EBU concerned about NERIT board change

The European Broadcasting Union (EBU), the professional association of national broadcasters, has written to the Greek government to ask for clarifications regarding a change in the way that the supervisory board of the new state radio and TV broadcaster, NERIT, is appointed, which may threaten the organization’s independence.

In its letter, which was leaked in Greece, the EBU reportedly said that it was “surprised and deeply disappointed” by the change in the way the board is formed. The association suggested that this method puts NERIT’s political independence at risk. EBU had strongly opposed the government’s decision to shut down NERIT’s predecessor ERT in June 2013, calling it “a damning first in the history of European broadcasting.” For several weeks, the union helped stream programs produced by sacked ERT employees. However, the EBU eventually supported the government’s efforts to set up a new service largely due to a commitment that NERIT would not suffer from political interference as ERT had at times.

However, an amendment passed through Parliament on August 5 allows Parliament to elect the members of NERIT’s supervisory board via a simple majority after the candidates have been recommended by the government. According to the amendment, the board members would not be elected by the House’s plenary but at the conference of presidents, which consists of the speaker and deputy speakers, the presidents of standing committees, the heads of each parliamentary group and a representative of independent MPs.

“The rules of appointment have been changed virtually overnight, without proper debate, and without considering best practice in Europe, which is a pity,” said the EBU’s Director General Ingrid Deltenre. “The original appointment procedure in last year’s law was unique and looked overly complex and time-consuming. But unfortunately the new procedure lacks the legal safeguards to ensure the independence and pluralism of the supervisory council.”

Reacting to the news of the EBU’s letter, SYRIZA’s MEP Dimitris Papadimoulis asked for the European Commission to comment on the matter, given that it had recommended that public broadcasters should be supervised by an independent body, with no connection to management. SYRIZA claimed the amendment means Greece is in breach of EU regulations.

Democratic Left (DIMAR), which quit the coalition over ERT’s closure, suggested NERIT’s credibility was in question as a result of the change to how the members of the supervisory council are appointed.

“You will find many different procedures in Europe and some of them might be even worse than the Greek model,” said Deltenre. “But even more important for us is that the independence of a public broadcaster is not only a matter of legal safeguards but a matter of responsible behavior by all political actors, including the members of the supervisory council and each and every staff member of NERIT. We should hold them accountable to live up to their promises."