Greek PM faces revolt over state TV closure as unions stage general strike

Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation shut down while on-air in move to curb ‘excesses’


Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras faces a political revolt after pulling the plug on the country’s state broadcaster in the middle of the night.

News presenters were cut off mid-sentence when Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT), the 75-year-old state television station, was dragged off-air just hours after the decision was announced, in what the government described as a temporary measure to stem the flow of wasted taxpayers’ money into a channel plagued by “excesses”.

The move is intended to pacify Greece’s international lenders and demonstrate the government’s willingness to move ahead with reforms in the debt-plagued nation.

Many of the station’s 2,600 employees, 600 of whom are journalists, refused to cease broadcasting, taking their coverage online.

A strike by Greece's two largest unions disrupted public transport and left state hospitals running on skeleton staff, while flights were to be grounded. Mr Samaras will meet his coalition partners on Monday in a bid to find a way a out of the growing political crisis.

Unions and journalists called the 24-hour nationwide strike in support of the station’s staff, while thousands of ordinary Greeks flocked to the ERT headquarters in the Athens suburb of Agia Paraskevi to demonstrate against the closure on Wednesday, and against what some see as an attack on press freedoms.

Georgos, a former employee of previously state-owned Olympic Airways who came to the ERT headquarters, told The Independent: “This is unacceptable. There was no public debate about it.”

The move also triggered international condemnation, with the European Broadcasting Union urging Mr Samaras to reconsider. The European Commission said it did not seek ERT’s closure under the bailout, but did not question the decision, while France’s Socialist government called the move “very worrying and regrettable”.

Mr Samaras’s centre-left coalition partners said they were furious at the decision, and had not been consulted. Coalition party leaders were meeting tonight, with some analysts suggesting they could force Samaras into a confidence vote that could, potentially, bring him down.

“What we oppose was the way they just pulled the plug,” said Thodoros Margaritis, a senior member of the Democratic Left party. He said he agrees ERT needs a revamp, but disagreed with the way the government suspended activities.

“If Samaras doesn’t look for some compromise... we will be forced to go to new elections and he will bear the responsibility for this,” Mr  Margaritis said.

The closure of ERT came as the Athens stock exchange was downgraded to emerging-market status by index provider MSCI, making Greece the first country ever to lose the status of a developed market.

In an attempt to restore calm, government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou told journalists that the ERT closure was temporary, and it would reopen by the end of the summer.

“It is not a shut down – it is a restart,” Mr Kedikoglou said.

Though ERT is Greece’s public broadcaster, it does not share the popularity and repute of its equivalents in some other countries. In announcing the reasons for the move, Mr Kedikoglou listed a catalogue of ERT’s excesses, which include three orchestras paid as civil servants and 19 provincial radio stations which broadcast only four hours of original programmes each day.

Today, hundreds of workers carried out a sit-in at the state broadcaster’s headquarters, but not all were entirely against the move.

“We weren’t expecting this,” Odin Linardatou, ERT’s international news editor, told The Independent. She has worked for the channel for 26 years. “We expected some lay-offs and some restructuring but it was a shock that they closed it down so abruptly.”

Fanis Papathanasiou, one of the anchors of ERT’s morning show, said he was working when he heard that ERT would be taken off the air. He says he is in favour of reform, but is concerned that blame for the station’s excesses has been placed on workers instead of management.

“I was relieved to tell you the truth because… ERT deserves a better future,” the veteran journalist explained. “Of course we have things to correct at ERT: we were oversized, but that’s not my fault.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before