On Tuesday 11th June, Greek/Hellenic Radio Television (ERT) was shut down and now Greece has no public television broadcasting service. The news spread around the world; #ert trended worldwide for at least eight hours on Twitter. Everyone in Greece has a strong opinion about the sudden shutdown, particularly the 2656 employees who lost their jobs.
People in Greece are outraged at this censorship of public opinion (even if these same people once accused ERT of being overly favourable towards the government). It was a shocking decision that was not made by the three different parties which formed the government at the time, but by the majority one. The other two of course reacted to the closure but did not seem willing to dissolve the government over this issue.
The truth is; the government needed to fire some civil servants as soon as possible. It was a commitment to the so-called ‘troika’ and firing 2656 employees at once effectively achieved this.
But how can a European country, one of the founding members of the European Broadcasting Union, shut down its public television? What about its employees and the culture it promoted?
Problems with Greek democracy are not the reason that ERT was shut down. ERT was an extravagant public company. Many, though not all, employees were hired under suspicious conditions, due to favoritism and nepotism, and received disproportionately large wages (8000 Euros per month through the financial crisis and 13000 Euros per month before). They had privileges that few others had, some employees even received Christmas gifts from the company. For the last two years we were often watching repeats over and over, that is when the workers were not on strike. You would be lucky to get news on Saturdays and Sundays.
In any case, a new public broadcasting organisation will be created and Greece will once again have public television and radio.
The problem is really the manner in which this whole situation came about. There was an unexpected announcement at 6pm, and by 11pm we had blank screens. It was shocking and brought back memories of a dark period in Greek history. In a democratic society, the government cannot simply cut the signal of public television. However, cut the signal they did.
In Greece, people say: “You have a headache? Off with your head!” While that might seem extreme, what if your leg had gangrene, would you not cut it off then? Instead of treating the symptoms appropriately, they chose the easy way out. Rather than enact reforms that would have been more demanding, time wise and politically, they removed the public broadcaster. ERT should have been reformed, not all employees were useless or hired inappropriately and not all programmes were bad. It’s channels broadcast historic sporting events such as the 2004 Greek Olympic Games and the Greeks triumph at EURO 2004. But there were also programmes with poor presenters muddling through poor topics. ERT certainly needed an overhaul but an outright shutdown seems an over-reaction.