currently outside the ERT headquarters in Agia Paraskevi, in northern Athens, as public solidarity for the (former?) employees of the public television and radio company grows. The broadcaster's orchestra has been performing for some time within the building and their music is being relayed over loudspeakers outside. 

19.25 The meeting between junior coalition party leaders Evangelos Venizelos (Pasok) and Fotis Kouvelis (Democratic Left) is still going on. According to sources, the two leaders were visibly angry with the growing frequency with which they have been sidelined by Antonis Samaras in the three-party coalition government. Both Venizelos and Kouvelis have said that they disagree with the manner in which ERT was closed, stressing that any restructuring should be done with the public broadcaster open. Rumours of an impending vote of confidence in the government being called have been swirling all day long.

18.50 Laos party leader Yiorgos Karatzaferis threw his weight behind Antonis Samaras' decision to close ERT, saying: "He might have done it in a slightly ugly way, but someone needed to do it." 

18.00 Speaking at a European Investment Bank function on Thursday, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras defended the government's decision to close ERT and reopen it with a scaled down staff.

We are abolishing a front of opacity and waste. It bothers some people because they want to preserve both a lack of transparency and waste. We are protecting public interests at a time that some consider public property to be their own.

We decided to temporarily close what has existed to now and to create a new public radio and television broadcaster in its place. But nobody wanted to mention that 'temporarily' last night ... because they didn't want the Greek people to know about it. And they continue to do so today.

17.55am Athens metro and Ilektriko (electric railway) workers will hold a work stoppage between the scheduled start of operation until 9am on Thursday. However, their unions stopped short of joining their colleagues on the bus and trolley services, who will observe the Confederation General Workers' Union's call for a 24hr strike.

17.20 The European Union has already said that it played no part in the decision to close ERT. Well, before the IMF says something similar, read this passage of the IMF's fourth review of Greece's bailout programme in July 2011 - specifically page 83, paragraph 2, under the headline 'Closure of non-essential public entities and agencies'

By mid-August [Greece] will pass legislation to close a further 40 small entities, merge 25 other small entities, and to close, merge or consolidate an additional 11 large entities with total current employment of 7,000 (including existing asset management companies; construction companies; and public television stations).

17.05 @ert_social tweets that ERT employees have succeeded in circulating the historic weekly television and radio programme Radiotileorasi in the regions today and in Athens tomorrow.

16.55 A large crowd has gathered outside the ERT3 building in Thessaloniki. There are reports of strong riot police presence.

16.30 Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is willing to call a vote of confidence, according to prime ministerial sources. The news comes after talk of early elections has intensified through the day, with both junior coalition party leaders currently locked in a meeting to discuss the ERT developments. 

16.00 An emergency meeting begins between junior coalition party leaders Evangelos Venizelos (Pasok) and Fotis Kouvelis (Democratic Left). Both parties have said that they want public broadcaster ERT to stay open while restructuring is carried out.

15.55 As staff continue to defy the government's closure of ERT's television and radio stations, this is one of a number of live streams currently online

 

15.35 There will be no bus or trolley service in Athens tomorrow as their respective unions have opted to participate in the 24hr strike called by the General Workers' Union in solidarity with ERT employees

15.30 In light of the ERT developments, Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras' meeting with the troika inspectors has been postponed until Saturday. 

15.00 News website enikos.gr is showing a livestream of ERT's 3pm news bulletin 

15.00 Calling for solidarity in London, Danae Andrea Caracortada has posted this on her Facebook.

Hello to all the Greeks and our friends out there! It is of extreme importance for this effort to attract PUBLICITY in order to actually succeed something and effectively expose the lunatic action taken by the Greek government. So, what we absolutely NEED right now is people to know about this. Please, anyone who knows people from channels or newspapers contact them to come to the Greek embassy at 5 p.m. If we want to help Greece and its people, we need to show Britain firstly, and the world secondly, the absurdities that have taken place. Please, DO HELP.

14.50 Another twist to the tale... Tonight's A1 third basketball final between Olympiakos and Panathinaikos will be shown on Skai TV. Or at least it will be if the Panathinaikos team show up. The club, who lead the best-of-five final 2-0, will not play the game unless ERT, which owned the exclusive rights to televise basketball, is reopened – according to the club's president, Dimitris Giannopoulos.

14.00 And a live stream from parliament.

13.40 We found another ERT live feed, this time at KoutiPandoras.gr.

13.30 Olli Rehn, European commissioner for economic issues, said in Brussels the European Commission had no role in the closure of ERT and that it was the Greek government's decision. He added, however, that he didn't dispute the right of the Greek government to take measures to consolidate its budgetary situation. He added that the commission is aware of the role public broadcasters play in modern democracies, but under the Lisbon treaty it cannot dictate national broadcasting policy to national governments.  

