ERT: In Public Service

On the morning of 21 August 2013, I was on holiday in Lesbos, a big island in North-Eastern Greece. While having a typical Greek summer breakfast, a combination of local cheese, olives and figs, I switched on the aged TV set on the table in front of me.

I was zapping through the available channels when one programme took me by surprise. On the EDT frequency, which had been transmitting only old Greek movies during the previous days, I recognised a group of people saying “good morning” in a familiar tone. Seconds later, I got the picture. I was witnessing the first live news transmission of the transitional Greek public broadcaster now named DT (Dimosia Tileorasi = Public Television).

They had cut the “E”, presumably to make sure that the acronym of the new organization would not point directly to its forerunner, but everything else was still there: the design of the studios from which the morning programme was being broadcast – I quickly realised that they were using the former ERT studios in Katechaki Avenue that on the night of 11 June had been evacuated by the police –, but also the presenters, Ontin Linardatou and Giannis Troupis, both of them well-known, former ERT employees.

Even the name of this first live news programme seemed familiar to me. “Morning Briefing” had been the name of the most well-rated morning news show of ERT, presented by the acclaimed journalists Kostas Arvanitis and Marilena Katsimi. The programme had been cancelled in October 2012, after a decision that looked like a direct act of censorship to me.

ERT’s News Director Aimilios Liatsos had fired the two journalists after, during their programme, they had referred to an article in the Guardian on torture that had taken place at the General Police Directorate of Attica and asked on air, if the Minister of Public Order and Citizen Protection, Mr. Dendias, would do something about it.

When I switched off the TV at the end of DT’s first morning programme it left a rather sketchy and awkward impression on me. They had made a lot of technical mistakes. There had not been one single guest commentator on the panel and no live connections. The lack of professional perfection was obvious and had to do with, from my perspective, the government’s decision to launch the live programme of the transitional broadcasting organization precipitously. The feeling of awkwardness was mainly generated by the presenters’ attitude: It was clearly their first day at DT.

Giannis Troupis, the New Democracy government party reporter of ERT, was the one who spoke first. He announced the show, and one could tell from his voice that he was stressed: “Welcome to the ‘Morning Briefing’ of DT. We will be here every morning from 8 to 10 to discuss everything.”

It was Ontin Linardatou though, the female part of the duo, who was really in an awkward position. The well-respected journalist had been head of the foreign news department at ERT and the presenter of one of the most popular programmes of the former public broadcaster called “Antapokrites” (“Correspondents”). During the first month that followed the government decision to shut down ERT, she had organised the occupation news campaigns on ERT in a leading position, acting against the black screens. This morning, while the camera focused on her face, she said: “Ladies and gentlemen, we pick up the thread from where we have left off. We will continue to inform you with composure and seriousness about any events…”

The message was delivered. ERT was dead. DT had come to stay.

The same day, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) decided to end their support of the former ERT employees who were still occupying the ERT headquarters on Mesogeion Avenue and to stop transmitting the ERT signal. The rationale was telling:

“The existence of the news service – and encouraging signs that Greek’s new public broadcaster is in creation – led the EBU this morning to cease streaming the satellite signal which was being produced by journalists who worked for ERT, the former Greek broadcaster, prior to its dissolution in June.” (EBU, 21 Aug 2013)

In other words: The black screens are gone. Our job is done.

Prokopis Doukas

At the end of this weird summer, I found myself packing my suitcase for a trip. I called into my other life as a film producer. The film “Miss Violence”, directed by Alexandros Avranas, that I had produced, was to be presented at two of the most important film festivals in the world, the Venice Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival.

But before I actually left Greece, the complexity of the ERT affair made me think that a calm, neutral voice should try to clarify all of its aspects, and I could not think of a more objective person than Prokopis Doukas, a man who served public broadcasting for fifteen years, both in radio and television.

I called my friend and colleague Vasilis Katsardis to ask him, if he could help me on this mission and meet Mr. Doukas during my absence. It took us one long evening to discuss every possible question that we wanted to ask. His answers, though, exceeded all my expectations. The interview my friend did with him is the most conclusive I have ever seen since 11 June 2013.

