Greece axes state broadcaster ERT as austerity grip tightens

Jun 12, 2013

TV screens fade to black in debt-laden country as government suspends 2,500 staff at 'haven of waste'


GREECE'S state television and radio stations fell silent last night as the government abruptly shut down an institution it describes as "a haven of waste".

The decision to close the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation, or ERT, for an unspecified period is an austerity measure designed to satisfy the embattled country's creditors. About 2,500 workers have been suspended and riot police were deployed outside some ERT facilities in Athens, although there were no reports of trouble.

The Greek government insists the broadcaster will reopen "as soon as possible" with a new, smaller workforce, The Guardian reports. But it is unclear when services will resume and how extensive they will be.

A government spokesman described ERT as "a haven of waste" and "a case of an exceptional lack of transparency and incredible extravagance". But analysts told the New York Times the decision to suspend the broadcaster – which does not require lawmakers' approval - was a "measure of both the government's desperation and its determination to find a way to cut public jobs".   

Athens promised its creditors this week to dismiss 4,000 civil servants this year, including 2,000 by the end of the summer and 15,000 by the end of 2014. But despite three years of drastic debt reduction, Greece has yet to fire "a single government employee".

ERT employees were devastated by the sudden closure of the broadcaster. Newsreader Stavroula Christofilea said: "I was hoping up until the last minute that the reports were not true. It's unbelievable."

Another ERT employee, Vayia Valavaki, said the government was trying to scare people. "I am now a laid-off single mother with a young child," she told the BBC. "How exactly is this country protecting me? Why are they leaving me without work?"

ERT, which made its first broadcast in 1938, is funded by a direct payment of 51.60 euros a year which is added to everyone's electricity bills. The organisation ran three domestic TV channels, four national radio stations, as well regional radio stations and an external service, Voice of Greece.

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Time for both the BBC and the CBC to go down the same path.

Cut PBS, NPR and WETA in the USA now.