Saturday, June 22, 2013

ERT - Greek prime minister's plan for a surgical strike turns into war of attrition

Protests against government's closure of public broadcaster, ERT continue in Thessaloniki, Greece. by Teacher Dude's BBQ

Like so many plans that go badly array, it must have seemed a great idea, at least in the beginning. With a bold move, the Greek prime minister, Antonis Samaras would at once show the country's lenders that his flagging reform program was back on tracks and appeal to his conservative base by getting rid of a symbol of public sector extravagance. What could go wrong?

Unfortunately for the Greek government just about everything. The decision 11 days ago by the ministry of finance to announce the immediate closure of Greece's public broadcaster, ERT set in motion a series of events that is now threatening to bring down the uneasy coalition that has been in power since last summer's elections. The departure of the Democratic Left from the three party coalition yesterday in protest over the handling of the ERT affair has seriously weakened the PM's hand  and revealed  that just how unstable the partnership with PASOK has become.

This is just one in a series of political miscalculations that has turned a political gamble into a political nightmare for Samaras, both at home and abroad, garnering yet more criticism and negative publicity for the country at exactly the time the leadership has been boasting to any media outlet who would listen of its success in turning the economy around.

Protests against government's closure of public broadcaster, ERT continue in Thessaloniki, Greece.

The live TV images of ERT reporters warning of impending police action only to be replaced by a black screen shocked many Greeks, especially among the older generation who had witnessed similar media black outs during the Regime of the Colonels (1967-1974). For foreign observers such as The European Broadcast Union and the Head of the BBC the sudden cutting off of a public broadcaster whilst on air was unprecedented in post war Europe and a direct attack on democratic values and freedom of the press.

Instead of a few days of protests by the employees of ERT which could easily be ignored by pro-government private media the government was faced with a media insurrection as journalists and technicians defied threats by the authorities to continue broadcasting, using internet live streaming, unused analogue signals, satellite etc. This, along with the social media storm created meant that thousands turned up outside state run studios in Athens, Thessaloniki and other cities to protect   those inside from the riot police units that quickly deployed around such facilities.

Instead of stifling the voice of those working in ERT these actions encouraged people to find their signal in any way they could and demand via the live streaming channel provided by the EBU grew so rapidly it overwhelmed the site's capacity.

Protests against government's closure of public broadcaster, ERT continue in Thessaloniki, Greece.

The quick surgical strike that New Democracy advisers had promised was now turning into a long drawn out and very public shouting match in which the government was being viewed as bullying autocrats rather than bold reformers taking on an arrogant publically funded elite. The decision by the Council of State that ERT be allowed to go back on air via its normal broadcast facilities was ignored so adding to the sense that Samaras was acting as if he and his ministers were above the law, a point the opposition SYRIZA party seized upon in order to appeal to disillusioned PASOK supporters, increasingly frustrated with their own party leadership.

Now the authorities are on the horns of a dilemma, if they back down over the ERT closure, then this will likely re-ignite anti-austerity opposition and provide a template for future battles over the sale off of publically owned power and water utilities. On the other hand a swift, police raid to empty the occupied broadcasting facilities would be a PR disaster, both at home and abroad as well as possibly shattering the fragile alliance with  the PASOK party.

So, probably the government will be forced to play the long game, hoping that as time goes by ERT employees can be bribed or coerced into agreeing to a watered down version of the original closure plan

Protests against government's closure of public broadcaster, ERTcontinue in Thessaloniki, Greece.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

"We live proud" Thessaloniki Pride - Greece

ERT - Greek government embroiled in very public showdown with state run broadcaster.

ERT reporter talking to people gathered outside studio in Thessaloniki, Greece

Sitting in the foyer of the ET3 studios, now being occupied by its own journalists and technicians the strangest thought crossed my mind; those who were part of the groups protecting the building included some of the station's most bitter opponents. The same people that have been so critical of the willingness of public broadcasters to toe the government line and allow politicians such a free hand in domestic affair were now willing to stay there day and night and risk injury in the event of a riot police raid. The irony of the situation was not lost on them.

The sudden decision by the Samaras government to shut down ERT on Tuesday took even insiders by surprise, no one I talked to, be they journalists or political activists had expected that such a move would happen so quickly. That the government was looking to subject ERT to the same kinds of cuts as suffered by other areas of the public sector was obvious but the swiftness of the closure left everyone wondering what was really behind the action.

Heavy riot police presence around  ERT studio in Thessaloniki, Greece

However, no one in the government, I suspect realised the the scale and determination of the reaction both from within Greece and abroad. Within hours technicians and journalists had stopped normal programming and were providing news and updates of the situation within the studios and suddenly, most miraculously of all, reporting on what was happening and not what they been told  by the government party leadership to cover.

It was this change in reporting which most probably prompted the Greek prime minister, Antonis Samaras's decision to send in the riot police to shut down transmission facilities across the country and the privately run DIGEA service to threaten other TV channels when they attempted to re-broadcast ERT's signal. The idea of journalists who has been privy to so many of the back room deals, dirty political tricks and acts of censorship going public with their knowledge must have terrified politicians used to always getting their way whenever they appeared on the state run channels.