To start, I would like to let him present himself:

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For the past sixteen years, until 11 June, I was one of the main news anchormen of ERT. I was presenting either the 21.00 or the 23.00 news, which were the two main night bulletins on the two channels ERT had, and I was also a radio DJ and political commentator. I had a morning show on a radio station called Kosmos that belonged to ERT. It was a world music station but also had some space for political commentary combined with music in the morning.

Kosmos radio station had been among my favourite media as well, I could therefore understand why Prokopis was very fond of this chapter of his career. Kosmos was, by any means, an underrated station, considering its impact on audiences. I had listened to it for its moderate image, its variety of world music genres, that I could not find anywhere else on the Greek FM band, and its well-educated radio DJs. Prokopis underlined that these were also the reasons for the radio station’s unique success.

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Kosmos has been very popular somewhere in its middle life. It reached seven percent of the audience around 2009, and that was quite an achievement. It was the first ERT radio in the ratings for a long period. It was supposed to have the “best” audience referring to age, cultural level, areas etc. Well, advertisers check these facts, I’m not very familiar, but it was supposed to have very good demographics.

The bitterness in his voice was obvious from the first word. You could tell from the start of the interview, that the night of the shutdown had already marked his life. We couldn’t help asking him where the bad news had found him.

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Actually, I was out of Athens that day. I was coming back from Corinth, a nearby city, around a hundred kilometres away from Athens, and I was on the phone from noon on with a lot of colleagues discussing the information that something big was going to happen that day. For the past two to three days there had been rumours that the government was thinking not only of cutting employment at ERT but closing it as well. There had been a rumour also that the Special Police Forces would go in the previous night. It didn’t happen. We don’t know if it was actually a plan or if it was a rumour that didn’t have any basis. Probably there was a thought about that which was not carried out. Actually most of us, all of us could not believe it. We could not think of a government declaration coming out and accusing ERT of corruption as if it was not their own domain.

The shutdown of ERT

The mythology of 11 June, I thought. In the history books of tomorrow, it will be another remarkable event, inviting researchers and unsatisfied conspiracy theorists alike to invent stories or discover never-told truths. I suppose that, after many years, the actual initial plans regarding ERT will be revealed, and each and everybody will know who, in the end, advised to shut down of the public broadcaster. At the moment, all accusations are made against a small and very specific group of people: the Prime Minister’s media and policy consultants, all of them controversial, all of them under attack for diverse government mishandlings during this hot, last year. I am speaking of Failos Kranidiotis, Takis Baltakos, Chrysanthos Lazaridis, Giorgos Mouroutis, Simos Kedikoglou. Especially the last one is like a red rag to the bull for the enraged former ERT employees because of his audacity. They could not believe that a politician who had used ERT in the past to develop his career, now was accusing ERT of corruption. Despite his questionable fields of study (his official resume says, he studied chemical engineering and international relations, but a series of articles in Greek media point out that he lied), Simos Kedikoglou had been an ERT employee from 1990 to 1995, and his adversaries believe that this would not have happened without the connections of his father, Vasilis Kedikoglou, a well-known former PASOK Member of Parliament. Thanks to ERT’s funds Simos Kedikoglou was able to join CNN International for a short period, before he returned to Greece to find that his future was lying in politics. One could say that the peak of his political career was to announce ERT’s death – to “commit matricide” as former ERT employees ironically put it.

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At 5.00 in the evening, we knew an announcement was coming. He [Simos Kedikoglou, the government spokesman] came out and said, “The government is closing ERT because ERT has been corrupted.” So, it was a shock, for all of us. We did not expect it. We could not have expected a total closure. We thought that we were going to listen to some measures to modernize ERT.

I tried to imagine the feelings he might have experienced when the organization died where he had spent fifteen years of his life. Prokopis vividly explained how it felt.

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My reaction to this kind of political dumbness is numbness, usually. I don’t have anything to discuss with someone who comes out and says this kind of things. It’s not anger. I was numb. I wrote these thoughts down the next day in a sort of reportage for the newspaper I’m collaborating with. I thought of taking my ties and my suits from the special cardboard box where we kept them, and then I thought, “are we going to be back here?” I remembered the photos of the Lehman Brothers’ employees coming out with their little boxes, carrying out their personal stuff… Maybe that’s me. The reaction at the moment was not anger, nothing revolutionary, it was, “this is getting beyond my ability to understand, to realise and decode”. I could not decode.

