Why the ERT restart makes sense

Round and juicy apples may be great to admire, especially if they are dear to purchase, but if they are full of worms sooner or later they have to be thrown away. The apple that used to be named Hellenic Radio Television (ERT) had plenty of worms inside that had made it rotten decades ago.

The decision to put an end to ERT was clearly heavy-handed, but necessary. The government will say it had to be clumsy because there was no other way to shut it down. Beyond stating the obvious about the jobs lost, the end of an era and the democratic deficit, and beyond the crocodile tears, the move to push the state broadcaster’s restart button does make sense.

One has to respect the thousands of people left without a job – although those who do want to stay on and deserve to do so can still apply to be hired by the new ERT, which is to be kept at an arm’s length from the government, similar to a state broadcaster in northern Europe.

In a public sector full of incompetence and built on party political favors, ERT has in the last three decades become the symbol of money wasted and excessive luxury in lean times; a monument to the grandeur of its political clientele that was simply not delivering what it was supposed to.

We should not ignore the thousands of employees who got paid full salaries without clocking in (unions managed to deprive ERT of a clock-in system), journalists who received double and treble wages from ministries and other state authorities to act like party hacks, while the few and far between quality programs were drowned in the sea of cheap imports, endless repeats and news shows with biased political agendas.

Nostalgia is fine but one has to look into the future of this organization, which costs hundreds of millions of euros per year to run. Natural selection ends the life of the obsolete species.

Each Greek household’s electricity bill is burdened with over 50 euros per year to cover ERT’s costs. As a subscription channel, it simply delivered too little to its subscribers while fetching plenty for its employees, who have now reacted with horror to the broadcaster’s closure.

Even at the best of times, when ERT managed to produce impartial reporting, it always carried the stigma of being the “government’s channel”. The press, the politicians, the unions, and, of course, most of the ERT executives past and present all have their share of responsibility in bringing this organization into disrepute.

Where were all those politicians crying foul today when ERT unionists had left the country for a whole winter, until May, without any public news broadcasts on weekends and holidays? Major stories broke, such as the Cypriot economic crisis in March, but ERT remained hostage to its unions and reported nothing about these events, waiting for the weekend strike to end.

No doubt the parties that had the biggest influence among ERT employees, as union election results easily reveal, will feel the most aggrieved by the broadcaster’s restart. They will lose their stronghold, while viewers and listeners will likely get their public service back in a few weeks’ time, probably by September.

There is absolutely no reason why the few good things that stood out among the state radio and television service cannot be carried over to the new ERT, which many people prefer to say nothing about.

The so-called switch-off is actually a switch-over from old ERT to the new broadcaster, which will be named NERIT (New Hellenic Radio, Internet and Television). The plan will save an estimated 100 million euros per year and will also lead to the Parliament Channel, another example of money wasted, being absorbed.

According to the bill presented by the government less than 24 hours after the shutdown of old ERT, the new broadcaster will not be elitist and comes complete with its own ombudsman.

A key priority for the new ERT will have to be its international program – what used to be ERT World. This is an area where there is great potential for the state broadcaster and one it will have to build its future on. The new ERT could take advantage of viewership in the Greek diaspora and support and among the friends of Greece across the world.

Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation (RIK) did a far better job than ERT as a state broadcaster with considerably smaller means. There’s an example to follow, if the powers that be decide that the examples of the BBC, of Italy’s RAI or of Germany’s ZDF that the government spokesman cited on Tuesday prove to be too hard to follow.

Once the crocodile tears have run dry, everyone will agree that Greeks in Greece and abroad deserve a much better state broadcaster than the one they had. They now have a chance to get it through NERIT. Hopefully, the worms won’t creep back in.

[Kathimerini English Edition]