Greece: the struggle over Public Television and Radio (ERT)

ert

The future lasts a long time

Panagiotis Sotiris*

The protests and demonstrations over the announced closing of the whole Greek Public Television and Radio Network (ERT) by the Greek government, are not only about the proposed firing of 2650 workers, nor are they simply a protest about the severe blow to quality broadcasting and entertainment. The government proposal for completely dismantling ERT and replacing it with a new much more smaller company, itself one of the measures dictated by the EU-IMF-ECB Troika for the reduction of the public sector, acted as a catalyst for what is being perceived as an authoritarian turn that endangers basic social and democratic rights.

This can explain the impressive turnout in protests both on June 11 and 12. Especially, during the first night, when all signal of the three public TV networks, was lost, thousands of people rushed to the headquarters of ERT and to local stations all over Greece. The feeling and the atmosphere was reminiscent of the days of May – June 2011 and the movement of the Squares. Many people also gathered at ERT headquarters on the second night, making sure that it would be impossible for police forces to enter.

At the same time the whole debate has been a test for the strength of the tripartite Greek government, which has been under heavy pressure lately. The IMF’s recent acknowledgment that there were severe flows in the terms of the bail-out programs that led to a recession without precedent, the realization that it is most probable that recession will continue into 2014, the failure to sell the natural gas network to Gazprom, the Russian corporation, all these meant that the Greek government would have been obliged to take extra austerity measures. In this light, Samaras and his advisors opted for an aggressive stance against Public Television. For Samaras ERT seemed like an ideal target: an example of “big spending” state and public sectors unions that supposedly “defended their privileges”. What it did not take into account was the fact that in the eyes of many citizens ERT also symbolized public service, objective reporting, and quality entertainment. At the same time, it was obvious that leaving news broadcasting only to private Media and their ties to particular corporations, would only seriously undermine democracy. Moreover, the whole method of shutting down a public corporation with 2650 workers with a single government act seemed like a legislative coup d’etat and an extreme case of state authoritarianism. Such a perception was justified since especially Samaras and his New Democracy Party have been moving towards a very authoritarian combination of neoliberalism and neo-conservatism, exemplified in law-and-order rhetoric, anti-union measures (such as the “back to work order” against striking secondary education teachers), and anti-immigrant policies. However, for the other two smaller parties of the pro-Troika tripartite government, PASOK and Democratic Left, this turn meant an extra pressure on them and this can account for their opposition to the law shutting down Public Television. But at this moment it is not sure whether they will opt for bringing down the government or if they will capitulate to Samaras, as it has been the rule on most intra-government crises so far.

This kind of a government crisis as a result of protests against a government decision is another example of the depth of social contest and struggle in Greece. It is proof that there are still important social and political dynamics that come forward. The attack on ERT acted as the condensation of a broader range of grievances and dynamics. It accentuated the fact that Greece has been going through a major political crisis, with the potential to turn into a deeper crisis of hegemony.

It is also important to note that this struggle has brought together different social and political forces. It has been an opportunity for a common presence and struggle of the forces of the Greek Left. In the rallies outside the headquarters of ERT one can see SYRIZA, KKE, and ANTARSYA flags side by side. SYRIZA offered its radio – Station and KKE its TV Station as means to re-broadcast the signal from ERT.

The very fact that ERT has kept on broadcasting, even as a web-TV station, in terms of actual control by the people working in ERT, opening up its programmes to social movements, trade unions, intellectuals, has been an example of a different functioning of the public sector based on self-management and social responsibility, not market trends. In this sense, it is also an experiment in self-management and worker’s control.

The General Strike on June 13 and especially the mass rally in front of ERT headquarters, in which all forces of the Left took part, for the first time during a general strike since October 2011, showed the potential for bringing together social and political forces into a movement for the overhthrow of the government an the openning up of a different road for Greek society, one that will get us out of the vicious circle of austerity, unemployment and recession in the name of fulfilling the terms of the bail-out agreements and staying within the embedded neoliberalism of the Eurozone. The fight is far from over!

 

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* Panagiotis Sotiris teaches social theory, social and political philosophy at the Depertment of Sociology of the University of the Aegean. He can be reached at psot@soc.aegean.gr

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http://lastingfuture.blogspot.gr/#!/2013/06/greece-struggle-over-public-television.html

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