Having observed this story closely, I could not agree more. But did that feeling vanish or transform during the more cynical events that followed?

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The next days, I must admit that I was more angry. Because it was a nonsense decision from any point of view, I couldn’t grasp it. And one side-effect of this decision, that is still happening and it’s going to happen for a long time, is that the Greek government budget is getting drained because of ERT, with no reason at all.

Abolishing the broadcast fee

The financial aspect of this decision concerning ERT is indeed something that tends to be overlooked in most public discussions, even now, more than three months after the public broadcaster’s shutdown. The government’s choice to cut the broadcast fee was rather well received by the media, because it connected with the wide-spread but nevertheless false belief that ERT had become a burden for the national budget. By many, it was perceived as a victory for the New Democracy party. Many are still convinced that, financially speaking, the shutdown, despite all odds, was right. Even the prosecutors accuse the decision-makers only for a lack of “democratic ethics”. Prokopis went on to explain:

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The government, in order to get the society with them, announced the abolition of the fees that people pay for ERT. That was not much money, fifty Euro per year for each household. Any building that had power supply, except for stores and warehouses etc., had to pay fifty Euro per year. This was cut. So, the cost of closing down ERT, the salaries that we, the employees, should get, the cost of all the agreements and contracts that were not met with all the collaborators of ERT worldwide – all these amounted, to the employees’ estimation, to 300-350 million as a first serving… And it goes on, because now the government is trying to build a new public television and radio, and this cost raises the burden for the budget. I mean, 350 million for a country that is in a crisis and is borrowing money and is in a memorandum programme, is a lot of money. Last year, 300 million were the cause for a pension cutback that affected all pensionaries. So, they threw away that money… It was unbelievable! And I don’t have to discuss with anybody who knows the smallest thing about business, that if you have this colossus – because ERT was a colossus for the Greek society, maybe it was too huge for a society of 10 million people. ERT had seven radio stations in Athens, three TV channels all over Greece and nineteen peripheral stations all around Greece. So, all this, the brand names, the listeners, the viewers, all this, was thrown away. Any businessman who had ERT in his purse would never close it down. Maybe he would downsize it, maybe he would apply some measures to modernise it, but he would never close it down. All this was lost in a day.

Just dare to think what effect the BBC’s or ARD’s and ZDF’s death would have on a country’s national economy and how the people there would have reacted to such an event. But anyway, the real problem is that the Greeks never truly respected and understood the national significance of ERT until 11 June. Like many artists, honoured only after their death, ERT first had to be shut down to find support among the big audience.

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ERT was the link of Greece to the rest of the world. It was transmitting via satellite to the seven million Greeks – not all of them Greek speaking, but still most of them watched – all over the world, especially in the USA, Australia and Europe. And of course, it was the bridge to bring in satellite services like the BBC, Deutsche Welle etc. All that was black in a day. And you know what? Maybe people of an older age experienced the loss of the three TV channels in their homes, but what was a bigger shock in the next days was that half of the FM band was mute, because all the stations and the peripheral stations of ERT had been closed down.

He was right. The black screens had shocked us but it was the silent radio that made us feel what we really lost. Maybe it was not explicitly said in the beginning as the feeling of loss does not lend itself to an emotional TV spot or an angry newspaper cover photo, but the reality of not having a radio station anymore that is playing world music (Kosmos) or classical music (Trito Programma) or moderate political commentary and cultural news (NET) left the listeners without company and with a feeling of loss that is hard to describe but easy to understand.

ERT Open

For that reason, I found the “ERT Open” movement especially moving and inspirational, despite its profound political and working context. The act of occupying a corporation, that until the previous day had been the state colossus, and trying to turn it into an anti-government, society-driven medium of resistance with the idea that it would then finally “fulfil its purpose” seemed desperate but made me very curious: How was the atmosphere in the occupied offices and studios? How was it to be working in a previously controlled organization without a boss? How were decisions made? Prokopis was there for a month and longer, having a voice and playing an active role in the rebellion, and then gave up. As he stated in public, the aggressive voices had prevailed over the cool ones like his own.

