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Monday, June 24, 2013

Greek Public Television: Hypocrisy and Truth

Justine Frangouli-Argyris
Huffington Post

Abruptly last Tuesday, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras pulled the plug on Greece's national broadcaster, causing shock and turmoil among its coalition partners

However, the Council of State ruled yesterday that the public airwaves could not be left devoid of a public network, even temporarily, thereby rescinding the decree and reinstating ERT in its current form until a new, leaner organization can be introduced later this summer.

Questions continue to swirl around the Samaras decision and the debate remains heated as to whether the Prime Minister was correct in taking such drastic action.

To put things into perspective, it is important to note that ERT (Hellenic Radio and Television) had become the epitome of collusion between journalism and politics, the abode of hundreds of reporters in the service of their respective prime ministers assigned with the task of promoting the governing party line. It was the penultimate symbol of corruption in the country, involving politicians, journalists and union bosses.

Undoubtedly, ERT did provide its share of quality television programming and radio broadcasts but, given its limitless public funding via a special monthly tax on every household's electric bill, it evolved into the most bloated public network in Europe, employing 2,650 individuals shamelessly showcasing government events and representatives for hours on end.

It had become a beacon of waste, partaking, for example, in costly song festivals such as Eurovision, without any regard as to the cost or its institutional role.

It is evident that Samaras' daring roll of the dice, jeopardizing the very survival of his government and possibly leading the country into a snap election with an uncertain outcome, had multiple messages:

1) for the Greek electorate, who may have experienced the shocking shuttering of a public entity but who, for decades, denounced its rot and corruption;
Writing in the Greek daily, Kathimerini, Samaras argues,
Can you make reforms without unsettling the settled? Without colliding with those who are looking to keep their privileges? Can a country change without making incisions? Can you ask people to make sacrifices without bringing down the strongholds of opacity and corruption?

2) for Greece's civil servants, who received a strong signal that the party in the public sector has come to its conclusion and that their numbers will be henceforth declining;
Writes Samaras, "The problem is, that in order to advance reforms, we should convince the Greek people that they must support them. And in order to support them, we must show that we dare to fight against the most glaring strongholds of opacity and waste."

3) for Greece's trade unionists, who endlessly held ERT and its board of directors
captive, blocking every attempt at reorganization or restructuring;

4) for Greece's journalists, often awarded plumb appointments on the basis of their relationship with the ruling regime, irrespective of their qualifications or even of the existence of a position for them to fill;

5) for Greece's brave and long-suffering citizens, who can take heart in the fact that serious reforms are on the way not only because of the dire financial stuation the country finds itself in but because they are long overdue;

6) for those who kept silent, tolerating irregularities around them in order to preserve their personal position and status.

It is obvious that Prime Minister Samaras did not arbitrarily target ERT as the starting point for his promised radical reform of the public sector. Choosing a highly visible target which he knew would cause an uproar of protest, he sent a strong warning to his European partners and the "Troika" that the nation can not proceed with the massive layoffs they are insisting on without risking social upheaval.

With the idea of political correctness in mind and even though they were long critical of ERT as a model of inefficiency and an implement for state propaganda, cries for ERT's reinstatement quickly emanated from the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and some fifty European organizations only to fall on deaf ears. Instead of heaping scorn upon a government trying to carry out much-needed reforms, the EBU should be praising the courage of a nation intent on re-inventing itself in face of the longest odds.

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