Greece: The government wants to shut down public radio and television

Reports started coming in early this afternoon that the government was intending either to shut down or to downsize the National Radio and Television corporation (ERT), with a purpose to sack its employees and reach the targets it agreed with Greece’s troika of lenders (the EU, ECB and IMF) to sack 15,000 civil servants by the end of 2014. By late afternoon, the reports had become that ERT would be shut down by midnight. ERT currently employs 2,656 civil servants with tenure and 246 fixed-term staff, who all stand now to lose their jobs.

Sackings on such a scale are unlikely to improve the situation of press freedom in Greece. Dimitris Trimis, the chairman of the Athens Daily Newspaper Editors’ Union, told is last week on the #rbnews international show:

The thousands of sackings in media, the pay cuts, the fear that media will collapse and shut down, together with the parameter I just mentioned [the unhealthy links between media, big business and politics], creates a climate of violent censorship and self-censorship among people who work in the media. Therefore, we cannot talk of freedom of expression, and this is why international researchers keep demoting Greece in indexes where countries are ranked according to freedom of speech and objectivity, or at least honesty, in information.

This was confirmed around 6 pm by a statement by government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou, who said (as reported by @doleross):

  • That ERT is a typical case of public sector waste, with six times more personnel than it needs and low ratings,
  • That there is a total lack of transparency in management, and extremely high costs due to antiquated union privileges,
  • That the government would shut down ERT and replace it with a public, not State, agency.
  • That the new agency would be staffed by far fewer employees, who would be recruited through the Supreme Council for the Selection of Personnel,
  • That TV watchers would not have to pay their ERT contributions from the moment ERT is shut down, and that contributions would be much lower for the new organism.
What is more, the decision to shutdown ERT was apparently not taken in consultation with its staff, or even with other government coalition partners. The two junior coalition partners, PASOK and Democratic Left, have announced that they oppose the move, which appears to have been taken solely by Prime Minister Samaras’s New Democracy, and relies on an “act of legislative content”, meaning a decree procedure which is intended to be used only in cases of extreme emergency and enables government ministers to enact legislation immediately and seek the approval of parliament within a framework of three and a half months. The specific act of legislative content, that enables ministers to shut down public agencies with a simple signature, was issued today. It was announced at 7 pm EEST that the government would be submitting tomorrow a bill to parliament over the shutting down of ERT and the establishment of a new public radio and television agency, but it appears that the decision to suspend ERT operations by midnight stands nonetheless. By 8 pm, PASOK and Democratic Left had both announced that they would vote against the shutdown of ERT, whenever the issue is brought to a vote in parliament.
This decision would make Greece the only European country without a national broadcaster, according to @tsimitakis. @Gath___ further noted that, since private TV and radio stations have been operating for years without a legal frequency, Greece would probably be the only country without a single legal broadcaster.
The reaction of journalists to reports that ERT would be shut down was immediate. The Pan-Hellenic Federation of Editors’ Associations (POESY) issued a press release condemning squarely the government’s decision, which was particularly critical of government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou, who until recently was publicly denying that ERT might be shut down. POESY further noted its support to the struggle of ERT employees and announced a 6-hour work stoppage in all private TV and radio stations. Newspapers and websites are currently operating normally, by POESY is considering a 48-hour general media strike starting tomorrow, with the slogan “darkness everywhere.”
Other media unions issued similar statements in support to ERT staff, for example the Association of Employees of the Athens-Macedonia News Agency, who emphasize the impact that the shutdown of ERT would have on media sector workers at large and end their statement with: “When your neighbour’s house is on fire, you can’t be looking the other way and whistling.” Cyprus State TV RIK will also go on strike tomorrow in solidarity with ERT staff.
Further reactions came from the National Council for Radio and Television, which is due to meet tomorrow, and from the Communist Party of Greece and SYRIZA, who called people to join the protest of ERT staff.
Outside the ERT HQ at 8:30 pm
The ERT orchestra is playing “Sun of Justice” as the crowd sings along
Picture by @Balkanizator
Staff occupied the ERT headquarters on Mesogheion avenue, in Aghia Paraskevi near Athens, mid-afternoon and started broadcasting a strike bulletin on the frequency of the second State TV channel NET, while asserting that they would not allow the signal to be taken down and that they would guard the building 24/7. By early evening, increasingly large numbers of people were gathering outside the headquarters to express their solidarity. ERT staff also held a general assembly that issued the following press release:

ERT IS WIDE OPEN

ERT must be open: open to society, to its contradictions, to its problems, to its fears, to its ideas and to its actions.
ERT must be open: open to culture, to the well-read, to their different tendencies, to their quests and to their dynamics.
ERT must be open to every citizen of the world, in Europe, in America, in Asia, in Africa, in Australia.
The staff of Public Radio and Television have the strength and the will to maintain high standards for the public goods of information, culture and sports. We has the audacity and the will to fight and stop the manipulation of ERT by single-party or multi-party governments. We workers are still alive and we will be equal to the occasion. We will struggle for an institutional operational framework for ERT that guarantees and protects the independence of Public Radio and Television and will sever the umbilical cord with governments and with any source, official or unofficial, of political and clientelist interventions.
ERT must be open, as an estate and genuine property of all Greek citizens.
All those who are working on plans to shut down ERT can’t but intend to serve interests of another sort. These people are dangerous.
We Public Radio and Television journalists hereby affirm that we will keep ERT open in every and any way we can. We call upon every citizen, from Gavdos to Evros, to help us prevent this nightmare. To prevent any attempt to silence the country’s Public Radio and Television Broadcaster. Those who have dreams of nightmares should remain with the bliss of evil witch tales or wake up before it is too late. We are wide awake. We are holding an on-going general assembly and we are calling upon citizens, social and political agencies, scholars, people of letters and of the arts, to join us at 7 pm at the ERT headquarters in Aghia Paraskevi. We shall stand firm. ERT IS OPEN AND WILL REMAIN SO.

Outside the ERT studio in downtown Athens at 8:30 pm
Picture by @ababassi
As of 8:45 pm, reports are that the crowd gathered outside the ERT headquarters is growing but also that police forces are gathering in Aghia Paraskevi and arriving behind the ERT headquarters. There are further reports of riot police being deployed around the ERT studios in downtown Athens and not letting workers in.
We will be updating this post as events develop.

UPDATES

08:50 pm: The Athens Daily Newspaper Editors’ Union is demanding that government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou hand in his member card, or will disbar him immediately.

08:55 pm: Greek neonazi party Golden Dawn supports government’s decision to close down public television.

08:57 pm: The shutdown of ERT is officially published in the Gazette. Article 3 states: “All work contracts end now.”

09:00 pm: Rallies outside the ERT studios in Patras and Ioannina, heavy riot police presence reported in Patras.

09:05 pm: Former Minister of Labour Louka Katseli arrives at the ERT HQ in solidarity with workers.

09:07 pm: ERT staff report that dozens of groups and agencies have expressed support for ERT, including the Athens Labour Centre, the Pan-Hellenic Entertainment Federation, the Pan-Hellenic Medical Association, the Association of Higher Education Employees, members of parliament, a delegation of residents from Keratea, Lavrio, Halkidiki, the Aghia Paraskevi Municipal Workers Union, left-wing political parties, employees of the Athens Metro, the Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, and all media labour unions.

09:25 pm: The European Broadcasting Union to Samaras: “The decision to shut down a public broadcaster is unprecedented, take it back.”

09:30 pm: A demonstration against the shutdown of ERT is taking place in Thessaloniki. Another rally is gathering in Mytilene near the regional ERT studios of the Aegean.

09:45 pm: Tweeps report a festive atmosphere at the ERT HQ, cars on Mesogheion avenue are honking and saluting with raised firsts.

09:47 pm: An EU flag is being set alight at an ERT HQ window.

09:53 pm: Archbishop Ieronymos: “ERT being silenced is unthinkable. It’s unthinkable that hundreds of workers are sacrificed on the altar of private business interests.” The Patriarch of Alexandria also protested the shutdown of ERT earlier today.

10:00 pm: Leader of far-right Independent Greeks Panos Kammenos tried to address the crowd in the ERT HQ. The crowd booed him away.

10:11 pm: Finance Ministry announcement: ERT as a legal body no longer exists. Broadcast must stop. FinMin is obliged to protect the facilities.

10:22 pm: Α concert at 22.30 was just announced in the courtyard of  ERT headquarters by  the ERT orchestra.  Artists present there will be participating. There is a call for people to go there, join the protest and enjoy the concert.

10:55 pm: NET TV (2nd channel of ERT) announced that riot police are on their way to shut down the signal. Seconds later the signal was lost for NET and ERT3 in various parts of the country.

11:00 pm: The analog signal of ERT seems to have been taken off the air across the country by riot policemen who went to switch off the transmitters. Only ET1 (the first TV channel) is still broadcasting.

11:10 pm: Reports that riot police are on their way to the Hymettus hill summit to confront ERT workers who are guarding the antennas.

11:20 pm: It is announced at the ERT HQ that the signal is down across the country. The web tv service is still going but seems to be overloaded.

11:30 pm: A representative of the telecommunications company OTE states that the OTE network is still open to broadcasting ERT signals (meaning that the signal was not cut by OTE).

11:35 pm: The web transmission of ERT is also down.