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It was more free but at the same time it lacked discipline. And it lacked professionalism. It was unavoidable. The government cut the phones, we could not get crews out with cameras, we could not have links and transmitters, so everything was via Internet. The technicians managed to get some transmissions but very few, so it was not what it should be. But it was an experiment. A lot of new people got in front of the camera. The programme was not professional but it was a good effort. Many people thought that it was for the first time a free voice, an anti-government voice from the state TV, from the public TV that used to be controlled by the government.

It was a common secret that ERT was not as independent as it was supposed to be. Every opposition party in the past decades therefore used to criticise the ruling party for patronising ERT. And then did the same when it was in power. The problem was never solved, the politicians continued to serve their respective clientele which, in the end, made the public lose its respect for ERT.

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ERT has never been really independent as other public radios and televisions in Europe. That’s why the allegations against ERT were ridiculous. Because if it had been an independent organization, there could have been criticism from the government. Getting criticized from the one who is responsible for you is completely absurd. If he is responsible, why not do what he should do. That’s it.

We now wanted to know from Prokopis, returning to the discussion about “ERT Open”, if the occupied public broadcaster could be seen as a model for a truly public television. That question really interested me because of the variety of news that had been broadcast over the past weeks. “ERT Open” seemed to take up the pulse of the suffering society, probably better than ERT in its golden age. Prokopis disagreed. For him, “ERT Open” was something else.

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No, I don’t think that the model we used after the closure, with ERT being controlled by the employees, could work in real life. And I think it would not be possible just for one reason, which is one of the reasons we ended up this way, and that is that ERT never had the proper methods for the qualifications needed in its employees. If ERT had been a purely professional model before, maybe it could work. But it was not. And the main reason was that a lot of people in ERT came from the close connections of the parties with ERT.

Could ERT have been reformed?

No surprises, this final statement sounded as if it came from a government officer. ERT’s corruption and strong links to political parties was the perfect reason for the government to shut it down. But the difficult question had not been answered yet: Why not try to reform ERT? Why close it down? When I repeated these unanswered questions, Prokopis exploded.

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One excuse used by the government to close down ERT was a false one. It was the Prime Minister himself who said: “Every time we or a different government tried to modernise ERT, our efforts failed because of the unions.” The role of the unions is something that we should criticise a lot. But that’s not the reason. The reason is that nobody tried. ERT is a product of the clientele system as many other companies in Greece. The political system never tried to make ERT independent. There was never a real effort except once, and that was a half effort, two years ago, by a minister of the PASOK government called Ilias Mosialos, who presented a plan. It was a plan that could be the basis for a discussion. It was the first time that there was a plan, with some good points and some not so good points. The most important thing he did was that he commissioned a very well-known lawyer who specialises in constitutional law to form a committee and come out with propositions that would make ERT really independent. That committee worked and came out with a very viable proposition with which I agree. In very few words, it said, ERT is going to have a board to overview its whole way of working, giving out a strategic plan for the next 10-15 years and appointing the members of the board that would be working every day to run ERT. That that board, that body of people who would be on top of everything would be appointed after a very scrupulous procedure of six months, getting CVs from all over the world, trying to get personalities from universities, from the area of science, from law, from wherever, who would form that board, who would be appointed and with no ties with the government.

Unfortunately, that proposition, which is supposed to be applied now, is not applied, because the first board of the new public television is going to be appointed by the minister. So, there is no independence. That proposition was distorted. ERT has always been a punching bag. For every party, every club, every local authority it has felt as their own. Everybody would like their reportage to be on air, everybody would press ERT to cover their story. Ok, but then ERT has to be really independent from any central or local authorities or any other ties with power in Greece. It has to be really independent and judge by itself. Of course, I suppose that in BBC or Deutsche Welle there are always underground ties with power, but that’s different. In Greece, in ERT’s case, it was always like that. And that’s a problem.