13.20 In a statement, New Democracy has accused the country's media unions of muzzling the press. The announcement follows the refusal of unions to allow ND MP Adonis Georgiadis present the party's case on air on Vima FM. Unions called a general news strike on all radio and television stations, but permit stations to discuss the ERT situation. 

13.05 A meeting between President Karolos Papoulias and Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras finished in the last half hour. Tsipras described the government's shutdown of ERT as unprecedented and appealed to the president to intervene to prevent the law being passed. Earlier, the head of the Communist Party (KKE), Dimitris Koutsoumpas, made a similar appeal to the president, in a telephone conversation. 

12.50 Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou has just finished a briefing for the foreign press only. He told the 35 foreign correspondents and journalists present that it was "a big lie that ERT was shutting down".

"A lopsided structure is shutting down. It was built wrong to begin with. It's a restart," said Kedikoglou, who worked at ERT from 1990 to 1995. He likened the relaunch to rebuilding a car with a new engine.

He also said that the new communications bill (see 11.35) will guarantee the new station's independence. He added that he has been trying to reform ERT for the past year. 

Referring to the negative response of Pasok and Democratic Left to the shut down, he said the junior coalition partners "agree with the government's goal to reform the station but believe it should remain open while that happens".

Kedikoglou said he decided to pull the plug on the station as unions would have gone on strike in protest at the restructuring. He implied that ERT's journalists were privileged in that they were kept out of the unified public service payroll introduced last year. 

12.40 Live streaming of ERT has resumed on Zougla.gr.

12.35 A state prosecutor, accompanied by the MAT riot police, will go to ERT's headquarters at 3pm. We're trying to find out what the purpose of that visit is.  

12.30 24-hour general strike for Thursday, called by the country's main trade union federations GSEE (private sector) and Adedy (public sector).

Noon All live streams from ERT's occupied headquarters seem to have stopped. The Press Project, which was streaming the feed until two hours ago, says in a tweet that the only way now for the web broadcasts to continue is to transfer the signal through 4G WiFi. They are working on it.

 

11.40 People (some known to EnetEnglish) are already poking fun at ERT's new name, which the government says will be Nerit. 

11.35 The new bill on restructuring ERT has been published on the website of the government's general secretariat for communications (pdf). The new entity will be called Nerit, which stands for New Hellenic Radio Internet and Television. The new entity will be a "public enterprise owned by the public sector and regulated by the state". Its share capital will come from the state, with initial capital coming from an inventory and valuation of ERT's assets.

Revenue will be gathered in the same way as before – levied on all electricity bills – but the fee is not specified. The new broadcaster will be run by the seven-member board, whose members will serve nine-year terms to ensure continuity and independence. 

The new company will employ full- and part-time staff, although the bill gives no indication in what ratio. It also leaves open the option for management to make special hirings. 

No date is given for the reopening, although the government spokesman suggested yesterday that the relaunch would happen by the end of the summer. 

11.30 There have been strong reactions from the Cypriot state broadcaster RIK to the ERT shutdown. RIK's management says ERT has a number of contractual obligations with it. 

11.15 In a welcome reappearance, Marilena Katsimi, who lost her position at ERT in December following criticism of a minister, is back in the presenter's chair at the station. 

11.00 Yesterday's decision to shut down ERT came from Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and his New Democracy colleagues. Junior coalition partners Pasok and Democratic Left (Dimar) say they do not agree and have agreed to meet with Pospert, the union representing ERT employees: Dimar leader Fotis Kouvelis was scheduled to meet the union at 10.30am and Pasok's Evangelos Venizelos at 2pm.

10.50 ERT employees have called a protest outside the broadcaster in Ayia Paraskevi at 11am. The country's main trade union federations GSEE (private sector) and Adedy (public sector) will meet at noon to discuss their course of action.

10.30 There is no news broadcasting in Greece today, after unions called a 48-hour since 6am in radio and television stations. Newspapers will be on strike for a 24-hour strike from 6am on Thursday.

10.00 Journalists fired from the national state TV and radio are continuing to broadcast from station's headquarters, via internet streaming. You can see the broadcasts at Zougla.gr and on the 902 website (since halted). A live feed from a Spanish station went off air a short time ago, after ten hours transmission. 

In a nutshell

- Screens went blank hours on Tuesday evening after a government said it was closing national broadcaster ERT for an unspecified period of time and lay off over 2,600 workers, presenting it as a cost-cutting drive demanded by the troika

- The New Democracy-led government said the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation, or ERT, will reopen "as soon as possible" with a new, smaller workforce. It wasn't immediately clear how long that would take, and whether all stations would reopen

- Thousands of protesters remained outside ERT's headquarters in northern Athens through the night as journalists continued a live broadcast, which was streamed online

- The shutdown also halted relays of BBC World, Deutsche Welle and Cypriot national broadcaster RIK

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