The Greek public and the international media were left speechless last Thursday after the decision of the government to send Athens police on a pre-dawn raid to evacuate the headquarters of the country’s national broadcaster. Involving the use of strong-arm tactics and tear gas, the order was given to put an end to the prolonged occupation of the building by a smattering of fired journalists who refused to leave the premises when ERT was permanently shut down in June.
At the time, I was one of a small minority of Greek journalists and citizens who considered that the shuttering of the public broadcaster was a correct policy decision, believing that it was a demonstration of the Samaras’ government’s determination to commence much-needed and long overdue structural changes to the country’s public sector.
Unfortunately, however, the events that would follow ERT’s closing this summer, would belie any hope of a government ready to clean house but, rather, depict an administration devoid of any plans for a proposed cleaner, leaner broadcaster. For, a few short weeks after the turmoil, the birth of New Hellenic Radio Internet and Television, or NERIT, was proclaimed but, instead of proceeding in a fresh direction, the government quickly re-hired an overwhelming number of politically tied and connected former ERT employees to fill the majority of the new positions.
The new corporation appeared to have no qualms with the poor resumes of its candidates nor did it seem to fret about the fact that many offers were given to those holding more than one job, even though new guidelines forbid such practices.
At the same time, the administration has failed to provide proper compensation to its terminated ex-ERT workers as was promised. As of October 18th, the due date of the third and final instalment, hundreds of ERT’s 2,650 former employees remained unpaid. Under Greek law, such inaction could lead to the layoffs being declared null and void and force the government to reinstate them.
Given the utter chaos that ensued, government spokesman, Simos Kedikoglou, attempted to explain the government’s reasons for sending in the riot police by declaring, “Police intervention in ERT was done in order to apply the law and restore legality. The building was under illegal occupation, resulting in daily losses for the Greek government and the intervention took place in the presence of the prosecutor.”
The public outcry was such that the opposition SYRIZA party tabled a motion of non-confidence in Parliament on Sunday but that was easily defeated by the New Democracy government with the support of its coalition partner, PASOK.
It is unfortunate that, at a time when Greece’s image in the world is suffering in the wake of the debt crisis, the government continues to show an inability to deal with everyday events, lacking consistency and continuity in its decision making and resorting to the use of force where negotiations can resolve matters more amenably.
The country will be assuming the rotating presidency of the European Union this coming January and must have a properly functioning and professional public broadcaster in place at the time. It appears highly unlikely that NERIT fits the bill, stacked as it will be with re-shuffled, politically connected, old hacks.
It is unfortunate that the Greek government had the daring to make the politically risky but astute decision to put an end to a corrupt and decrepit ERT only to have it replaced by what is shaping up to be a NERIT that is its clone.