Greece Shuts Down State Broadcaster to Cut Costs

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Correction Appended

ATHENS -- In a surprise move, Greece's conservative-led coalition government shut down the state broadcaster on Tuesday as part of a cost-cutting drive imposed by the country's foreign creditors, prompting protests from labor unions and the government's increasingly alienated junior partners, which said they had not been consulted.

The government cut the signal of the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation, known as ERT, just after 11 p.m., about an hour earlier than it had said it would. Earlier in the day, a government spokesman, Simos Kedikoglou, described ERT as a "modern-day scandal" and "a unique case of lack of transparency and waste," and said it would reopen soon as a "modern state organization" with a fraction of its 2,900 employees.

ERT has not been implicated in corruption scandals any more than any other state organization, and Mr. Kedikoglou's strong language was broadly seen as the government's attempt to show creditors that it was boldly and decisively moving to cut waste in the public sector.

Following the broadcast of the spokesman's remarks on Net, one of ERT's television channels, the station's anchors and commentators engaged in a furious live discussion lamenting their fate.

Net's midday news anchor, Antonis Alafogiorgos, lashed out at the government for accusing the state broadcaster of corruption. "This hypocrisy has to stop," he said before playing a video from last month showing Mr. Kedikoglou insisting that the state would protect ERT from cutbacks. "None of us want the government to fall," Mr. Alafogiorgos said, "but these methods are unacceptable." Echoing other journalists in the live debate, the anchor said his concern was not for his job but for ERT to remain operational. "Mr. Kedikoglou can take my compensation and do what he wants with it," he said.

Reacting to the news, unions representing the workers crowded outside the broadcaster's headquarters, north of Athens, and told reporters that they would stage sit-ins to protest the closing of ERT's five state television channels -- three broadcast, one satellite and one cable -- and 29 radio stations. (ERT has 2,650 full-time employees and about 250 people on short-term contracts.)

Standing with the protesters, a spokesman for the main leftist opposition party, Syriza, accused the government of "extreme despotism" in closing ERT.

Earlier in the day, the government submitted an emergency bill to Greece's Parliament -- a type of decree that does not require lawmakers' approval -- enabling the merging and abolition of state companies and paving the way for ERT's closure. The move prompted an angry response by the junior partners in the coalition government -- the Socialist Party, known as Pasok, and the more moderate Democratic Left -- which accused the dominant conservatives of failing to consult them, an increasingly common complaint.

"The public broadcaster cannot close," Pasok said in a statement. "A three-party government cannot make decisions without the participation of all party leaders."

The surprise announcement came a day after representatives of Greece's troika of foreign lenders -- the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund -- returned to Athens for fresh talks on the progress of the country's economic reform program. A focus of the talks is a Greek pledge to lay off 4,000 civil servants this year, including 2,000 over the summer. Speculation has been rife in recent weeks that the bloated state broadcaster could be a target for the first round of layoffs demanded by the troika.

Correction: June 11, 2013, Tuesday

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: An earlier version of this article, as well as the summary and caption, misstated the broadcaster's name. It is the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation, known as ERT, not Net. (Net is the name of one of its television channels.)

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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