Protesters come out on the streets in support of public broadcaster ERT - Thessaloniki, Greece

For many older Greeks the announcement by NET TV presenter that the riot police were on the move followed by a black screen brought back memories of the Regime of the Colonels that ruled the country with iron fist from 1967 to 1974. Like Spain, and Portugal the experience of living under a dictatorship is still a vivid part of Greek popular memory and not simply a footnote is a school history book.

Unlike the 1970's the shutting down of the ERT signal has proved more problematic and technician have defied the crackdown using internet broadcasting, satellite signals (provided by the European Broadcasting Union) and resurrected analogue frequencies to ensure that NET in Athens and ET3 in Thessaloniki are still on the air. In its turn the authorities have tried to thwart these moves, shutting off telephone and internet connections to ERT facilities and in many parts of Athens and Thessaloniki, platoons of riot police have been stationed just a few hundred metres from ERT facilities.

As many Greek Twitter users repeatedly wrote; support of ERT was about defending democracy and not the status quo, so even groups opposed to the idea of a state run broadcaster were willing to stand shoulder to shoulder with sacked journalists in the demonstrations, marches and concerts that have been taken place in Athens, Thessaloniki and other Greek cities over the last five days.


The reason and timing behind the ERT closure has been a source of speculation for many political analysts in the media and beyond. For some the closure was a diversionary tactic designed to draw attention from the failure of the Greek - Russia GAZPROM deal that the prime minister had hailed as a "success story".. For others the move is the opening shot in a new round of elections that will allow New Democracy to dump both PASOK and Democratic Left coalition partners who are both doing badly in the polls in order to form a new government that will allow them top act more freely.

For what It's worth I believe that the closure of ERT is a political gamble by Samaras, who sees it as a way to kill several bird with one stone. In firing 2,600 public employees in such a swift and dramatic manner he thinks that he'll win point abroad with the Troika (ECB, EU and IMF) who have repeatedly criticised Greece for dragging its feet over public sector reforms.

Domestically, Samaras feels he can still sell the idea that he is a bold reformer taking on a corrupt, wasteful public organisation that is a burden to the tax payer. And finally, the the loss of so many media outlets will play well with the local oligarchs, upon whose support he relies upon more and more. Their own media wings are hemorrhaging cash as the economy continues to shrink and ad money dries up.

However, the gamble may not have paid off, international reactions from have been far greater and far more critical than Athens had probably expected and even local popular support for ERT is much higher than Samaras had anticipated, with 65% of those questioned in recent VPRC poll saying they disagreed with the decision to shut down the broadcaster.

So what happens next? Hard to say, on the one hand the PM has acknowledged that the loss of the so many stations was hasty and has offered to re-instate a limited number of ERT employees to run a skeleton service yet in this mornings speech he vowed to shut down the public broadcaster.

As with so many aspectsof current Greek political policy decisions change from day to day, with political opportunism being more of a guide than any grand plan or ideology.

More on this story via Asteris Masouras at Global Voices.

Friday, June 14, 2013

They Live. We Sleep - The Poster

Public broadcaster defies Greek government crackdown

Cameraman outside ET3 studio - Thessaloniki, GreeceProtesters come out on the streets in support of public broadcaster ERT - Thessaloniki, GreeceProtesters come out on the streets in support of public broadcaster ERT - Thessaloniki, GreeceHeavy riot police presence around  ERT studio in Thessaloniki, GreeceProtesters come out on the streets in support of public broadcaster ERT - Thessaloniki, GreeceAlexis Tsipras at the ET 3 studio in Thessaloniki, Greece
Street portraitGreek journalists occupy TV news room in defiance of govt order to shut down public broadcaster, ERTERT reporter talking to supporters gathered outside studio in Thessaloniki, GreeceERT reporter talking to people gathered outside studio in Thessaloniki, GreeceERT reporter talking to people gathered outside studio in Thessaloniki, Greece

The sudden decision of Greece's government to shut down the state run broadcaster, ERT has provoked a nationwide wave of protest, with employees and their supporters taking over studios, despite repeated attempts to close down transmission.

Monday's decision to close down the entire public broadcasting network in Greece at midnight took the entire country by surprise. Even political insiders were unprepared for the swiftness of the closure nor the reaction of the staff of ERT who quickly occupied their own studios and transmission facilities through Greece.

However, the Greek government was in mood for compromise and even before the midnight deadline, riot police units gradually shut down transmitters across the nation. attempts by other stations to re-broadcast ERT signals were also thwarted by the private agency that controls digital broadcasting.

While transmission from both Athens continuing via the internet the ET3 studio based in the northern city of Thessaloniki is facing severe difficulties after authorities cut off telephone and internet connections to the studio. In addition hundreds of riot police units have taken up position in the area and man fear that they will be used to seize the ET3 building.

Since the announcement of the closure of ERT thousands of supporters have gathered in Athens and Thessaloniki to thwart a possible attempt by police to raid the facilities.

More photographs here via

Greek public broadcaster defies govt crackdown - ET3 live stream via here.

Heavy riot police presence around ERT studio in Thessaloniki, Greece

Cameraman outside ET3 studio - Thessaloniki, Greece

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Video - Naomi Klein speaking at the Vio-me factory (in English and Greek)

Part one

Part two

Part three

Naomi Klein addressing an audience gathered in the grounds of the Vio-me factory on the outskirts of the Greek city of Thessaloniki. Part one of three.

For more information on Vio-me, which is a self-managed factory.

More information on Naomi Klein