Reform Reversal Greek Style (or Revenge Of The Public Sector)

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?

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This entry was posted in BFGPS, Fiscal administration, Greek politics, Greek society, Public administration, Reform and tagged , , by Solon. Bookmark the permalink.

About Solon

First coming to prominence for his patriotic exhortations when Athens was fighting a war against Megara for possession of Salamis, Solon, a lyric poet who came from an aristocratic family which traced its ancestry back 10 generations to Hercules was elected eponymous archon in 594/3 B.C. Solon faced the daunting task of improving the condition of debt-ridden farmers, laborers forced into bondage over debt, and the middle classes who were excluded from government, while not alienating the increasingly wealthy landowners and aristocracy. His eventual just reform measures pleased neither the revolutionaries who wanted the land redistributed nor the landowners who wanted to keep all their property intact. Instead, he instituted the seisachtheia by which he canceled all pledges where a man's freedom had been given as guarantee, freed all debtors from bondage, made it illegal to enslave debtors, and put a limit on the amount of land an individual could own. No less daunting are the reform challenges faced in Greece today.

4 thoughts on “Reform Reversal Greek Style (or Revenge Of The Public Sector)

  1. Well, reading this on ET1 has radically changed the way I think about this issue- particularly in light of its market share, which represents a v different picture from the UK for example- and other European countries, as you rightly say- ESP in light of the current crisis. A bleak assessment, v well written. Thank you for shedding light on this.

  2. We can only hope the Troika will not let this kind of foolishness by Public Sector entities continue. Who says the ERT Board of Directors, as unqualified and unbiased as they are, can override a ministerial decision?

  3. I’d like to see more actual reporting on the ERT case. Did ERT refuse and the gov’t meekly acquiese? Or were there other considerations pointed out after the original decision was handed down? For instance:
    1. Were there unexpired advertising contracts, on ET 1 especially, that actually bring money IN?
    2. Was revenue further conserved by using ERT archives?The programming now on ET 1 is largely re-runs … of some pretty cool stuff, actually. If they’re not producing new programming (and I’m not sure they’re not, but IF …), this may be quite a cut. How much (in euros)?
    3. NET (ET 2), meanwhile, seems to have cut a few announcer/presenter positions, or lost a few to ongoing strike action. Without reading Radioteleorasi, who can know?
    4. The quality of news, discussion, weather even, on NET is high. While they might be accused of presenting the gov’t point of view, it remains that there is less screaming-n-hollering than on private channel news/discussion shows. And frequently on the morning news mags, there’s very concise analysis of new tax schemes, reforms at IKA (today) etc.
    5. If ERT has a lower market share than public TV in other EU countries, it may have to do with a variety of factors, e.g. BBC being old, revered, etc. or because ERT DOESN’T have the gossip-at-beach-and-bouzouki schlock that the commercial channels offer. There’s no accounting for viewer taste.
    6. As for Cine Sport, I don’t watch it. What’s its revenue position? Radioteleorasi COULD go to a private company. But, again in these latter two cases, there may be ad contracts, or work contracts, that preclude immediate shutdown.

    I think Solon’s readers would be better served by less outrage over what LOOKS pretty bad, but might, in fact, turn out to be a better deal for ERT taxpayers. Like the cuts to public employees, it might turn out that paying 60% of salary for half-hearted work is less costly to the economy than paying 50% (or whatever, unemployment benefits) for nothing at all.

    • Dear Karen, these are good questions well worth pondering in a any “normal” country not facing almost immediate chaotic default due to enormous public debt. In Greece’s case, as Friedrich Nietzsche once said “In individuals insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs it is the rule.” Or perhaps you are familiar with the ancient Greek saying: “Those who the Gods would destroy, they first make mad…”.?

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