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Vivid: The great Greek tragedy

24-June-2013
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Vivid: The great Greek tragedy

The sickness of the sick man of Europe is getting worse with each passing day. The economy seems to be in a freefall with the skydiver's parachute yet to open. Greece was the beacon and guiding star of Western philosophy and culture, now the ancient seat of learning and inspiration of thinkers has fallen on bad days.

The mundane, materialistic, transactional world has been too much of a bother for the contemporary Greek economy to cope with. The idealism of federalism with which Greece integrated itself with the great experiment of the European Union is apparently being counter-productive in materialistic terms. The frequency of relapses and remission by bailouts by EU has become a matter of global concern. Keen observers of the scenario are worried at the ad hoc nature of the bailouts and the economy not appearing in the pink of health.

The spin doctors’ prescription of slashing state expenses in fits and starts of knee-jerk ruthless measures is adding to the snowballing woes of the Greek society and economy.

The latest in the line of lambs led to slaughter as a supposed austerity measure is the Greek state TV and radio. The state media was subjected to abrupt attrition close to midnight warning. They were axed at random in an arbitrary act any modicum of public discourse into the merits or morality of the measure.

The conservative-led government said that the Hellenic Broadcasting Corp. or ERT "will reopen as soon as possible" with a new smaller workforce. Needless to say, no definition was given of the word "soon". Some 2,500 journalists were laid off in one fell swoop. The government-run media was looked upon as a provider of wholesome source of news and cultural content in contrast to the cut and thrust of the private sector media.

Dripping in satire, the Greek government newscaster “congratulated” the government towards the end of ERT's main TV live broadcast late last Tuesday. The newscaster Antonis Alafogiorgos added that "this is a blow to democracy" while thousands of media workers and their supporters demonstrated in protest at the closure, outside the organisation's headquarters in the Athens suburb of Aghia Paraskevi.

The astounding move heralds the first direct public sector layoffs in more than three years of painfully endured austerity measures which have already cost nearly one million private sector jobs. The announcement widened cracks in the year-old governing coalition, with both minority partners condemning the media corporation's suspension while international journalists' associations expressing dismay.

"I was hoping up until the last minute that the reports were not true," said news reader Stavroula Christofilea moments after the move was announced.

A Finance Ministry statement said that the ERT has been formally disbanded and the authorities would "secure" the corporation's facilities. Riot police were deployed outside ERT buildings in several parts of Greece, but no clashes were reported. The government-drafted bulletin mentioned that "the ERT is a typical example of a unique lack of transparency and incredible waste. And that ends today" said the government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou, a former state TV journalist. He went on to describe it as "a haven of waste". He said "it costs three to seven times as much as other TV stations and four to six times the personnel – for a very small viewership, about half that of an average private station".

Debt-stifled Greece has depended on rescue loans from its European partners and the International Monetary Fund since May 2010. In exchange it imposed deeply resented income cuts and tax hikes, which exacerbated a crippling recession and forced tens of thousands of business units to close, shooting up unemployment to a record of 27 per cent. As part of the bailout agreement, Greece's government pledged to cut 15,000 state jobs by 2015, out of a total of about 600,000.

Lacking the lustre, prestige and popularity of other state broadcasters like Britain's BBC, the ERT was nonetheless seen as a bastion of quality programming in a media landscape dominated by commercial stations. It was also used by successive governments to provide safe jobs for political favourites, and while nominally independent, devoted considerable time and effort to showcasing administration policies. The broadcaster is largely state-funded, with every Greek household paying a fee through its electricity bills – whether they have a TV set or not.

The Greek Supreme Court, however, has in an interim order set aside and stayed the government's shocking decision. It ordered the corporation's reopening until a new national media body can be set up. Ruling on a complaint from the ERT union, the Council of State ordered the government to restart the broadcaster on a temporary basis. The ruling came after Prime Minister Antonis Samaras himself proposed a temporary reopening of the broadcaster until a government initiative to form a new one was approved by parliament.

The news of the court ruling was greeted by thunderous applause by thousands of people gathered outside the ERT headquarters in a northern suburb of Athens. ERT staffers occupied the broadcaster's offices in Athens, Thessaloniki and other major cities, and kept up a rogue broadcast on the internet, with assistance from the European Broadcasting Union and Greek radio stations. Mr Samaras' New Democracy party claims that the ERT ate up 300 million Euros a year for an overall viewer rating of four per cent, less than half of its competitors.

The government has offered to compensate ERT's almost 2,700 employees while pledging to set up a new public broadcaster before the summer's end with less than half the original staffing levels.

Yanis Varaoufakis, a former ERT news presenter writes in his blog: "No public debate, no debate in Parliament, no warning. Nothing. ERT, the Greek version of the BBC, will simply fold its tent and steal into the night. As probably the only Greek commentator to have been blacklisted by the ERT over the past two years, I feel I have the moral authority to cry out against ERT's passing – to shout from the rooftops that its murder by our troika-led government is a crime against public media that all civilised people the world over should rise up against."

This is an apt summing up of the public and worldwide angst against the decision to fold up Greek state media.

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