June 14, 2013

Greek government abruptly closes down public TV and radio stations


One of the employees occupying the ERT headquarters. The banner reads “Down with the junta. ERT will not shut down.”

The closure of Greece’s entire public broadcasting system, Ellinikí Radiofonía Tileórasi (ERT) or the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation, earlier this week has been met with shock, concern, and no small degree of anger.

At a time when the unemployment rate for Greek journalists is at 50%, the news hits ERT’s 2,665 employees especially hard, and they’re not going quietly. ERT journalists have occupied the corporation’s headquarters and refused to leave. Furthermore, they’ve continued to broadcast, in defiance of an ultimatum that called for all programming to end by midnight on Tuesday. Some signals have since gone dead, but the journalists have persisted, broadcasting on digital frequencies and on the web.

They’ve been joined by large crowds protesting the closure outside the ERT headquarters: the Guardian’s Graeme Weardon has been following the events closely and he has posted photos from the scene here. The ERT studio orchestra, inside the building, has playing into the night, piping the music to their supporters in the square. In addition, the country’s two largest labor unions have called for rolling strikes and a media blackout on Thursday. According to a Reuters article, even Greece’s private TV stations have joined the fight; some “took their shows off air, replacing them with re-runs and commercials, in a six-hour display of solidarity.”

ERT, founded in 1938, was comprised of four radio channels and five TV channels, covering everything from news to sports to music. For many years, until private broadcasting companies were legalized in 1989, it was the country’s main media outlet, its jingles instantly recognizable, its announcers familiar voices to all Greek citizens. But recently critics have accused ERT’s management of waste and nepotism, including doling out high-paid jobs to politically connected individuals. The Greek government doesn’t intend to close it down permanently; there are plans to reopen ERT later this summer on half the original budget, with a third of the original staff—fired journalists will have the opportunity to apply for their old jobs.

Naturally, this is not reassuring for the employees in question. Giorgios Toulas, a radio producer, eloquently summed up how disturbing the closure— which was announced Tuesday afternoon and put into effect almost immediately, with no public consulation— is for both ERT journalists and the Greek population in general:

This morning, the alarm clock woke me up as it has always done for 25 years. I went to work, but ERT was no longer there. The building was locked, the internet access suspended, telephones dead. ERT’s radio had been on the air since 1938. It was not silenced during the German occupation or the military junta. But it was last night.

The European Commission has begged off any responsibility for the closure, but it’s clearly linked to the bailouts: Greek newspaper Ekathimerini reports that, in meetings last weekend, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras “claimed said this was the only way Greece would meet its commitment to the troika to fire 2,000 civil servants this summer so it could qualify for more bailout loans.” Surely, however, there’s another way to reform an old institution and meet EU demands that doesn’t involve the hasty, undemocratic shuttering of a public news organization. And if it’s being done in their name, the European Commission should be far more concerned than they’ve yet shown themselves to be.


Sal Robinson is a former Melville House editor. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.