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The Greek government’s decision to pull the plug on its national public broadcaster has sparked major protests with media workers, politicians and members of the public gathering outside offices of the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation, the ERT, in Athens.
Greece’s conservative government shut off ERT’s signal Tuesday night, hours after announcing that the public broadcaster, which costs Greek taxpayers around $400 million (€300 million) a year would be closed as part of national austerity programs.
Greece has already drastically slashed public services in an attempt to comply with cost-cutting measures required to secure bailout funds from European and international institutions.
ERT’s three national TV channels as well as its national and regional radio stations where taken off air at midnight local time. ERT’s 2,600 employees were laid off and asked to reapply for their jobs as part of a new, leaner and supposedly independent media organization the government says will replace the old ERT.
The European Broadcasting Union (EBU), an association which represents public broadcasters across the continent, expressed its “profound dismay” at the Greek government’s decision.
In an open letter to Greek Prime Minister, Antonis Samaras, the president of the EBU, Jean-Paul Philippot, and EBU director general Ingrid Deltenre urged Mr. Samaras “to use all his powers to immediately reverse this decision.” The EBU argued that such “far-reaching changes to the public media system” should only be made after an “inclusive democratic debate” in Greece’s parliament, not through government diktat.
“While we recognize the need to make budgetary savings,” the letter reads “national broadcasters are more important than ever at times of national difficulty.”
The closure has shocked many in Greece and elsewhere. Shortly after the announcement, crowds began to gather outside ERT’s Athens headquarters.
The Greek shutdown has also lit up social media, with the Twitter hashtag #EPT trending worldwide.
Unions representing media workers called for a general media blackout in protest and private TV channels complied, taking shows off the air for six hours, replacing them with reruns and advertisements.
ERT employees defied the government shutdown and continued to broadcast live coverage of the protests online after over-the-air transmissions were blocked.
ERT’s online feed, at www.ert.gr, appeared still to be working by late morning local time on Wednesday.