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Greece pulls plug on state broadcaster

Updated: 2013-06-13 08:15
By Agencies in Athens ( China Daily)

 Greece pulls plug on state broadcaster

An employee of Greek public television and radio broadcaster ERT cries as thousands of demonstrators gather outside the ERT headquarters in Athens, after Greece's government announced on Tuesday the immediate closure of ERT. Louisa Gouliamaki / Agence France-Presse


ERT goes off the air amid protests at govt move

Greece was in the grip of a new political crisis on Wednesday as the government faced an internal revolt and fierce public protest over the shock shutdown of state broadcaster ERT.

The broadcaster's television and radio stations were abruptly pulled off the air late on Tuesday, and its 2,700 staff was suspended as part of the conservative-led coalition government's deeply unpopular austerity drive.

Greece pulls plug on state broadcaster

"The ERT lockup amounts to a coup d'etat," leading union GSEE said in a statement announcing a 24-hour general strike for Thursday, the third in the crisis-hit country this year.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras' government defended the closure of the 60-year-old institution, saying it was a "haven of public waste" and too corrupt to save.

"We are doing things correctly," government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou told journalists on Wednesday.

"There was no other way," he said as the government unveiled a bill on a new public broadcasting entity. "When you restructure something from the foundations, you have to close it, temporarily. ... We are creating a completely independent public television."

Kedikoglou also announced a draft bill for the establishment of a new public television and radio broadcaster by autumn this year. The new public broadcasting service to be named NERIT (New Hellenic Radio, Internet, TV Broadcaster) will be on air by the end of August, staffed with up to 1,200 employees.

But the sudden shutdown of ERT caused an uproar, with journalists kicking off a 24-hour strike on Wednesday while defiant staff staged sit-ins at the organization's offices in Athens and Greece's second-largest city, Thessaloniki.

Riot police stationed

Riot police were stationed outside ERT offices around the country to prevent "any destruction", said Kedikoglou, himself a former journalist at the organization.

Greeks watched ERT's online program on laptops in corner shops and homes, many expressing disbelief at the decision to close it.

"I feel very bad. I'm very upset. ... This is a big loss for TV," Athens resident Eytixia Kaziani said. "I feel bad for the channel. It was one of the best in Greece. ... I'm making a plea to the government to reopen the channel and rehire ERT employees."

The government has imposed sweeping public cutbacks demanded by the debt-laden country's international lenders in return for a massive bailout.

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 is a case of an exceptional lack of transparency and incredible extravagance. This ends now," Kedikoglou had said on Tuesday in announcing the closure.

Employees at the station, stunned by the sudden loss of their jobs, were defiantly transmitting rogue broadcasts on the Internet, vowing to resist the shutdown.

"We are not leaving the building," said Panagiotis Kalfayiannis, the head of ERT's main union.

"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 European Broadcasting Union, based in Geneva, Switzerland, expressed its "profound dismay" in a letter to Samaras, urging him to reverse course.

Media observers acknowledge that ERT has a long history of mismanagement and heavy-handed political meddling, but say the Samaras administration was not free of blame.


(China Daily 06/13/2013 page12)

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