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Episode 8 - Athens: An ancient city grappling with modern problems
What does the EU recovery fund deal mean for Greece?
Spain's challenges and opportunities in the EU recovery deal
Video talk: Removing obstacles for a deal on Next Generation EU
The television will not be revolutionised
When Prime Minister Antonis Samaras decided to close down public broadcaster ERT in June 2013, then government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou stood in front of TV cameras and called the service “a characteristic case of a unique lack of transparency... that ends today.”
“In ERT’s place, there will be a modern, public – not state or party-controlled – broadcaster based on the most successful European broadcasters,” added Kedikoglou, who was cast aside in a reshuffle 12 months after the service’s plug was pulled.
The government’s decision on June 11 last year provoked a range of emotions in Greece: from anger to glee and even apathy. For those who were critical of the decision to shut down ERT (polls at the time showed it was a majority of Greeks), Kedikoglou had a simple response: “Judge us on the result.”
Using the government’s own yardstick, things are not stacking up particularly favourably for Samaras and his advisers. Four month’s after ERT’s successor, NERIT, began official broadcasts, it has found itself without a chairman for a second time.
Antonis Makrydimitris, and his deputy Rodolfos Moronis, resigned on Thursday amid suggestions that the government had tried to influence their work. “If you declare that you want to create something independent, objective and of good quality but you don’t mean it, don’t assign the job to someone who does,” Moronis wrote on his social networking account. Reports on Friday morning claimed that the two men resigned after the government attempted to intervene in NERIT’s plans to televise Saturday’s speech by SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras at the Thessaloniki International Fair, along with his press conference the following day.
The government hit back through Kedikoglou's successor, Sofia Voultepsi, who claimed that SYRIZA had been in a furtive exchange with NERIT to secure more air time for Tsipras and other leaders.
The details are to some extent irrelevant; it is the practice that is the problem. The manner in which the two men departed suggests that the coalition has little appetite for NERIT becoming the independent broadcaster it promised. Either that or it has abandoned those intentions with the same speed it passed ministerial decisions through Parliament to take ERT off air.
It is not the first time over the past few month’s that NERIT’s integrity has come into question. The broadcaster’s first chairman ex-Columbia University professor Giorgos Prokopakis was replaced in May, two days after NERIT went on air. Prokopakis again suggested there had been interference in his work and also claimed hiring rules were not being followed.
Last month the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) expressed concern about the government’s decision to change the way that NERIT’s supervisory board is appointed, suggesting that the process had been opened up to the political influence that Athens had pledged to eradicate. “The new procedure lacks the legal safeguards to ensure the independence and pluralism of the supervisory council,” said EBU’s Director General Ingrid Deltenre.
Earlier this month it was revealed that a judicial investigation has been launched into the hiring of 132 journalists at NERIT amid complaints that regulations were breached and that some candidates were favoured over others.
To compound the government’s problems, courts have now started ruling that ERT employees were wrongfully fired and should be given their jobs back.
Through no fault of its employees, NERIT has built up a rather sorry rap sheet in a very short time. This certainly does not give the impression that the broadcaster has managed to free itself of the political system’s fetters. There is little indication that NERIT is being allowed any more independence than its predecessor. The New Democracy-led government felt it had lost control of ERT to pro-SYRIZA unions and seems to be trying to replace it with a smaller, cheaper version that is at its beck and call instead. So much for the revolution.
It is a wake up call for those who supported the decision to close the admittedly problematic ERT in the belief that Samaras and those close to him were committed to genuine reform of the public broadcaster. However, it is also a kick in the teeth for those who egged Samaras on because of their spite for what they felt ERT had become. Blinded by their politics, or abhorrence for public broadcasting, they ignored the widespread international condemnation for the way ERT was handled simply because it was a supposed blow against the unions and the left.
The last four months have shown us something that the preceding four years also made clear. Throughout this crisis it is Greek voters who have mostly accepted, and overwhelmingly felt the effects of, fiscal reform. The same people are the ones who have in their majority quietly gone along with the legislative changes that have been showered on them as part of the structural reform process. In contrast, the appetite for change in Greece’s political elite is limited. It is mostly limited to this: You change, we stay the same. If only the politicians could find a way to end that today.