Playing the part of advocatus diaboli, I had to ask the inevitable question: Had there been another option to avoid the shutdown? What did ERT need in his opinion? How should it have been?

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Well, in a country of ten million people, I think ERT should have two TV channels at the most, maybe 4-5 radio stations and some regional radio stations for several purposes including national ones – and that would have been enough. What ERT needed was downsizing. A first wave of downsizing had been made by the government in 2009, because during the previous six years of New Democracy government (under Karamanlis) it [ERT] had overflown to 4,500 employees. Now, it was at 2,700. Maybe it would need a little bit more. But most of all, it would need a quality reshaping.

Quality. That is the word the supporters of former ERT use the most, especially when they try to point out the difference between the public broadcaster and private media. ERT might have had bad ratings and not enough success in the market, but the last thing one could say about it was that it did not broadcast quality shows. An army of dedicated professionals had been giving their soul to produce them. I was wondering how they might feel now regarding the rising criticism of public servants. During the stormy last three years of recession in Greece, public servants had been targeted by the government and by the private sector employees as one of the groups responsible for the country’s no-productivity problem with the same demolishing rhetoric that some European papers had used to decry our whole nation as “lazy” and “cheaters”.

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I used to work in the private sector in the radio, so I know how it is. I’m not solely an employee of public radio and television. Actually, the private sector makes you more of a “star” in our business. For me, it was an honour to work at ERT, and I was always hoping that ERT would get modernised and be really independent while I was there. I could describe the feelings I had working for ERT with a simple phrase: I was sleeping well at night. I knew I was working in a television organization that was not really independent, it was controlled by the government in a way, but at least it was controlled by a body that was elected by the Greek people. Working in the private sector can make you much less independent some times, if not all the times; it depends on whom you ‘re working for.

ERT was controlled by and depended on the government, but did that open the doors for direct censorship? How did the public broadcaster cover stories, especially the more edgy ones?

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There is always a way that ERT, depending on the government or mostly the head of the news, covers a crucial story. But that way can change. Usually, it’s a way that is dictated by the fear of not having rough edges; that’s the main way that you could describe it. In very sensitive situations, ERT was relying on their own people, on people’s ability to understand and judge the situation. And that’s the whole concept of “experienced employees”.

The relation of ERT with private broadcasters

It was time to turn the page and to address a very interesting aspect of the ERT shutdown that I will elaborate on in a later post: the invisible war between ERT and the private media, and especially private TV networks.

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In the Greek society there has always been this conflict, that ERT, like Olympiaki [Olympic Air Airlines] for example, had a place in the market that it should not have because it is getting the money from the people, so the competition is not fair for the private channels. This is the point of view of the private channels, because the private channels never really wanted a strong ERT, like it is in France, for example. The public television in France is leading the market. In Greece it did not lead the market but still, in some special areas it was a leader. And one thing that maybe led to its closure was the fact that for the past two election rallies in April and June 2012, ERT had performed so well in ratings, that it came first for the first time on the election night. That changed the scenery and maybe annoyed the private channels. The end of the story is that no government really wanted ERT to be very strong. It wanted it strong so that it could serve its propaganda but at the same time it did not want it to be strong because of the pressure from the private sector. And nowadays, after the crisis when the market is so poor, maybe that’s what led to ERT’s closure.

It is noteworthy that the private TV channels’ employees did not react to ERT’s closure with joy, but with empathy. The executives were happy that their competitor had been withdrawn from the game, but the employees seemed really shocked. Maybe, at first, this was only in response to the image of colleagues being fired all in one night but, during the first days, they too expressed their support with strikes and public statements. They did much more than any former ERT worker could have expected. And all this despite the stereotype of “patricians and plebeians”, which was commonly used in the invisible war between public and private media, that suggested that one would have to make a distinction between a typical normally-paid and hard-working private media employee on the one hand and the so-depicted highly-rewarded and “lazy” ERT employee on the other. Over the past decades, the expression “ERT employee” had become a commonly used term for having a high life due to political acquaintances and for a position that anybody should strive for in the Greek media sector. Did that stereotype have some truth to it? Were ERT employees really working under so much better circumstances?

