Greece: State broadcaster ERT monster was created by politicians


Much of what went wrong with modern Greece left its mark somewhere in the gloomy hallways of the headquarters of ERT, the state broadcaster.

Since it began broadcasting in the 1930s it has been subject to the worst instincts of its political paymasters. During the  dictatorship that ended in 1974 the colonels had their own dedicated channel, the kitsch awfulness of which many Greeks recall with a kind of dark nostalgia. In the decades of two-party rule that followed both sides stuffed ERT with political appointees. It was never allowed to evolve from a state mouthpiece into a public service broadcaster, despite the valiant efforts of some staff. Editors were promoted, bullied or replaced according to the whim of the government of the day.

This way it grew to have a staff of nearly 3,000 and an annual budget of $300m. In all its stagnant clientelism it was a microcosm of Greece's wider malaise. Even its loudest supporters knew that it needed reform.

Sadly, the manner of that reform when it came was violently authoritarian and reflected the appalling political failures that have characterised the response to Greece's debt crisis. In the space of a single day a national institution was closed down and rebellious journalists who refused to leave their studios were, in some cases, dragged out of them by riot police.

Like so many of the reforms that have been enacted in recent years it failed to distinguish between the Greece that works - the many ERT employees who worked long hours for low wages - and the political placemen, or “party dogs” as they are known in Greek.

The government spokesman listed a catalogue of ERT's excesses, including three orchestras paid as civil servants, 19 provincial radio stations which broadcast only four hours of original programmes each day and some 700 journalists it employs. Nowhere in this tirade was there any admission of that it was the politician's and their patronage system that created the monster.

A “new ERT” will now be formulated in the midst of spiralling poverty and rising political extremism. In the meantime the floor will be left open to private media owners, a small club of oligarchs whose disproportionate share of public contracts will not be examined by their own outlets. There is little cause for optimism that a new entity born in these conditions will be more than a compound of past mistakes.