While defiant former workers of the now defunct national state TV and radio operation ERT were continuing to broadcast via satellite, the symbol of the New Hellenic Radio Internet and Television (NERIT), the name of the organization which will replace it, appeared on TV screens on June 17 over multi-colored stripes, after several days of black screens following ERT’s surprise closure.
According to reports in some media that could not be independently verified, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is planning to address to the nation ahead of a critical scheduled meeting with his coalition partners at 7.30 p.m.
The ERT broadcasts were being carried as well over the Internet and re-transmitted via satellite by the European Broadcasting Union, raising the prospect that both ERT and NERIT – which isn’t expected to be fully operational until the end of the summer – would show the Premier’s speech that is scheduled to come after the New Democracy leader has a showdown with his coalition partners, the PASOK Socialists and tiny Democratic Left (DIMAR) which have reneged on their pledge to go along with firings of workers and want ERT back with no job losses.
Despite the flap and widening breach with his partners, Samaras said there wouldn’t be early elections even though social unrest continues with two-thirds of Greeks opposed to his move. He again defended his decision to close ERT and relaunch NERIT with less than half the staff, which would come from the ranks of the 2,656 who were fired when ERT was closed.
The major opposition SYRIZA party said the decision was “the climax of his authoritarian policy” and urged Greeks to rally in Syntagma square in Athens on June 17 at 8 p.m., where party leader Alexis Tsipras was to speak. The Communist-affiliated trade union PAME also called a rally near ERT’s headquarters, where workers had been gathering since its closure.
The debacle has cut deeply into the support for the ruling government, which was elected a year ago to the day on a second-try ballot but with Samaras not getting enough of the vote to form a government, forcing him to bring in PASOK and DIMAR who have so far relented to almost everything he demanded – after he, in return, took his orders from international lenders who want 15,000 workers fired by the end of 2014, and 4,000 this year.
PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos, presiding over a freefall for his party that has fallen to about 5 percent in the polls, nonetheless said he wasn’t afraid of early elections if he and DIMAR walk and refuse to give Samaras their vote when the decision to close ERT comes to the Parliament, even if it means his party will almost disappear.
“Moves aimed to impress, in violation of basic principles of Parliamentary majority, are not reforms,” Venizelos said. The decision to close ERT was made by ministerial decree, meaning that it could be implemented without going to lawmakers.
Greece has won praise from its Troika of international lenders – the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the European Central Bank – for its efforts to get its bailout program on track and German Chancellor Angela Merkel telephoned Samaras to “pledge her support,” her office said. With her country putting up much of the rescue monies in two bailouts totaling $325 billion, she has insisted on unrelenting pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and firing of public workers in return and Samaras has consented, after opposing austerity when his party was not in office
Merkel’s office added Now it is of clear importance to push through all Troika agreements, including those with regard to the reform of the public service.”
Venizelos and DIMAR leader Fotis Kouvelis have so far rejected a compromise from Samaras to allow ERT to almost immediately resume some broadcasts of an informational nature until NERIT can be established. The government says ERT’s three domestic television channels and regional, national and external radio stations cost Greece 300 million euros ($400 million) a year, not much more than the 250 million euros ($333.5 million) PASOK and New Democracy owe banks in bad loans and won’t pay while refusing to pass legislation giving relief to debt-crushed Greeks.
Many Greeks have long viewed the broadcaster as a wasteful source of patronage jobs for political parties, but the suddenness with which ERT was taken off air – workers were given five minutes notice before being fired – was a surprise bold gamble by Samaras and a majority of Greeks disapprove of the way he did it.
Samaras argues that shutting down ERT is the only way to restructure the broadcaster, after previous attempts at reform failed. “This is what we are changing because it’s right, because it’s fair and because it should have been done years ago,” he said.