JNN 13 June 2013 ATHENS – Greek government presented on Wednesday noon a draft bill for the establishment of new public television and radio broadcaster by autumn this year, as reactions to the sudden closure of the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT) on Tuesday night culminated.
Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou announced that the new public broadcasting service to be named NERIT (New Hellenic Radio, Internet, TV Broadcaster) will be on air by the end of August, staffed with up to 1,200 employees compared to the 2,700 employed at ERT.
Kedikoglou had announced on Tuesday afternoon the decision to pull the plug off ERT’s four television channels and 28 radio stations, citing waste of funds, corruption and lack of meritocracy.
Local analysts and media commentators said that the step was taken under pressure from the debt-ridden country’s international lenders who demand that the ongoing austerity and reform drive launched three years ago are accelerated in return for further bailout.
Transmissions ceased around midnight and Greece woke up to a partial news blackout on Wednesday morning, as journalists unions called in protest rolling 24-hour strikes on TV and radio stations on Wednesday and newspapers on Thursday.
The two main umbrella unions of public and private sector employees ADEDY and GSEE also called on Wednesday noon a 24-hour general strike for Thursday, expressing solidarity with ERT’s personnel.
Although the signal to ERT’s channels went off in early Wednesday, employees at the corporation’s headquarters in Athens remained in the building and continued broadcasting through the website.
Thousands of protesters gathered outside ERT’s headquarters as well as in front of regional offices across Greece for a second day on Wednesday noon to denounce the “blow to democracy and pluralism in media,” as banners read, while police forces were deployed in the area.
ERT’s closure has drawn sharp criticism also from political parties, including the two junior partners in the conservative-led coalition, which have undertaken initiatives to block the shutdown.
Main opposition Radical Left party chief Alexis Tsipras visited Greek President Karolos Papoulias on Wednesday, requesting him not to ratify the decree allowing ministers to merge or close down state organizations, which was signed on Tuesday by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and his New Democracy party ministers.
Tsipras argued that the move amounted to a “coup d’etat,” as he had told ERT’s employees on Tuesday evening during a visit at the broadcaster headquarters.
Papoulias expressed his support for the existence of a state broadcaster, but said that under the Constitution he cannot intervene, according to local media reports.
“The government will be toppled by the people. We call Greeks to safeguard Constitution and democratic institutions,” Tsipras said upon his exit from the presidential mansion.
SYRIZA, as well as the Greek Communist party, the socialist PASOK and the Democratic Left participating in the ruling coalition, said that they will submit draft bills to the assembly in coming hours to reverse the controversial legislative act.
A smaller right-wing party went as far as deciding to call a “no confidence” vote in Samaras’ government.
The junior coalition partners’ objection to the suspension of ERT’s operation has fuelled scenarios in Greek media of snap elections in autumn.
Such a development would sink the country into political uncertainty again, at a period when political stability over the past few months was regarded as a key to improving finances and exiting the crisis, analysts commented.
On the other hand, other commentators praised the government for illustrating political will to carry out the necessary structural reforms.
Three years into the crisis, Greece has won praises for fiscal adjustment via harsh austerity which has skyrocketed unemployment rates and deepened recession, but still lags on reforms.
The national broadcaster is the first major state company to shut down as part of a plan to axe 15,000 civil servants by 2015 – 2,000 this summer and 4,000 by 2014 – in an unprecedented step in the country’s history, as jobs in the public sector have been guaranteed for life by the Constitution for decades.
However, under bailout agreements with European Union and International Monetary Fund creditors, the government has committed since this spring to mass dismissals to shrink and modernize public services to cut costs, improve efficiency and secure further rescue loans.
“Improvement is one thing, sudden death another,” read an editorial of Greek daily “To Vima” (The Tribune) on Wednesday.
Greece’s national broadcaster ERT is to close on Tuesday midnight local time and reopen with less staff in the future, Greek government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou announced on Tuesday afternoon.
The decision was made as part of a plan to overhaul public services, dismissing 2,000 civil servants this summer and 4,000 by the end of this year in order to slash deficits and boost efficiency under the country’s austerity and reform program.
“The government has decided to close ERT. It will be replaced by a modern television and audio broadcaster as soon as possible,” Kedikoglou said in a televised address.
He said mismanagement and corruption were the main reasons for the decision which caused immediate strong reactions by employees, press unions and political parties.
Representatives of the approximately 3,000 people currently employed at the national television and radio stations in Athens and nationwide replied that they intend to take over operations.
The national broadcaster is the first major company of the wider public sector shutting down as the government aims to meet commitments made to international lenders who keep Greece afloat with bailout loans over the past three years.