11:40 pm: The satellite channel ERT World is apparently still broadcasting.

11:55 pm: The ERT signal was briefly broadcast by 902, the Communist Party’s radio and television service. This has now been taken off air as well.

11:58 pm: The transmission of ERT through NOVA also appears to be down.

00:05 am: BBC, Deutsche Welle, RIK (Cyprus TV) & Parliament TV are also down. Apparently the very transmitters were taken down.

00:31 am: The ert.gr website is down. Anecdotal reports are coming in that ERT World stopped transmitting at least in some countries.

00:37 am: 902 channel is broadcasting ERT again.

00:43 am: 902 broadcast is down again. Maria Farantouri on the web broadcast of ERT world just said “ERT has been doing an amazing job with culture compared to the garbage broadcast by other channels.” There is huge crowd outside the HQ.

00:48 am: Multiple reports that ERT world has stopped broadcasting on satellite. Reports that the police is seeking to evict people from the ERT building on Katechaki street.

00:53 am: ERT radios are still up in Larissa, Volos Patras, Heraklion & Rhodes

01:10 am: The crowd gathered outside the ERT HQ (picture by @Polyfimos)

01:25 am: The Communist Party, in a press release, denounces censorship by private digital broadcasting provider DIGEA who suspended 902’s signal while it was retransmitting ERT.

01:30 am: ERT is being retransmitted on Euronews and Spanish public TV while it is down in Greece.

01:35 am: The Athens Daily Newspaper Editors’ Union announces a media strike starting tomorrow at 6 am for television, on Thursday at 6 am for newspapers.

02:00 am: The Civil Servants’ Union ADEDY and the General Confederation of Workers GSEE are considering a general strike on Thursday. The teachers’ federation OLME decided to redirect a march planned tomorrow in Athens to ERT.

02:05 am: Reports are multiplying on the side of PASOK that the ERT issue might lead to a major crisis within the government. Meanwhile, the talking points provided to New Democracy MPs who would have to answer questions on the closure of ERT have been leaked. They are heavily focused on exposing “privileges” of ERT staff and insist that closing ERT is a necessary symbolic gesture to show a break with the past.

02:25 am: A view from the first floor of ERT (picture by @inflammatory_)

02:40 am: Athens Daily Newspaper Editors’ Union specifies that tomorrow’s strike applies to all private TV and radio stations except those who broadcast ERT’s programme.

02:55 am: ERT announces on social media that it is seeking to get its website back online. Flickers of life on ert.gr.

03:10 am: ERT journalists say that the distribution of ERT’s exclusives has already started, e.g. ANT1 TV is getting the broadcast of basketball games. Meanwhile, the main gate of the ERT HQ is closing and ERT staff call on people to remain outside in order to avoid riot police invading the building.

03:20 am: User @kinimatini sent us these pictures from the protest at the ERT headquarters earlier today

 

03:35 am: Rallies have been called at 11 am in front of all ERT buildings across Greece.

03:50 am: Statement of the European Federation of Journalists

EFJ President Mogens Blicher-Bjerregård said:
“These plans are simply absurd. It will be a major blow to democracy, to media pluralism and to journalism as a public good in Greece, thus depriving citizens from their right to honest, level-headed and unbiased information. But it will also mean the loss of many journalists’ jobs across the country.
Any plans to cut jobs at ERT and privatize the public media in Greece are unacceptable. Public regional stations cannot be substituted by any corporate interest.
The EFJ reminds that the High Level Group on media set up by the European Commission recommends that ‘there should be a provision of state funding for media which are essential for pluralism.”

04:00 am: The guard of the Mourouzi street studio of ERT in downtown Athens just described how he is now left alone in the building, with three buses of riot police and some police cars outside. He was further told that if he did not leave the building, he would be arrested in flagrante, would not receive severance pay and would not be eligible for recruitment in the new public broadcasting agency.

04:05 am: Reports that the government has ordered telecommunications company OTE and the public power corporation DEI to stop providing services to several ERT facilities.

04:28 am: Tweeps report increasing police activity outside the ERT HQ, ERT staff also report that police started demanding evacuation of building under threat of immediate arrests. BBC is also broadcasting ERT’s programme right now.

05:05 am: Reports of increased police activity at ERT HQ. Riot police deploy around the building and cut through the wire fence, a SYRIZA MP proposes that MPs form a “shield” against the police together with workers.

05:10 am: The ERT signal is down in north America and Australia. The company responsible for uploading the signal to the satellite received a phone call telling them to stop doing it.

05:15 am: The police is telling people to leave the building, without a warrant or any presence of the judiciary. The journalists (who have still not received an end-of-contract notification) ignore it and continue the broadcast.

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