ERT’s closure is an innovation of Greek origin in Europe drawing two front lines: probably a legal precedent in Greece and a political precedent in Europe. In no other European state, a government has ever taken such an important and repressive step. In no other European country, no political speech dismissive by its own citizens and employees has ever been heard. Moreover, such an insultingly illiberal and humiliating political behaviour towards citizens and voters has ever been noticed before.
Even in the dark pages of modern history of the European Union –see Hungary and Italy- nothing similar to this has ever happened. Hungary provoked the reaction of Amnesty International and the reluctant action of the European Commission with the recent law of Media, which brings the public broadcasting and the function of the broadcasting council under the control of the governing party. According to this law, there are strict measures and reporters as well as newspapers shall be persecuted for any reason. The ex-East Europe lies in the agenda of crucial communication hot spots of international organisations of human rights and freedom of expression. In Italy, the long-term malfunction of the public broadcasting, because of political interventions and the high centralisation of media under Berlusconi’s hegemony, turned out to become a great issue in the European Parliament.
Now, it is time for Greece to concern in this way the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, the EBU, the Australian, Slovenian, European –even Turkish- Union of Reporters, international scientific organisations, such as IAMCR, and decades of labour organisations. However, as summer is close and the public gets tired, the importance of ERT’s closure has to be analysed from the point of view of the broadest consequences of Media in Europe.
Surely, the fact that Greece, as a member state of the European Union and OSCE, has no public broadcasting, creates abnormality in the family of democracies
The Public Broadcasting and, now, the Public Media, are dominant in the constitutional Charter of the European Union, and specifically in the Protocol of Public Broadcasting to the Treaty of Amsterdam. This treaty especially refers to the position of Public Media in European societies and its role in information and civilisation as well as the obligation by the member states to their condition and development. The proper function of Public Media is closely linked to the Article 11 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU.
The Council of Europe has special resolutions and the worldwide signed Contention on Cultural Diversity by UNESCO, also signed by Greece, has a particular reference in Public Media. The list of worldwide organs and Conventions about the importance of Public Media, from Europe to Africa, Canada, Asia and regions under different economic conditions and political adversity, clarifies a universal agreement between states, societies and citizens, expressed in variable legal ways: Public Media are so important as water, air and the right to life for human decency.
The question whether the ERT’s closure is legal or not is definitely important. At this point, opinion are divided, the judicial authorities are unable to make a specific decision, as if they have to do with a case without morality. The fact that the Constitution places the broadcasting in a category separate than the other media, concerning the freedom of expression, does not mean that it allows its suppression. Surely, the fact that Greece, as a member state of the European Union and OSCE, has no public broadcasting, creates abnormality in the family of democracies. It also indicates a hostile response of a constitution and material wealth, which belongs to the Greek public, i.e every Greek citizen worldwide.
Public broadcasting against the law of competition
Many public broadcastings experiment with difficult content, named “horizon stretching” of spiritual and mental horizons of the public, taking risks
The ERT’s violent shutdown is an extreme reaction in the annoying presence of public broadcasting in Europe. Since the creation of a common market of Media, from which private companies benefited initially, the EU is under constant pressure to limit the action and the extension of development of public media. The Treaty of Amsterdam is the only international legislation, which imposes the support of the public broadcasting and its role in social cohesion, cultural diversity and democracy of nations and Europe. It is the result of an unprecedented mobilisation of the European Parliament –ignored to be voted- as an answer to the tight pressure of private sector aiming to police the public broadcasting.
Pressure continues constantly until today and it will not stop. Based on the law of competition and the arguments that the public broadcasting is supported unfairly by the state, whereas private stations depend on their own power, the action of Public Media should be examined more carefully now. Public broadcastings are under control: quality control of their content, whether their new functions have public value (named “ex ante” in European legal language) and of course whether their actions are non-competitive. Many of them have also councils of citizens and experts, obliged to produce Greek and European content, support independent productions and experiment with difficult content, named “horizon stretching” of spiritual and mental horizons of the public, taking risks. Moreover, they keep files, philharmonics, multiple stations and they monitor global coverage as well as “tastes”, ignored or scared by the market.
Even if private televisions are not obliged to do anything of the above mentioned, however they are generally economically supported by the state, for example via tax incentives. Public television tests, with its innovative contents, unofficially and free of charge, in the name of private television, which programs are preferred by the public. Besides, private stations are economically supported by each citizen through subscription, even by watching advertisements, to which viewers pay attention for free, producing in this way unwillingly the benefits and profits of theses private companies. In Greece, they are allowed to function without licence.
There is an unbridgeable gap between public and private stations in Greece. Whereas the former are aware of the technical “know-how”, have an experience of 75 years, the innovative presence in digital transmission and specialised staff, the latter, being charged, have nothing more that could make them competitive. So, probably this contrast and the unbridgeable gap, coloured with some syndromes –worth of psychoanalysis- of the hegemony were just too much.