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Greek public broadcasts return to airwaves with limited programming

Greek viewers have public television back after doing without for the past month. The new public broadcaster is meant to be a slimmed-down version of its predecessor, ERT, which the government closed to cut costs.

Public broadcasts returned to Greek television screens on Wednesday evening after having been off the air for a month. The first program shown by the new public broadcaster, EDT, was an old Greek movie. Earlier in the day, EDT had signaled that it was about to take to the air by broadcasting a test pattern for several hours.

This followed an announcement by Greece's deputy minister responsible for public television, Pantelis Kapsis, who told the AFP news agency that programming would "consist mainly of documentaries and a news ticker from news agencies."

He also said this was strictly a temporary measure, with the government planning to return to a more complete line-up of programming in around two months time after new staff had been hired.

"There will be an open call to journalists to work with us," the deputy minister said. However, the government has said all along that the new public broadcaster would have far fewer staff than its predecessor, which it described as wasteful and inefficient.

Trade unions call strike

While viewers may have been pleased to see their public broadcaster back, albeit in a slimmed-down format, journalists were angered by the fact that it did so from a private studio and without employees of the former public broadcaster, ERT, who were sacked last month.

Trade unions representing journalists called a five-hour strike for this Thursday to protest against the restart.

Conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras ordered ERT shut down on June 11 as part of austerity measures meant to help wrestle down Greece's massive debt, as required under the terms of the country's international bailouts. The move left nearly 2,600 people without a job.

Since then, some former staff have been using ERT's old headquarters in Athens to keep a rogue broadcast on the air, with the assistance of the European Broadcasting Union.

Samaras' decision to shut down ERT sparked a row within his three-party coalition that nearly brought down his government.

Greece's top court later ruled that the government had the right to shut down ERT, but that it had to replace it with a new public broadcaster as soon as possible.

pfd/ccp (AFP, dpa)