ERT [the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation] — the Greek national public television broadcaster — was closed last week on the orders of conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras in a move designed to placate the country’s international lenders.
Late Monday, following a court ruling reversing the closure of major public outrage, members of the coalition government claimed they had reached an agreement which would appoint a special manager to decide just how many of the network’s 2,700 pink-slipped employees would get their jobs back.
The 11 June shutdown was dramatic:
Equally dramatic was the reaction both inside Greece and within the larger European Union.
There are fears the country may well be on its way to an early election, if coalition parties cannot reach agreement about ERT’s closure.
“You decided and commanded to silence the state television, tarnishing both democracy and freedom of speech. Such things happen on only on two occasions, minister: only when there is a foreign invasion of the country or when there is a collapse of democracy,” said the Syriza party leader Alexis Tsipras.
The European Broadcasting Union fried off its own protest to Samaras:
President of the EBU, Jean Paul Philippot and the EBU Director General, Ingrid Deltenre urged Mr Samaras “to use all his powers to immediately reverse this decision”.
The existence of public service media and their independence from government lie at the heart of democratic societies, and therefore any far-reaching changes to the public media system should only be decided after an open and inclusive democratic debate in Parliament – and not through a simple agreement between two government ministers.
In the letter, the EBU stresses the importance of public service media as an essential pillar of democratic and pluralistic societies across Europe.
The ousted Greek broadcasters proved resilient, occupying the studios and continuing to send out programming via satellite and over the Internet.
Samaras’s actions prompted a call for a national strike and threaten to shatter the coalition government.
Reuters reports on the response of the occupying journalists, who had been earing a mere €1,200 a month, the equivalent of $19,250 a year:
“What we’re saying is that we want public TV to belong to those who pay for it, and that’s the citizens of this country,” anchorwoman Chrysa Roumelioti said on air as her co-presenter nodded somberly. “Let them be the ones to judge us.”
A bevy of studio guests, from French and Italian journalists to local celebrities and actors, stopped by to express their outrage and solidarity.
“We feel angry and scared and cheated,” Maria Alexaki, a 31-year-old foreign news editor told Reuters from the newsroom as she finished presenting her morning show.
“It still hasn’t sunk in, but our heart and soul is here. We’re doing our shows not for us but for all the people out there who are demanding a public broadcaster.”
Protests begin, politicians dither
In this clip, ERT journalists occupying the studios report on protests outside the station as Greeks mobilized in support of the workers:
Journalists across the country struck in protest, and a movement began, symbolized by this poster from Keep Talking Greece “with the help of Spanish internet friend ‘Todos Somos Griegos’”:
The shock of the shutdown of an emblematic institution threatened to shatter the coalition of conservative New Democracy, Pasok [the Greek socialist party], and Democratic Left.
To Vima reported Monday that
the Prime Minister’s relationship with his two government partners Evangelos Venizelos and Fotis Kouvelis has suffered dearly.
The three partners are one step before a full-blown conflict, a development that would cause a monumental shock to the country’s political system. This is also the first time that the Prime Minister’s method of operation is openly questioned.
The Prime Minister’s decision to show down ERT despite the objections of Venizelos and Kouvelis during their meeting at Mr. Samaras’ home has dramatically exacerbated their relations. The PASOK and DIMAR leaders are furious at Mr. Samaras, who maintains he did the right thing and operated democratically, while claiming that Mr. Venizelos and Kouvelis were aware of the ERT shutdown.
Then came a key court ruling Monday, as reported by Lefteris Papadimas and Renee Maltezou of Reuters:
A Greek court on Monday ordered the state broadcaster back on air while it is restructured, allowing squabbling coalition leaders to move towards a compromise that avoids early elections.
The ruling came six days after Prime Minister Antonis Samaras suddenly switched ERT off to save money and please foreign lenders, sparking an outcry from unions, journalists and exposing a rift with his allies.
The top administrative court appeared to vindicate Samaras’s stance that a leaner, cheaper public broadcaster must be set up but also allowed for ERT’s immediate reopening as his two coalition partners had demanded, offering all three a way out of an impasse that had raised the spectre of a snap election.
More from the BBC:
The leading party in the governing coalition, the conservative New Democracy, said last Tuesday that ERT suffered from chronic mismanagement, lack of transparency and waste.
It shut the broadcaster down with the loss of nearly 2,700 jobs. Viewers saw TV screens go black as the signal was switched off.
Greece’s top administrative court – the Council of State – upheld Mr Samaras’s plan to replace ERT with a new broadcaster later this year but backed the position of the other coalition partners that the signal must be restored in the interim.
The case was brought by ERT’s union in an attempt to overturn Mr Samaras’s surprise move.
The inevitable political meetings followed the court ruling.
In a statement after the meeting, PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos said the court ruling had “vindicated” PASOK and stressed the need for an overhaul of the government, hinting at a reshuffle. “The talks were about ERT, but the main issue is for the government to operate as a real coalition, not with New Democracy just tolerating its partners,” Venizelos said. He called on Samaras to “examine the ruling” and take “bold moves.”
Fotis Kouvelis of Democratic Left made a similar statement, condemning the premier for taking the “unilateral action” to close ERT.
Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras, who also attended the talks, had a different interpretation; he said it determined that ERT should stay closed while a temporary program is broadcast. “The big issue for the government is for radical reforms to continue,” he said, expressing hopes that coalition leaders would “converge” in fresh talks tomorrow.
A compromise is reached
But a later announcement Monday declared that a settlement had been reached.
The coalition leaders’ meeting has concluded. Speaking to reporters, junior coalition leaders Fotis Kouvelis and Evangelos Venizelos welcomed the Council of State’s decision. Venizelos stressed that “no government can go against the majority of parliament… this is what happened in ERT’s case,” before confirming that there will soon be a government reshuffle and a revision of the government’s programme agreement. The coalition leaders will meet again on Wednesday.
A specially appointed manager will have the right to either retain ERT’s staff or proceed with as many layoffs as he deems necessary, the head of the Council of State, Konstantinos Menoudakos, has said regarding the council’s decision.
The Council of State ruling does not cover ERT’s two orchestras and choir, so it’s unclear what their fate will be.
Here’s an explanatory video on the orchestras from vlogger violin81030:
Cultural resonance on an Athenian wall
The Reuters story notes that the occupiers have posted a studio wall with a famous phrase coined by the late Gil Scott Heron for the title track of his 1974 album, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.”
Here’s their inspiration