Back in January 2012, some of us argued that bowing to the public sector unions and failure by the then Papademos government to implement the decision made by former Minister of State, Ilias Mosialos, in August 2011, that is to close down ERT television stations ET1, digital “Cine Sport”, the TV gossip magazine “Radiotileorasi” and 10 of the 19 regional radio stations would deal a serious blow to its credibility and compound problems for the future. It seems that this article was prophetic to the point that someone, a very unlikely “reformer,” had to come and cut the Gordian Knot…It remains to be seen whether this is now too little too late or the beginning of a process to to take unpopular but necessary cost-cutting measures that actually throw public sector employees out of their heavily subsidized jobs. .We are re-running the January 2012 piece below so that readers pulled into the ERT closure story can get a balanced historical perspective and not just the hyperbole of the dozens of emotional articles written in the last 48 hours, many by involved parties or their allies. In our view, this is not a battle about “media freedom” in any sense, rather it is about the toughest battle Greece has yet to face, reform of its bloated and deeply-entrenched public sector.
Begin January 2012 article:
Five months after the announcement by the then-State Minister and Government Spokesman (oversees the government’s press/communications policy) Ilias Mosialos that the state-run television station ET1, the digital television station “Cine/Sport” and “Radiotileorasi” Magazine would close down (or be partially subsumed in other activities) as part of the government’s public sector consolidation drive, the Board of Directors of ERT, buckled to the pressure of the public sector unions and announced on 30th January 2012 that in accordance with the “special study” just undertaken the decision to close down these organisations has now been in large part reversed.
Without divulging any information concerning who performed this “special study”, and in contravention of the ministerial decision 5 months ago, ERT S.A. has announced that:
- ET1 will remain in operation as a station placing emphasis on culture, the arts, entertainment, cinema, childrens’ programs, documentaries and programs of special interest as well as programs currently aired by digital Prisma+ channel for people with disabilities
- Digital station “Cine/Sport” remains in operation, but as a satellite station. (Note these stations were once separate but had been merged earlier in 2011)
- “Radiotileorasi” Magazine will not only remain in circulation but will be upgraded and its contents enhanced.
In addition, the Board of Directors of the state-run ERT has announced that it approved the plan to change and “improve the performance” of its 19 regional radio stations instead of closing ten of them as had been announced in the summer.
These scandalous decisions by the ERT Board, made under the pressure of the public sector unions, and the obvious acquiescence of the government, ensure that no cost reductions will be effected in that organisation and the Greek tax payer will continue to be burdened for services that could have been absorbed quite readily by the other two existing state-run television stations (NET and ET3) and for products, such as the “Radiotileorasi” Magazine which is not within the realm of something that any reasonable person would expect the state to provide, least of all at times of economic crisis.
ERT receives 300 million EUR per annum from the compulsory levy (antapodotiko telos) paid by all households and businesses through the electricity (DEH) bill, an amount that is equal to the total amount spent for advertising on the private radio and television stations. One would expect, therefore, that ERT would enjoy a significant share of the listening and viewing public. But on the contrary, the viewing and listening ratings of ERT are very low compared to the total marketplace, whilst public radio and television stations in other European countries enjoy at least 50% of their total potential listening and viewing public.
ERT needs to radically change its modus operandi implementing the decision made by the government in August 2011 and immediately close down ET1 whilst incorporating any programs worth while saving into the other two state-run television stations (NET and ET3). It is not the government’s role to produce radio and television gossip magazines at taxpayer expense, such as “Radiotileorasi”, that no one reads and the digital station “Cine/Sport” must be closed down completely without any further procrastination.
Even though elections are coming up, failure to implement these simple cost reduction measures and bowing to public sector union pressure puts the Papademos government’s credibility in serious doubt. If the Troika provides any service to the Greek people, it is to strengthen the ability of the government in place to take unpopular cost-cutting measures that actually throw public sector employees out of their heavily subsidized jobs.
One wonders if the ERT Directors seriously believe their decision can stand, in view of the need to cut government spending drastically and refocus it on essential public services like health and education, not make-work employment programs for some of Greece’s self-labeled “journalists” who happen to have the connections to get them public sector jobs. Is this simply a pre-election ploy to kick the game into overdrive and work out a deal with the next elected government? What will it take to close ET1, an edict from Brussels or the appointment of a Commissioner for Greece?