Deep Concerns Over Closure of Greek Public Broadcaster
SEEMO/IPI Press Release: SEEMO/IPI Deeply Concerned Over Closure of Greek Public Broadcaster
Suspension threatens free flow of information amid economic crisis
Vienna,12 June 2013 – The sudden closure of Greek public broadcaster ERT seriously threatens the Greek public’s right to information during a period of profound uncertainty, the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI) warned today.
The Greek government on Tuesday suddenly announced it was suspending ERT and laying off the station’s almost 3,000 employees as part of a a creditor-mandated effort to reduce public employment.
Under the terms of a bill passed by Parliament in April, the Greek government is required to cut 15,000 state employees by the end of 2014. Defending the suspension, a government spokesman said ERT suffered from an “exceptional lack of transparency and incredible extravagance.” According to reports, the government plans to relaunch a slimmed-down state broadcaster late this summer.
The station ceased broadcasting at midnight Tuesday. ERT host Antonis Alafogiorgos, in a final airing, called the closure a “blow to democracy”. The Greek media community has responded angrily, with the Athens Journalists’ Union announcing a 48-hour strike and indignant protesters gathering outside ERT headquarters.
In a gesture of support for ERT, Greek private broadcasters pulled live content for six hours on Tuesday evening, declining to show the evening news.
IPI Deputy Director Anthony Mills said: “We are deeply concerned at the Greek government’s decision to completely shutdown the public broadcaster. As a result, at a time of national crisis the Greek public - who have a right to be informed about what is happening in their country and elsewhere, are being deprived of a crucial channel of information. We urge the Greek government to reverse their decision, and to consider the suggestion that cost-cutting at a national public broadcaster does not have to mean shutting it down completely, and jeopardising the people’s right to know.”
Oliver Vujovic, SEEMO Secretary General, added: "I am urging Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras to use his power to reverse this decision. The government decision is a clear step against democracy and media freedom in Greece. Instead of helping the transformation of the public broadcaster and giving ERT managers the possibility to develop strategies for reducing the costs and number of employees, instead of supporting an open public and a parliamentary discussion about the public broadcaster, the government decided to close ERT and to silence an important media voice in Greece. I am asking also the EU institutions in Brussels to react urgently to this alarming step from Athens".
ERT had been broadcasting since 1938, and was one of the founding members of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) in 1950. It ran three domestic TV channels and four national radio stations, as well as regional radio stations and satellite programmes. One of its primary sources of funding was a 4,30 EUR addition to the monthly electricity bills of every household in Greece.