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The ERT employee is usually someone who has more cultural sensitivity than his or her colleague in the private sector but works in a more relaxed manner, with not that much pressure. That is not always the case, because for example, when some colleagues went to a private channel in June, we asked them how it is and they said, “oh, relaxed!”, because there, there is one bulletin a night. We had bulletins all day. For some reporters it was much harder to work in the public sector than for a private channel. For other employees, it was rather more relaxed. It was “the public sector way of working”.

”The public sector way of working”: probably there was no better way to put it in words, yet for a non Greek audience is always a hard task to understand the public servants’ attitude during their work. The main characteristic I could contribute to the discussion due to my own observations is that working in the Greek public sector during its golden age could make you feel invulnerable: no one could chase or punish you even if you were a fraud. The inevitable result was that every public organization during the past decades depended on the ethical quality of its employees. If the majority was fraud, then the organization would have a corrupt image. Prokopis stated that, as always, truth lies somewhere in the middle.

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ERT had a very bright and a dark side. The bright side was people with a lot of skills and culture and open mind who actually carried out most of the work. And there was space for a lot of people who were a little bit of a burden.

The unions

To a wide range of the public opinion, this last line from Prokopis perfectly describes the union representatives of ERT. Like their colleagues in the other major state-controlled companies in Greece (like OTE – the Greek telecommunications provider in the past, DEI – the Greek power utility, OASA – Athens’ public media transportation provider and so on), the union members of ERT were mostly considered the evil face of unions: egoistic career-driven personalities that had used the problems of their sector to obtain power and fortune, and enter the centre of the political scene.

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The union of ERT was not a union for the journalists. Journalists did not have a special union in ERT, they had the Athens Media Union to cover them. The ERT union was for the technicians and the office employees. It was not the best, actually, for many, many years. It was part of the problem, it was not part of the solution. And that applies to the heads of the union, not the people – but people voted for these leaders, I don’t know why. Maybe, because their idea of the union way of bargaining is that you should be very demanding, that’s all. I think that’s a Greek sickness altogether. The idea that the union leader has to be someone who is very responsible and has to find solutions together with those in power – opposing power, but finding solutions working with power – is not something that Greek employees understand very well. For them, syndication means opposition building.

ERT’s union representatives were controversial, even within their work environment. In fact, ERT was a workplace where you could end up in epic fights about anything. Not that this is difficult to explain, considering the sheer number of people working there and the diversity of their backgrounds. Surprisingly, the shutdown of the organization made all of them put aside their differences and join forces for their common cause. The unanimity of the workers did not last. In fact, it ended as soon as the government announced the job vacancies at DT, but it was a great moment for anybody who had ever walked in the ERT’s headquarters’ corridors and now experienced a parallel universe.

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After the closure, the employees were united. Of course, there was a large degree of political use of that matter, but the lack of esteem was apparent as well for the way unions would deal with things. And nowadays this is more apparent than ever.

When I heard his last words, I realised that, while ERT’s weird, unique story had been happening for three months, I got the picture only now. The Greek political scene was completely paradoxical: The government decided, for its own reasons, to close a public organization in one night and to replace it with a new one that would better serve its purpose. Yet, for three consecutive months, some former employees of the previous organization have been occupying the public building that contains public property (e.g. infrastructure, equipment, vehicles, the ERT archives). Even if you enter the discussion, whether one should agree with their demands or defend the government rhetoric, you can easily see the paradox: How could it be that government shut down an organization of this size and significance in such a rush without public discussion and circumvent parliament, and not take any decision in three consecutive months that would solve the problem of the occupation of its main building? We will examine this story and cover what is happening today inside and outside the former ERT headquarters in my next post on “No Signal”. Until then, let us hear what Prokopis has to say. We asked for his prediction of how this was going to end.

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I will present you the scenarios: The good scenario is that the people – who are very few now – inside the ERT building will press the leaders to find an agreement with the government and step down, so ERT could get back again into these buildings. The worst case scenario is the riot police going in, but I don’t think this is viable. Maybe, the district attorney could go in or something like that, but I’m not sure about that. A not so good scenario is that people maybe don’t find a way to agree with the government, there is no violent intrusion by the government, and they just stay in there for months and months, keeping the building and fading away slowly. That’s a very sad scenario but it’s possible.

