PM offers compromise on ERT ahead of leaders’ talks on Monday

A compromise between the three parties that make up Greece’s coalition was being sought Friday after New Democracy clashed with PASOK and Democratic Left over the closing down of public broadcaster ERT, a dispute that has put the government’s ability to continue in doubt.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is due to meet PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos and Democratic Left chief Fotis Kouvelis on Monday afternoon to discuss the junior partners’ opposition to Tuesday’s move to take ERT off air until a new broadcaster is formed, probably at the end of August. Kouvelis and Venizelos said they would discuss an overhaul at ERT but only if its TV and radio services resume.

Sources told Kathimerini that Samaras is adamant ERT should not reopen and is only willing to discuss legislation regarding the new broadcaster, NERIT – as it will be called initially – being speeded up so that it could even begin airing some programs next week.

“ERT was full of scandals that people will learn about soon,” Samaras told a meeting of New Democracy’s youth wing, ONNED, late Friday.

The prime minister proposed that a cross-party committee be formed to begin hiring a skeleton staff so a new broadcaster could launch a basic service. State Minister Dimitris Stamatis was also reported to have proposed to Kouvelis and Venizelos that ERT be allowed back on air but only to show documentaries and reruns.

The future of the coalition and the question of whether snap elections could be looming for Greece rides on whether the coalition leaders are able to find common ground when they are due to meet on Monday.

The Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, is also set to decide on Monday whether to uphold an appeal by the union representing ERT workers against the broadcaster’s closure. According to court sources, a ruling foreseeing the temporary “freezing” of the government’s decision to close ERT – until the case is assessed in court – will be announced on Monday or by Tuesday at the latest. This would allow ERT to resume broadcasts and mean the coalition leaders not having to find a compromise themselves.

Meanwhile, aides close to President Karolos Papoulias let it be known Friday that the president believed it would best for an overhaul of ERT to be carried out with the broadcaster open.

There were interventions on a European level too. The president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, reportedly asked Samaras to reopen ERT. In a letter to the Greek premier, Schulz expressed his “surprise and sorrow” at the closure of Greece’s state broadcaster. “Without questioning the competence of the Greek authorities to decide and implement strategic decisions relating to state radio and television, I cannot ignore the institutional and political concerns which arise from this decision in the context of the democratic procedure.”

The head of the European Broadcasting Union, Jean-Paul Philippot, was in Athens Friday to ask for ERT’s signal to be restored. “No European country has ever cut its broadcaster’s signal,” Philippot told a press conference at ERT’s headquarters.