In an effort to save money, Greece shut down some of their state-run TV and radio stations late Tuesday. This was done shortly after the government announced it would temporarily close all stations of the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT) and layoff 2,500 workers. Satellite broadcasts will continue.
The Finance Ministry said the ERT had been disbanded and the facilities were secured. Employees, supporters, union leaders, and politicians who opposed the shutdown congregated outside ERT headquarters in the Aghia Paraskevi suburb of Athens to protest. As a precaution, police in riot gear were sent to several sites. Public transportation including buses, trams, trains, and ferries have not been running since the protests started. Air traffic controllers are staging a walkout for two hours beginning at noon GMT, Thursday, June 13th, and there is no public transportation to Athens’ main airport. Even though the government has said this shutdown would be temporary and the ERT would reopen with fewer employees, no indication was given as to when that would happen or for how many stations. Newscaster Antonis Alafogiorgos made the statement during the last live TV broadcast that this was “a blow to democracy.”
Greece has pledged to cut 15,000 state jobs by 2015 to comply with international bailout commitments. The ERT shutdown is the first instance of mass public sector layoffs in the country. European partners and the International Monetary Fund have supplied loans to Greece since May 2010. In return, the government imposed higher taxes and income cuts. This added to an already crippled economy and forced thousands of businesses to close which sent the unemployment rate soaring to 27 percent.
Greece’s media union, POESY, has cautioned that the country is sacrificing public broadcasting to meet obligations to foreign creditors. But one former state TV journalist who is now a government spokesman described ERT as an example of “incredible waste,” adding that it costs more to run yet gets less viewership than any of the other TV stations.
ERT radio broadcasts began in the late 1930s and television followed in the mid-1960s. When Nazis marched into Athens on April 27, 1941, citizens heard the news from radio announcer Costas Stavropoulos. During the country’s civil war in the late 1940s, it provided the only outlet for news and entertainment. It has been used by the government as an exchange of jobs for votes which contributed to the high number of public employees. Broadcasting ranges from political to cultural, and has included major sporting events such as the World Cup and the Olympics. For millions of Greeks living around the world, ERT has been their link to news. All Greek households help fund the state-run broadcast corporation through a fee added on to their electric bill.
Despite the executive order to shut ERT down, it still must be ratified by parliament within the next three months but that could fail if it doesn’t get the backing.
Written by: Cynthia Collins – Guardian Correspondent