I couldn’t agree more. In my opinion, the third was the most probable scenario. It would serve the government’s needs even more than expected. It would reinforce its “democratic image” by letting everybody see that, even three months later, they not only avoid forcing the “devastated former employees” but wait to see how long they will keep up. It is also the perfect excuse for any technical mistakes and misjudgements that DT has already been accused of, creating a viable timeframe for the government to make DT productive. Not to mention, as a last note, the fact that it is also the perfect excuse for forcing DT to work with private suppliers for its equipment – the private media owners who, as Prokopis stated above, probably wanted ERT dead. But that is a story we already promised to deal with in a whole different post.

The transitional broadcaster DT

One of the reasons, why I had chosen Prokopis Doukas to help us navigate this complex story was his unique character. He somehow connected all the sequences of the plot. He had been a key figure in ERT for fifteen years. He had angrily opposed the government’s decision to shut it down. He had criticised the creation of DT. He had been involved in the ERT occupation as a presenter during its dynamic first phase and, in a significant turn of his attitude towards ERT, he had applied for a job at DT. He had been appointed and had become the first presenter of its brand new news bulletin. It was of extreme interest to me to understand what had made him reconsider his earlier position.

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I wrote an article about that. The first sentence was: “After a very big mistake, there are millions of mistakes coming up.” And that is the case with the transitional radio and television. They try now to build up something that they destroyed completely, and that’s not easy. It’s not a professional effort, nobody is very happy about it, but we should try all together to come up with a new public radio and television. Because the public radio and television does not and should not belong to the government. It belongs to the people. And its employees should try to be part of the solution. That’s why I’m saying, even though ERT was very wrongly closed down and even though the efforts made by this government are not very convincing, we should try to built it up again because there is no European country without public radio and television. It would be a real loss for the Greek society, even though liberals do not agree with that. I’m just saying, even if it has no big ratings, a society needs a programme of classical music in the radio, it needs a world music station like Kosmos, it needs the calmness and the detachment of the public news, both on radio and television, it needs the cultural events that the public television covers, it needs the documentaries, it needs whatever the market refuses to do, and we should built it up again.

Apparently, most of the former ERT workers had shared the same rhetoric with Prokopis. When the government had announced its first call for around 600 job vacancies in DT in late July, the majority of former ERT workers had hastened to apply. The reasons for this reached from pure opportunism to innocent idealism, maybe, but one thing is for sure: In a country where the official unemployment rate had reached thirty percent, and in a highly competitive working environment like the media sector, the last thing you could do is to accuse all these people for their life choices.

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Almost two thirds of the people working at ERT applied for the transitional new broadcaster. If you count out a lot of people who found some other job and – actually, most of them were very close to pension and their career was over – 80% or more of the employees applied. I think 1.800 out of 2.700. Count out 700 people who are going into pension, it’s more than 85% altogether, I think.

As DT gets more features every day, it is becoming more and more obvious that the government used most of ERT’s elements to build this new organization. So, while the DT project seemed to start from scratch, its features were not fresh at all. In fact, all (e.g. faces, employees, studios, even names and logos) were sourced from the “corrupted” ERT.

The political system

The questions that had surfaced now, deserved an honest answer. What had been the point of this radical action? Whose idea had it been and who had profited from it? And more important, why had it been done in that way?

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I think, the closing down of ERT was a product of the political system’s sicknesses and due to the special characteristics of this Prime Minister and his environment. This Prime Minister has 4-5 people close to him. Of course, all of them are very nationalistic and very hostile to anything that is beyond the centre of the political spectrum. They thought that their movement would be embraced by society. Actually, they had polls that said, more than sixty percent of the Greek society was in favour of ERT’S modernisation.

