Staff at Greek state broadcaster continue service despite closure

Prime minister says ‘enclave of waste’ at ERT left no option but to shut and restart broadcaster

 Workers occupy a production suite within the headquarters of the Greek public broadcaster ERT in Athens yesterday. Journalists have refused to leave the premises following the Greek government’s announcement that the Hellanic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT) was to be disbanded. Photograph: Milos Bicanski/Getty Images

Workers occupy a production suite within the headquarters of the Greek public broadcaster ERT in Athens yesterday. Journalists have refused to leave the premises following the Greek government’s announcement that the Hellanic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT) was to be disbanded. Photograph: Milos Bicanski/Getty Images

Thu, Jun 13, 2013, 01:00

Staff at Greece’s national broadcaster ERT yesterday maintained a continuous service from their studios, live streamed through a variety of news sites and blogs – including that of the European Broadcasting Union – after the government pulled the plug on transmitters the previous night in a bid to cut costs.

“We are working as if ERT still exists and so that it will continue to exist,” said ERT education correspondent Machi Nikolara, one of the 2,656 full-time employees made unemployed at the broadcaster.

She will now be invited to reapply for her old job at a new public broadcaster, which is expected to employ only a third of the original workforce when it starts transmissions at the end of the summer.

If the government succeeds in its plans, it will have achieved in one blow a July deadline set by the troika for 2,000 public sector firings.

Last night, as a political crisis over the plans threatened the stability of his three-party coalition, prime minister Antonis Samaras reiterated his position that “a lack of transparency and waste” at ERT left him with no option but to shut down and restart the broadcaster. “There was an enclave of waste and we got rid of it. [The staff] bother some people because they wanted to keep it going,” he told leading industrialists in a speech.

Earlier, Mr Samaras’s junior coalition partners, sore at being kept in dark about the details, insisted that any restructuring at ERT should be done with the public broadcaster remaining open.

Emerging from a meeting with the Democratic Left leader, Pasok’s Evangelos Venizelos called on Mr Samaras to reach an agreement with them and to put the proposals to a parliamentary vote.

Back at ERT, staff described their resentment at the move.

“We couldn’t believe what we were hearing. It was like the government spokesman, who made the announcement, was calling us thieves. In less than an hour we learned that we had lost our jobs,” said cellist Christina Kolovou, as she made her way to a rehearsal.

She said none of the 150 professionals in ERT’s two orchestras and choir had any idea whether the new broadcaster would hire musicians.

Back in the newsroom, some journalists poured scorn on the charge that they were responsible for the broadcaster’s problems. “Since they came to power, the same people who vilify us for waste have employed 35 advisers at the station, on hugely inflated salaries,” said Nikolara.