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Greek High Court Suspends ERT Closing

Samaras_Kouvelis_VenizelosGreece’s highest court, the Council of State, dealt Prime Minister Antonis Samaras a blow when it ruled late on June 17 to overturn his decision to shut down the national  broadcaster ERT last week.
The decision means ERT can resume transmission until a final ruling is issued in the case.  ERT’s union had brought the case to the court in a bid to block the government’s surprise closure of the broadcaster last week.
ERT’s union had brought the case to the court in a bid to block the government’s surprise closure of the broadcaster last week.
The decision came as Samaras, the New Democracy Conservative leader, was meeting his coalition partners, PASOK Socialist chief Evangelos Venizelos and Democratic Left (DIMAR) head Fotis Kouvelis who had objected to the sudden shutdown of ERT on June 11 although they had agreed to the firing of public workers.
After the lengthy meeting, said to be some 3 ½ hours, Venizelos told reporters that everything was still up in the air because of the inconclusive ruling by the court. Another meeting has been set for June 19 to make some sense of the effect of the court decision.
“We’re waiting for the prime minister to interpret the (court) decision correctly,” Venizelos said. It was reported that Samaras offered to reshuffle the government at the end of the month, and to re-examine how decisions are made and announced as concessions to his partners, the prime minister’s head of communications said.
“A reshuffle is urgently needed,” Venizelos said in a televised statement. Kouvelis said that all ERT channels must reopen immediately, adding to the confusion about what would air on ERT and who would oversee the temporary reinstitution of programs since it was closed down, although continuing to air pirate broadcasts on the Internet and via satellite through the European  Broadcasting Union.
Earlier, Venizelos, speaking of Samaras and his party, told Sunday newspaper Real, “New Democracy’s plan (for ERT) was known to all the media… We knew Mr. Samaras’ intention. He knew we completely disagreed. What would happen in any other European country with a coalition government? Would one partner proceed without a parliamentary majority?”
Samaras had offered a compromise to let a skeleton staff resume operations of news broadcasts on ERT until a new, slimmed-down version with 1000-1200 workers recruited from the former staff could begin late in the summer.
Their objections meant that unless a compromise could be reached that the government might not stand and new elections would be needed because Samaras’ decision by decree last week had to go to Parliament for ratification within 90 days and he doesn’t have a majority without his partners.
Defending his decision to close ERT, Samaras earlier had said, “We had to do away with such an ERT for an investigation to start … those who rushed to defend ERT will regret it. When the embargo on information ends and the true face of ERT is revealed, some will start feeling ashamed,” he said.
Venizelos and Fotis Kouvelis had agreed with him that there was a need to reduce the public workforce by 2,000 workers to meet demands of international lenders but said it shouldn’t have been done in one fell swoop by closing ERT.
He noted the constant strikes at ERT during the last 18 months which resulted in major news events not being covered, which he said hurt the country’s image abroad. Samaras complained that strikers were being paid by declaring themselves skeleton staff and that some ERT workers hadn’t shown up for years.
He said that a prosecutor is looking into alleged mismanagement and corruption at ERT for the first time, although it’s been a common secret in Greece that there were no-show jobs and favoritism being shown there – including a charge by workers that one of Samaras’ ministers had placed his daughter in a job and was paid three times more than senior editors.
The government says ERT’s three domestic television channels and regional, national and external radio stations cost Greece 300 million euros ($400 million) a year, not much more than the 250 million euros ($333.5 million) PASOK and New Democracy owe banks in bad loans and won’t pay while refusing to pass legislation giving relief to debt-crushed Greeks.
Many Greeks have long viewed the broadcaster as a wasteful source of patronage jobs for political parties, but the suddenness with which ERT was taken off air – workers were given five minutes notice before being fired – was a surprise bold gamble by Samaras and a majority of Greeks disapprove of the way he did it.
Samaras argued that shutting down ERT was the only way to restructure the broadcaster, after previous attempts at reform failed. “This is what we are changing because it’s right, because it’s fair and because it should have been done years ago,” he said.

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