It could have otherwise been characterized as a typical early summer's night in Athens were it not for the abrupt shutdown of the Greek public broadcaster ( (ERT) ), an abrupt government decision that turned a new great international attention to the woes of the debt-ridden, Mediterranean country.
The Greek desk of the Konrad Adenauer foundation, an organization in memory of the famous German chancellor and Christian Democratic Union leader, decided to sum up the hottest topic of the week in a succint publication addressed to the puzzled European reader. The short term decision made by the Greek PM Antonis Samaras is described as a drastic step of a cumbersome reform process, although the aforementioned choice of words is hardly ever used by anyone currently in Greece. ERT reaffirms the stereotype of public service in Greece with 2655 employees (seven times more than the average in private broadcasters) and an annual budget of almost €300 million standing in inverse relation to its overall performance. The Greek public television network of ERT comprised of 3 nationwide, 19 regional, a satellite, a High Definition and 7 radio broadcasters, accompanied by 3 orchestras and its own magazine. Extreme fragmentation coupled with a murky personnel management entailed great economic losses, regrettably without the authors delving into the concrete numbers. In their stead, they cite as an example of mismanagement the 3,500 mobile phone service contracts that were canceled by ERT in the morning after. The foreign press has hitherto failed to discover the monthly coffee allowance of up to €300 per ERT employee, granted in order to accommodate the caffeine needs of their guests, a culmination of the famous Greek hospitality.
George Papandreou was fully aware of the dire situation in ERT but he deemed the political cost to be higher than the annual operating costs of €230 million for an average share of audience of around 4%. As a result of its strong politicization by the major parties every single government placed supporters in key positions of the broadcaster, adding another layer of management, whose dismantling by the next government has always been costly and paid of course of the Greek taxpayers' money. With the exception of the Champions League nights, ERT was unpopular mainly due to the fixed television license fee of €4,30/month, which is levied through the electric bills, already “overcharged” with the collection of the also much hated extra property tax. However, being Germans, the authors ought to know that this form of funding is commonplace in two thirds of the European countries and that it used to belong to a fastest shrinking list of items that are still cheaper in Greece than in the rest of the EU.
Two separate surveys published by the Greek newspaper “To Vima” and the TVXS news portal showed that 65% of the voters reject the closure of ERT
There, the shutdown of the public broadcaster per ministerial decree and the consequent black screen was reminiscent of the first hours of military putsches. El Diario in Spain attempted to use more colorful tones by displaying the also colorful flag of Syriza and stating that current polls bring the party of Alexis Tsipras closer to power. Two separate surveys published by the Greek newspaper “To Vima” and the TVXS news portal showed that 65% of the voters reject the closure of ERT. According to TVXS, SYRIZA has a three-point lead over New Democracy, whereas “To Vima” reduces the margin separating Samaras and Tsipras to only three tenths. New Democracy stands at 21.4%, SYRIZA at 21.1% but the key third position is held by Golden Dawn, the nationalistic party supported by 9.5% of the respondents.
The fact that the socialist party of PASOK is struggling to keep its percentage above 6% and that the left-wing party of DIMAR could fail to surpass the 3% barrier are probably part of Antonis Samaras' scare tactics during the ERT crisis, so as to have a strong grip over the other two parties of the government coalition. In fear of becoming irrelevant and the positive Golden Dawn electoral trend, PASOK and DIMAR are not particularly keen on calling for fresh elections and consequently cannot but change course and be more compliant to Samaras' positions. Samaras, on the other hand, needed a relief valve after the pressure exerted onto him by the Greek public, the EU and international lenders because of the DEPA debacle. The failure of the privatization of the state-owned gas company DEPA suggests a major setback in the reform process and makes a mockery of the originally anticipated €50 billion privatization revenues. In the absence of capital inflows, the Greek PM capitalized on the lack of empathy shown by unemployed Greeks of the private sector towards the servants of public sector. He attempted to change the rules reach higher personal approval ratings by killing two birds in one stone, i.e, to downside the Greek public sector by closing down ERT, the public broadcaster dominated by socialist, left-wing and communist trade unions and to control the reactions of the parties they represent. In any case, in modern Greece documentaries, educational TV shows and cultural events are a thing of the past.