ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Europe’s association of public broadcasters pulled the plug Wednesday on transmissions by the sacked workers of Greece’s now defunct state broadcaster ERT, after the station’s newly set-up successor started airing news programs.
Greece’s conservative-led government cited the need to cut costs due to the country’s severe financial crisis for its decision to abruptly close ERT on June 11 and fire all 2,700 staff. The ensuing international outcry led to a severe political crisis that saw a small left-wing party withdrawing from the country’s fragile three-party governing coalition, leaving the government with a tiny majority in Parliament.
The fired workers have been producing round-the-clock programing for more than two months from ERT’s headquarters, which they have taken over, in defiance of the government shutdown. The Geneva-based European Broadcasting Union, an association of the continent’s public broadcasters, streamed the transmissions by satellite and the Internet, maintaining that “independent public service media is indispensable for democracies, culture and societies.”
But the EBU said it would halt its streaming of the transmissions after an announcement that a new, temporary state broadcaster would begin broadcasting news programs nationwide on Wednesday.
“The EBU made a commitment to supply satellite capacity and relay the ex-ERT signal until a terrestrial signal carrying basic public service media output could be established,” it said in a statement posted on its website. “This pledge has been honored.”
Defiant former ERT workers vowed to continue their broadcasts via the Internet.
“We will keep on working and producing the same complete program that we have been producing up to today. It will be available online for everyone, from our live streaming,” Panagiotis Kalfagiannis, head of the POSPERT union of broadcast employees, told The Associated Press. “What we will lose is the capacity to have transmissions … by analogue TV signal.”
While websites using the EBU transmission went dead as the signal was cut at 10 a.m. local time (0700 GMT), news programing with the old ERT logo continued uninterrupted via another site.
Greek unions criticized the EBU’s decision, with the country’s largest civil servants union, ADEDY, describing the European broadcasters’ decision “a severe blow” to ERT’s former employees.
POESY, a nationwide journalists’ union, appealed to the EBU to restart transmissions, “given that the government is not implementing the requirements that the EBU itself has set for independent and objective public information.”
But the European broadcasters said they had fulfilled their role.
“The new signal is now up and running and they’re producing news bulletins. And the news bulletins should be available in every household in Greece. So the screen is not black anymore,” EBU Director General Ingrid Deltenre told the AP in Geneva.
She said that as long as the news bulletins “have the quality that the Greek audience judges to be good” then the EBU would not resume the former ERT employees’ transmissions.
“What we want to prevent is that we have black screens. There shouldn’t be black screens. There should be a proper, independent, good news bulletin, at least, as a minimum requirement,” she said.
Greek authorities recently announced that more than 500 people had been hired on a two-month contract for Greece’s new interim state broadcaster, which so far has born the simple logo of ‘Public Television.’
Its first news program, a two-hour broadcast that began at 8 a.m. Wednesday, focused mainly on the analysis of domestic news by a panel of journalists, but also included international news items based on the BBC website and footage from Al-Jazeera and British broadcaster Sky News.
A total of 2,000 people are to be hired for the full-fledged public broadcaster, which the minister in charge of the public broadcaster, Pantelis Kapsis, said should be formed before the end of the year.
John Heilprin in Geneva, and Srdjan Nedeljkovic and Rafael Kominis in Athens contributed.