Using fiery rhetoric to draw an analogy to the military rule of the 1967-74 junta, major opposition party Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) leader Alexis Tsipras blamed Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras for being behind the decision to shut down the national broadcaster ERT and told him to his face in Parliament: . “You will go down in history for the black screens in our television. You are accountable to the people, to the Republic. You are an economist, not a Colonel.”
The clash stepped up the tension as Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, the New Democracy Conservative party leader, girded for a showdown on June 17 with his coalition partners, PASOK Socialist chief Evangelos Venizelos and Democratic Left (DIMAR) head Fotis Kouvelis who objected to the closure of ERT and said they would withhold their votes when it comes to the Parliament for ratification within 90 days.
Samaras has offered a compromise to bring back a small portion of the staff at ERT, all 2,656 of whom were fired on June 11 pending a reorganization of a new broadcaster. He said that would allow some informational programs to go back on the air almost immediately but Venizelos and Kouvelis have rejected that as well, demanding a full return until the station can be restructured.
Samaras said ERT is full of wasteful patronage hires put there by his party and PASOK for decades in return for votes and needed to be cleaned out but he didn’t promise the new entity, to be called NERIT, would operate any differently. He said about 1000-1200 of the staff would be rehired but one worker said not a single person had been hired on merit.
Tsipras said the government wants to blame the workers at ERT that it had hired and said party loyalists there were given extra pay to back the administration. Journalists critical of Samaras were suspended last year.
Tsipras also attacked the government’s spokesman and point man on ERT – Simos Kedikoglou, who had worked there but never spoke out about mismanagement until now – urging him to answer how he was appointed to ERT and how many favors has he asked recently. He accused Stournaras of distributing lists of who will be hired in the new ERT and added “the ordinances, humiliate the President of the Republic and our institutions.”
Tsipras called the ERT shutdown a fiasco that will jeopardize the economy and added that the state television “offers to the public budget and does not burden it.”
Stournaras accused Tsipras of scaremongering without ever proposing any solution and referred to what the Greek government has managed in the economy. He reported that ERT took 210 million euros ($280.2 million) from an increase in utility bills which are used to fund the operation and and 9 million euros ($12 million) from advertising revenues.
Stournaras said it was necessary to take ERT apart in order to save it. “We are not closing down ERT, we are reconstructing it to regenerate it,” Stournaras said, and added “the new body will work very soon with the most valued staff of ERT.” Lastly, he admitted “the decision to shut down the public service broadcasting even for a little while, is not pleasant to anyone.”