ATHENS – After a series of talks over the shutdown of national broadcaster ERT and the firing of all 2,656 workers, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ coalition has lost one of its partners, but he said he will finish his term and push Greece back into recovery.
Samaras, the New Democracy Conservative leader, now is allied with his long-time rival and coalition partner, the PASOK Socialists, after the abrupt pull-out by the tiny Democratic Left (DIMAR) whose leader, Fotis Kouvelis, insisted all the ERT workers be brought back.
“The way the state broadcaster was handled … signals a sign of further reform efforts in the public sector,” DIMAR spokesman Vassilis Economou said in an interview on Greek television. These reforms should come by respecting democratic core principles, and that didn’t happen in the case of ERT, he said.
PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos, whose party was showing only 4 percent in the most recent poll, accepted a compromise that will see as many as 2,000 ERT workers returned, although perhaps for only a few months until a new, slimmed-down entity called NERIT begins operating with a smaller staff.
New Democracy and PASOK have 153 of the 300 seats in Parliament, enough to govern unless there are defections. “It’s very good that the government survived because it would have been a disaster if it collapsed,” Antonis Klapsis, head of research at the Konstandinos Karamanlis Institute for Democracy in Athens, told Southeast European Times.
The closing of ERT sparked calls from international media leaders to restore the service, but a recent survey showed most Greeks favored cuts in the public sector and reconfiguring ERT. “We didn’t have much reaction against the government because the people can see there’s no other option for Greece” than to make public sector cuts, Klapsis said.
Samaras kept the station dark despite an order from the country’s highest court that the signal had to be restored. “ERT was full of scandals that people will learn about,” Samaras said, describing the network as “the symbol of waste and lack of transparency.”
“We are not closing down public radio and television,” he said. “In fact, it is only now that we are going to get proper public radio and television.”
Defying orders to leave ERT headquarters, workers remained in place broadcasting a signal over the Internet and through the European Broadcasting Union, which urged Samaras to restore the station.
Accusations of mismanagement rang hollow with ERT workers, who said that Samaras’ administration had filled the station with at least 30 high-paid no-show consultants and ordered the creation of a program for the daughter of one of his ministers.
The closing created a political maelstrom for Samaras, and came just as he seemed to have restored confidence in his moves to bring Greece to recovery instead of relying on the ongoing series of bailouts from the EU-IMF-ECB Troika.
“We’ve never seen this in a democratic state. They have to show progress in shrinking the public sector, but they chose the public broadcaster … so they can control the transmission of news and possibly renegotiate who is going to broadcast over which frequencies,” Alex Afouxenidis, a sociologist at the National Centre for Research, told SETimes.
Critics blamed Samaras for not acting to reduce the bloated public sector at the same time that the austerity measures he was imposing created a record 27.4 percent unemployment in the private sector.
Haralambos Tsardinidis, head of the Institute for International Economic Relations in Athens, said there was more at play about ERT than just finances. “It’s a pure political move, although he had an obligation to find 2,000 people who were redundant by the end of June,” he told SETimes. “ERT has been recognized as being overstaffed and having a lot of strikes, and he thinks he’s closing something that is useless.”
The station was funded through a mandatory payment in electric bills, had dismal ratings and was seen as a pro-government outlet. Aristides Hatzis, associate professor of law, economics and legal theory at the University of Athens, said the ERT debacle illustrated the government’s lack of respect for the rule of law.
“The supposed decisiveness of the prime minister hides his inability of confronting problems and dealing with them as a true reformer, not as an authoritarian,” he told SETimes.
(Used by permission of Southeast European Times, www.setimes.com)