A Greek court ruled Monday that the country’s public broadcasting network, known as ERT, should remain on air until it can be restructured, ending a week of turmoil that included general strikes and massive protests after the government shuttered the broadcaster.
A day later, confusion reigns over the meaning of the decision. The ruling deemed that firing 2,566 employees of ERT as part of Greece’s austerity plan was fair. But the court also said it must remain on the air. The government had previously decided to go dark until reopening a pared-down operation.
“Each party is interpreting the ruling differently. This is normal in Greece,” said George Tzogopoulos, a research fellow at The Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy in Athens.
Tuesday morning, instead of waking up to no signal on their televisions—ERT staffers had been protesting the move by livestreaming online-only coverage—Greek households found colored bars on their screen on one channel, but no programming.
“It doesn’t change a lot,” Dimitra Kouzi, a journalist and producer at ERT, said of the ruling. “The only difference is, they will have to do the same things as planned, but will have ERT open. In the end, we are all still fired.”
While at least some ERT employees eventually may be called back to work, it will only be temporary, as Prime Minister Antonis Samaras must now actually deliver on his promise to provide the country a high quality, independent public broadcaster that is free from patronage or political influence. Political patronage made ERT into its current, bloated self, Kouzi said. She doesn’t believe the same politicians who helped created the old ERT can now turn it into a dynamic, lean broadcaster.
Neither does Fanis Papathanasious, once the senior diplomatic correspondent at ERT and currently anchorman on the livestream.
“We have to wait and see what the three [ruling government] parties are going to do, but I’m not optimistic,” Papathanasious said.
Still, the court’s decision vindicated Samaras’s goal of a leaner public broadcaster and offered all parties a way out of an impasse that could have brought down the government.
Government spokeswoman Angie Baltopoulou said the details of how the government will move forward will be discussed with coalition partners Wednesday. She said she could not comment further on the matter.
The fate of Greek-language Euronews
The reopening of ERT may be a boon for another European network that had been closed in December by the prime minister.
Euronews, the continent’s answer to CNN, had agreed with then-Prime Minister George Papandreou in 2012 to launch a Greek-language channel that would serve Greece and Cyprus. Because it would be using one of ERT’s channels, it would have been the first time Euronews would be transmitted on a digital terrestrial channel. This was meant to be the first implementation of the network’s new strategy of “glocal” news.
When the new government came into power, it installed new top management at ERT. In December 2012, the day Euronews was to launch, that new management refused to allow Euronews to go on air. Euronews spokeswoman Lydie Bonvallet says she believes the reason for the sudden contract annulment was that the new ERT management feared Euronews competed directly at a time of shrinking advertising revenues. But it is a claim she disputes.
“We are not a national channel covering Greek events. We are an international channel, covering international events in Greek,” Bonvallet said. In the meantime, Euronews broadcasts on cable and satellite in Greece and Cyprus.
In February, Euronews appealed to the Greek Broadcasting Council, the regulatory body, and won. But four months hence, the channel’s broadcast signal still hasn’t been restored by the government.
So if Samaras didn’t implement the ruling on Euronews, why would he implement the ruling on ERT?
“This time, it’s crucial,” Papathanasious said.