A year ago, police expelled occupying journalists from the offices of Greek state broadcaster ERT. An allegedly independent successor, NERIT, was then established. Jannis Papadimitriou reports from Athens.
Flashback: In June, 2013, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras closed down public broadcaster ERT, which had been running chronic deficits, by executive order and laid off all of the 2,650 employees in one fell swoop. It was claimed at the time that the government's austerity plan to reduce debt had made this tough decision necessary. In addition, the government planned to stamp out this "stronghold of corruption and nepotism" and establish a significantly trimmed successor modeled on the BBC. In protest, hundreds of sacked journalists occupied ERT headquarters in Athens and declared they would simply continue broadcasting their own radio and TV programs. Not until November 2013 did special police units succeed in clearing the broadcasting center, andin May 2014, ERT successor NERIT went on air.
However, over 400 employees of the former state broadcaster continue airing their own "protest program" via internet, also increasingly using radio frequencies. "We're not giving up, although our twelve months of unemployment benefits has expired. We want to fully restore the ERT service," radio moderator Nikos Tsimpidas told DW. In recent months the ex-ERT employees had at least achieved some moderate success: "In total, 17 occupied local stations of the former ERT network are now airing our own protest progam," the journalist says.
The November 2013 police raid will remain in Tsimpidas' memory for a long tome to come. He was working the night shift when the police swooped down on the broadcasting center shortly after 4 a.m. The law enforcers asked him and his colleagues to immediately leave the building. "They shrewdly chose to raid the building at this time of night in order to encounter a minimum of resistance. We asked for an explanation for this police operation, but we did not receive a reply," the radio moderator recounts.
Nepotism remains on the agenda
However, even long-term ERT employee Tsimpidas readily admits that the former state broadcaster needed reforms urgently. Of course there had been "certain problems", but they could hardly have been a basis for an unceremonious shutdown of the entire station and for replacing it with a fully fledged government enterprise like NERIT, the journalist complains.
In any case, at this point there is little evidence that the ERT successor managed to overcome the often-criticized nepotism: After just a few weeks in office, the first NERIT chairman Giorgos Prokopakis was dismissed without notice. Prokopakis then complained via Facebook about a lack of transparency and political intervention. He was replaced by respected administrative lawyer Antonis Makridimitris, who, exasperated, also resigned after the summer hiatus. Now economist Petros Mais is at the helm - he worked for the much-maligned ERT state broadcaster for 38 years. This can hardly be called a "new beginning".
"NERIT has not overcome the old, evil ways which characterized ERT operations," Giorgos Plios, Media Professor at Athens University told DW. The new station is under more government control than ever before, and this could increase even further in view of escalating political disputes in the country, the media expert said. Regrettably, at this time, there is no independent public broadcaster in Greece, Professor Plios explained, adding that "it is a farce, almost, that those in power still compare the new state broadcaster to the BBC."
The role of the private media
Following the closure of former public broadcaster ERT in the summer of 2013 the Greek media unions announced protests and strikes. Even some of the private media saw walkouts in protest against the closing of ERT. But that display of solidarity did not last long. In interviews with private media, government politicians vehemently defended the shutdown of the old state broadcaster ERT. The left-wing opposition in turn boycotts the new state broadcaster NERIT and pledges - in the event of an election victory - to restore the former broadcasting service and renew the contracts of all ERT employees.
It is rather doubtful that the private media provide for a balanced coverage critical of the government, simply because there is no serious public broadcaster competition, Professor Plios affirms: "Crisis coverage studies revealed that all of the Greek private media avoid outright criticism of the government.This is probably because they need the government's assistance in order to continue to receive cheap bank loans," explains the media expert. In addition, Plios continues, the legal framework for the television market is confusing in part since no private channel is in possession of a permanent broadcasting license.
Such dependencies and interrelations between political and economic interests result in many Greeks having less and less faith in the media of their own country, criticizes Plios. This attitude is confirmed by the regular Eurobarometer surveys: Over 80 percent of those polled label TV stations in Greece as "unreliable". Radio stations and dailies are met with a lot of skepticism, too.