THE GREEK government’s decision to close down the public broadcaster ERT, without any warning, came as a shock to everyone. There was no announcement, no discussion and no indication of the government’s intentions. On Tuesday the government simply arranged for the broadcaster’s output to be taken off air as it announced ERT’s closure, which would mean 2,655 job losses.
The reaction by staff, political parties and journalists’ organisations was immediate, with public protests and strikes staged. Some ERT journalists carried on with rogue broadcasts on the internet, during which they disparaged the government’s heavy-handed decision, which they claimed was a big blow to democracy. Even two of the parties in the government coalition distanced themselves from Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ gutsy decision.
In fairness, the government had no alternative. As part of the bailout agreement it is obliged to cut thousands of public sector jobs and ERT, an overstaffed and badly-managed organisation that was massive drain on public resources could not have been exempted. However, recent attempts to restructure the broadcaster were continuously blocked by staff strikes.
The Samaras government was forced to take its drastic decision because of unions’ refusal to consent to the restructuring. The broadcaster would re-open in a few months, under a new format, and with significantly fewer workers – about one thousand. All staff would be compensated and would have to apply for work at the new, streamlined entity.
It is sad that some 1,700 jobs would be cut, but the profligacy of ERT was truly astounding. It had people on its payroll that did not work there and thanks to its strong unions paid very generous wages. Greece’s government spokesman hit the nail on the head when he said: “ERT is a case of an exceptional lack of transparency and incredible profligacy. This ends now.”
Samaras, who spoke about the super-privileges ERT’s staff were in effect defending, is determined to stick to his decision, despite the public outcry and concerted attack from all quarters. As for arguments that all the political parties were to blame for the costly mess at ERT is no criticism of Samaras. At least he is doing something to tackle the problem. He may have adopted drastic methods but he had no choice.
And democracy is not at risk, nor is the junta returning, as everyone has been claiming, because ERT would close down for a couple of months for re-structuring.
There are hundreds of newspapers, radio stations, television stations and web-sites providing Greeks with news, views and information round the clock, which would suggest that democracy has nothing to fear from ERT’s temporary closure.