Coalition partners seek compromise with Samaras on ERT

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s coalition partners, Evangelos Venizelos of PASOK and Fotis Kouvelis of Democratic Left, appealed to him on Wednesday for talks on the future of state broadcaster ERT but the premier stood by his decision to close and later reopen the TV and radio service, leaving the government’s future in doubt.

Venizelos and Kouvelis met for almost two hours on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the fallout from the closure of ERT, which came a few hours after the government announced its plans on Tuesday. After the meeting, although both leaders made their opposition to the strategy clear, they also left the door open to a compromise with Samaras.

“The government can carry on and complete its work if it can secure some common ground,” said Kouvelis in the wake of speculation that the coalition rift over the handling of ERT could even lead Greece to snap elections. The Democratic Left (DIMAR) leader requested talks with the prime minister “to find common political ground, especially on the issues where our differences in political views are visible, such as in the case of ERT.”

Kouvelis, however, insisted that any discussions would have to take place while ERT is still broadcasting. He labeled Tuesday’s move to take the state broadcaster off air as “unacceptable.” “ERT undoubtedly has need of restructuring but this has to happen while it remains open,” he said.

Venizelos followed a similar line, saying the broadcaster should not be closed and calling for a meeting with Samaras to address the issue.

“We want fundamental reform of the public administration, including state broadcasting, but one that is agreed and voted by Parliament, and with ERT functioning,” said the PASOK leader.

Samaras, however, appeared far from willing to compromise. Speaking at the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry (EBEA) on Wednesday night he said that the closing down of ERT was justified because it had become “the symbol of waste and lack of transparency.”

“This ended yesterday,” said the prime minister, who did not make any reference to the earlier request by Kouvelis and Venizelos for talks. “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.”

The three leaders had met on Sunday to discuss structural reforms, and the subject of what to do with ERT came up then. Venizelos and Kouvelis voiced objections to the broadcaster being shut down. Samaras’s decision to proceed with the plan has placed the coalition’s future in doubt. However, sources close to the prime minister insisted he has no intention of triggering early elections. At the same time, though, it is not clear what kind of compromise could be found.

The government presented on Wednesday a draft law for the new public broadcaster it wants to set up, under the name of NERIT. As opposed to more than 2,600 staff employed by ERT, the new service would have close to 1,000 employees and would cost 100 million euros to run compared to the 300 million ERT absorbed. PASOK and DIMAR submitted to Parliament on Wednesday a proposal for the legislative act permitting ERT’s immediate closure to be scrapped.

ERT employees, meanwhile, continued to broadcast in defiance of the government’s shutdown. Using digital frequencies and the Internet to reach viewers, journalists and technicians put out shows featuring discussions about ERT’s role throughout the day. Thousands of protesters had also gathered outside the broadcaster’s headquarters in Aghia Paraskevi, northeastern Athens, on Tuesday night and remained there until the early hours of Wednesday.