ERT journalists defy closing down order to continue broadcasts as coalition faces severe test

Journalists from ERT, the public broadcaster that the government unexpectedly shut down on Tuesday, continued to put programs on air on Wednesday via digital frequencies and the Internet in a show of defiance against the decision.

Backed by thousands of protesters that gathered outside ERT’s headquarters in Aghia Paraskevi, northeastern Athens, the journalists kept broadcasting through the night and used their programs to attack the government for choosing to shut the organization down and fire some 2,700 employees.

Staff said that ERT’s CEO Emilios Latsios had issued instructions asking employees to leave all of the broadcaster’s buildings or face being arrested as illegal occupiers. However, there was no police intervention over night to remove journalists.

The government said that it would soon reopen ERT under a different name and with fewer employees but the decision still drew widespread criticism, including from coalition partners PASOK and Democratic Left, leaving New Democracy somewhat exposed.

Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou argued that ERT had become bloated and needed to be overhauled but PASOK and Democratic Left said they had not given their consent for it to be shut down.

Kedikoglou said the new broadcaster would have an annual budget of 100 million euros, rather than the 300 million ERT currently gets from license fees levied via electricity bills.

SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras appeared live on ERT’s main channel, NET, at around 3 a.m. on Wednesday to voice his opposition to the closure. He said that he had spoken to President Karolos Papoulias about the matter and claimed that the veteran politician was “troubled” by the move to take ERT off air. Tsipras said he would meet Papoulias at noon on Wednesday to discuss the matter as he claimed that the government’s legislative act allowing public enterprises, like ERT, to be shut down would not pass through Parliament.

The Athens Journalists’ Union (ESIEA) called a 48-hour strike from 6 a.m. on Wednesday on TV and radio stations to protest the closure of ERT. ESIEA said newspaper journalists would strike on Thursday for 24 hours.

There was also a six-hour stoppage on TV and radio on Tuesday after the government announced it would be closing ERT and later opening a new broadcaster with fewer employees.

The European Federation of Journalists condemned the decision to shut down ERT. «These plans are simply absurd,» said EFJ president Mogens Blicher-Bjerregård.

“It will be a major blow to democracy, to media pluralism and to journalism as a public good in Greece, thus depriving citizens from their right to honest, level-headed and unbiased information. But it will also mean the loss of many journalists’ jobs across the country.»

The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) expressed on Tuesday its “profound dismay” at the Greek government’s decision to shut down Greek broadcaster ERT with immediate effect.

The President of the EBU, Jean Paul Philippot and the EBU Director General, Ingrid Deltenre, highlighted the need for ERT to remain on air.

“The existence of public service media and their independence from government lie at the heart of democratic societies, and therefore any far-reaching changes to the public media system should only be decided after an open and inclusive democratic debate in Parliament – and not through a simple agreement between two government ministers,” the EBU said.

“While we recognize the need to make budgetary savings, national broadcasters are more important than ever at times of national difficulty. This is not to say that ERT need be managed less efficiently than a private company. Naturally, all public funds must be spent with the greatest of care,” Philippot and Deltenre said in their letter.