Government interference cited as Nerit chairman and deputy resign

Syriza claims Nerit was told not to broadcast speech by Alexis Tsipras

Syriza blames the resignations of Nerit chairman and his deputy on a government directive to the station not to broadcast the speech of its leader to the Thessaloniki International Fair on Saturday

Nerit, the new Greek state broadcaster that the government set up to replace what it said was its corrupt and wasteful predecessor ERT, has been plunged into another crisis following the resignations of its two top executives, which the main opposition claims is a result of the political interference at the station.

Nerit chairman and CEO Antonis Makrydimitris stepped down on Thursday, along with his deputy Rudolph Moronis, only four months after Nerit’s first chairman, George Prokopakis, was replaced two days after the station went on air.

In a message posted to Facebook some hours before his resignation, Moronis gave strong indications that Nerit’s independence was being compromised.

“If you declare that you want to create something independent, impartial and of good quality but you don’t mean it, don’t assign the job to someone who does,” he wrote.

Speaking to the TheToc.gr news site, Moronis added: "According to the prevalent opinion as I see it, it [Nerit] will neither be an independent nor quality broadcaster. And I have no reason to try in vain."

On Friday, Syriza’s newspaper Avgi, under the headline “Coup to silence Tsipras”, said the resignations followed a government directive not to broadcast the speech of its leader to the Thessaloniki International Fair on Saturday. It is understood that the government made it known that Nerit would only broadcast Alexis Tsipras’ press conference from Thessaloniki on Sunday.

In previous years, the Thessaloniki speeches and press conferences of the prime minister, main opposition leader and other party leaders were always broadcast live. However, since he became prime minister, Samaras has not given the traditional press conference, with the government's slot taken this year by deputy premier Evangelos Venizelos.

Nerit replaced ERT, which Prime Minister Antonis Samaras' coalition government ordered to be shut down overnight in June 2013 on the grounds that it was a “symbol of corruption and waste”.

The resignations of Nerit’s CEO and deputy – who in the past were associated with New Democracy – came a day before the deadline for the submission of applications for the broadcaster’s managing board.

Earlier this week, an Athens court ruled that the government was wrong to fire 10 ERT employees last year and that they should be given their jobs back. That followed a ruling by a Crete court in May that said the firing of another 20 ERT employees was illegal.

It was reported recently that government involvement led to the appointment of Nikos Evangelatos to present a news programme on Nerit. His appointment comes on top of concerns that the procedures used to fill permanent positions at the new state broadcaster allow for considerable political involvement and interference in making appointments.

EBU: Nerit at the crossroads

Last month, the European Broadcasting Union, which strongly opposed the shutting of ERT but which later said it would Nerit, expressed its “profound concern about the future of public broadcasting in Greece” after parliament voted to adopt new procedures for the appointment of Nerit’s supervisory council.

In a letter addressed directly to the prime minister, EBU president Jean-Paul Philippot and director-general Ingrid Deltenre wrote: “We are now surprised and disappointed that these rules have been changed virtually overnight, without proper consultation and debate, and without considering best practice in Europe with regard to legal safeguards to ensure an independent and pluralistic composition of public service broadcasters’ supervisory bodies.”

The EBU said Nerit was now at a “crossroads”, with one road leading to editorial and political independence and the other leading back “to the old regime of political affiliation by infiltration”.

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European Broadcasting Union (EBU)
Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT)
Antonis Samaras
New Hellenic Radio Internet and Television (Nerit)