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Europe

Greek PM offers to partially reinstate state broadcaster

© AFP

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2013-06-15

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras proposed partially reinstating state broadcaster ERT on Friday after fierce protests over its sudden closure earlier this week threatened to derail his fragile coalition government.

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on Friday offered to partially reinstate state broadcaster ERT after vehement protests over its dramatic closure threatened to derail his government.

"A temporary committee ... can be appointed to hire a small number of (ERT) employees, so that the broadcast of information programmes can begin immediately," Samaras said in a statement.

Greece has been without news broadcasts for much of this week as other journalists went on indefinite strike over ERT's closure, a move that also disrupted the reporting of school exam results.

Pressure had steadily grown on Samaras to reverse his decision, with his coalition allies digging in their heels and the European Broadcasting Union holding emergency meetings in Athens to demand ERT's reopening.

"We ask the government to reverse this decision, we ask the government to reestablish the signal on TV, radio and web," president Jean-Paul Philippot of the EBU, the world's largest association of national broadcasters, told a news conference earlier in the day.

Samaras made the offer ahead of a meeting on Monday with his socialist and moderate leftist allies – both of which have opposed ERT's closure.

He urged his allies to "act responsibly" to avoid "mishaps" for Greece, hinting that a split over the issue could lead to a government collapse and early elections.

ERT employees and journalists are protesting for a fourth day after Tuesday's shock decision, which saw the broadcaster shut down within hours of a government legislative act.

Hundreds of ERT staff have been staging sit-ins at company offices in major cities, while the main headquarters in Athens is running a rogue broadcast on the Internet and through the Communist party TV channel.

The EBU has been re-transmitting ERT's feed on its website, as are several Greek news outlets.

ERT's union has asked Greece's top administrative court, the Council of State, to block the legislative act.

"You will go down in history for blackened television," main opposition leader Alexis Tsipras told the government in parliament on Friday.

Tsipras has already likened the shutdown to a "coup d'etat".

For the first time since the decision, criticism also emerged from inside Prime Minister's Samaras conservative party on Friday.

"No means justify the ends, particularly when euthanasia is used as a cure," conservative European Parliament member Ioannis Tsoukalas said on his website.

Tsoukalas also called ERT's silencing "repulsive".

European Parliament chairman Martin Schulz weighed into the debate on Friday, calling on Samaras to reconsider his decision.

Samaras heads a fragile three-party coalition in a careful balancing act to enact unpopular austerity reforms in return for bailout loans from the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

He has risked his government's cohesion just as investor confidence was beginning to return in recession-wracked Greece.

"The government needs to find a solution, such as reopening ERT under a bare-bones format," said political analyst Thomas Gerakis.

"To reduce the tension, the black screen must go," he said. "The country has more important problems to worry about besides ERT."

On Thursday, a general strike was called on ERT's behalf by the main Greek unions and some 15,000 people gathered outside the broadcaster's offices in Athens and Thessaloniki to demand its immediate restoration.

Samaras's administration is under heavy pressure from Greece's EU-IMF creditors to fire thousands of state workers to maintain access to bailout loans.

ERT has a long history of nepotistic hiring practises and government-biased news coverage, but it also provides an invaluable link to the Greek diaspora, border areas and isolated islands.

The government says it will compensate ERT's almost 2,700 employees and has pledged to set up a new public broadcaster with less than half the staff before the end of summer.

"We are giving ERT a chance to be reborn.... The new entity will be reinstated very soon," Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras told parliament, accusing the opposition of shedding "crocodile tears" for a hopelessly corrupt organisation with terrible viewer ratings.

But the conservative-led government faces accusations of authoritarianism, and even fellow EU countries have expressed alarm.

"If the signal was cut, a new signal was immediately reestablished like in Eastern Germany and it was seamless. What happened here has never happened ever," said the EBU's Philippot.

ERT is a founding member of the EBU, which aims to promote public-service broadcasting.

(AFP)

Date created : 2013-06-14

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