Closure of Greek public TV could jeopardise Greek coalition

Greece ERT protests.jpg

The sudden closure of the Greek public broadcaster ERT has shattered the cohesion of the coalition government, with some political observers saying it could force early elections in the debt-ridden nation. EURACTIV Greece reports.

Struggling to meet the demands of international lenders to slash public-sector jobs, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras announced on Tuesday (11 June) the closure of ERT, a decision taken under a ministerial decree that does not require the approval of the Greek parliament.

The junior partners in the year-old coalition government, the Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok) and Democratic Left, protested this decision.

Samaras’ centre-right New Democracy party argues that the closure of the state broadcaster is “temporary” and needs to be rebuilt in order for it to be effective and financially viable.

Simos Kedikoglou, a government official, said that there was no question about the cohesion of the coalition government.

“We might have a different approach, but our objective is common. We believe that during the consultations we will find a mutually acceptable position,” he said, noting that the leaders of the three parties will discuss the future of ERT on Monday.

“The three coalition partners have been through difficulties. Nevertheless, we always manage to find common ground for our common goals,” Kedikoglou added, repeating that the closure of ERT is “temporary”.

“When one is obliged to rebuild a new company from the very beginning, he has to shut it down first.”

Nevertheless, the Democratic Left opposes the closure. It argues that whatever changes are made should be made without shutting down public television.

Syriza: Their days are numbered

Alexis Tsipras , who heads the opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza), said the government’s “days are numbered.”

“A public broadcaster is shut either when we have an intervention of foreign powers or if there is a coup d'état,” Tsipras said, whose party staged a surprise second-place showing in elections held on 17 June 2012.

Greek Socialist MEP Spyros Danellis told EURACTIV Greece that the closure of ERT is an “authoritarian move” by the Greek prime minister, who didn’t take into account the disagreement of the other two coalition partners.

He noted that Pasok and Democratic Left were “trapped” in the coalition government. The Greek MEP also said Samara’s sudden move might be interpreted as an “indication of early elections”.

A new round of elections could shake investor confidence in a country that has stabilised in the past year.

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras issued today (14 June) a statement, insisting that his government’s decision was not abolishing the public broadcaster, but is “re-launching it on a new foundation”.

“What is being abolished is the current corporation, which was dysfunctional and operated on weak foundations, without margin for improvement, contrary to the current process of establishing a new corporation of guaranteed independence,” he stated.

Samaras called ERT “a characteristic example of unique lack of transparency and extraordinary misuse of public funds”.

 

“The corporation has enormous assets, which remained inactive, however, and were at times looted in favor of the competition,” he said, blaming ERT for “mismanagement and waste”.

 

“The intention of the government, with the introduction of a bill released for deliberation today, is for ERT to be replaced by a modern, public, though not state or party-controlled radio and television broadcaster, on the model of the most successful European public broadcasters. […] As for ERT’s current personnel, everyone will be compensated normally, while those among them who wish to be employed by the new public broadcaster will be able to submit applications,” the statement ends. 

Athens announced the surprise closure with immediate effect of the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT) on 11 June, in a desperate move to slash public sector jobs and meet the terms of a bailout imposed by the country's three international creditors – the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

In a statement published the same day, the European Commission distanced itself from the closure of ERT.

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