At the same time, they were in the unpleasant situation of not having produced any work, not having laid off 2.000 state employees as the Troika was demanding. The Prime Minister’s environment, apparently, was proposing to the Prime Minister to shut down ERT which, at the same time, has two desired effects: to lay off 2.000 employees, to get rid of ERT that was hostile to the government and to show political blandness and decisiveness. What they did not expect was reactions, because they have a way of thinking that’s very provincial. They do not understand the world environment. And they could not understand, firstly, why the Greek people reacted against the decision. The Greek people were in favour of ERT’s modernisation, but not of closing it down. They were in shock that night, at least two thirds of the people. And by the way, three polls that came out the following days showed that the only voters who said “yes” to Samaras’ movement were half of his voters – half, not more –, some liberals, maybe three percent, and the voters of neo-Nazi Golden Dawn who were very hostile to ERT. That makes a total of 30 percent. The rest, 68, 65 or 70 percent of the Greek people, was strongly opposing the decision. And on top of that, there were so many reactions from Europe and throughout the world that could not have been raised by the Greek opposition parties, of course, because the government did not understand the meaning of bringing it down, of blacking out TV screens and muting the FM band. That’s why Samaras fell into a government crisis.

He was also, I think, aiming at something else: at blackmailing his two government coalition members, PASOK and DIMAR. In a way, he was telling them: “If you do not like my decisions, let’s go to elections. The society is with me and you may even not get back into parliament.” He was mistaken. It was a wrong political estimation, to be taught at universities. It was a huge mistake, because he thought that the Greek society would accept elections for a reason like that. He thought that the European environment would accept elections, but it did not, of course. And he thought that he could get on top of the situation. He didn’t. He was saved by one of the coalition members (PASOK) that supported him, whereas it could have not supported him. If the two of them [New Democracy and PASOK] had the way of thinking DIMAR had, I think Samaras would not be Prime Minister today. It would still be a three party government, but with a different Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister, Antonis Samaras, and his environment, Failos Kranidiotis, Takis Baltakos, Chrysanthos Lazaridis, Giorgos Mouroutis, Simos Kedikoglou – a body of consultants who have raised a huge discussion about their perceived arrogant public presence and their nationalistic, right-wing statements and beliefs. Keep these names in mind, we will refer to them in a later post in detail, when we will discuss the role of private media, their war with ERT and their deep entanglement with the interests of a small, but powerful elite that has ruled Greece over the past decades.

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This kind of government, the old-fashioned and extreme, right-wing, nationalistic government and cabinet, works for the day. They think a few months time is a long way into the future. The most probable is that ERT’s successor will have less, worse results than ERT, because you have to rebuild it from scratch. Maybe, you avoid some negative points that ERT had, but to rebuild such an organization from scratch is a difficult thing. They don’t really care about having a public radio and television as strong as it should be.

Prokopis Doukas seemed to me totally grounded. No high hopes for the new organization his name will be attached to for the time being, just a romantic utopian longing for a common good that we should reserve – and a well-meaning professionalism that would let him consider his next move without a noticeable predilection for the sentimental or a need to flatter those in power. In other words, probably the most tempered voice one could ask to comment on all the aspects of ERT’s story. Our last question, was a provocative one: What if DT failed completely to attract the audience’s interest? What if we went to elections and the DT ratings were so low that the opposition parties could use it to again attack Samaras and his environment, pointing out that not only had they destroyed a national emblem, ERT, but had failed also to replace it with a productive, working, thrifty, uncorrupt organization as they had promised to the Greek people?

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That will not be an argument. They will just say: “It’s too soon yet to see results but we have made ERT sane. The successor is sane, whereas the predecessor was sick, was corrupted.” And the opposition in Greece will not talk about ratings. They will talk about results, quality results that in the debate are very questionable. The Greek right-wing way of thinking is: “Let’s have a small, controlled little organization of our own that won’t affect or annoy the private sector and be our propaganda tool and not be full of all these socialists and communists by the thousands”. That’s it.

And that was also the end of a thorough interview.

At the end of the week our film received two awards at the Venice Film Festival. I had been checking DT’s signal in my little, medieval-decorated Italian hotel in Lido the previous day and had managed to watch the first minutes of DT’s first night news bulletin. After the opening signal, the camera had stopped in front of Prokopis Doukas’ face and he, apparently stressed, had announced the first news of that day: the G20 meeting on the situation in Syria.

We had wished him good luck.

After all, what makes the media are also the people behind them, not only the puppet masters. Maybe, DT’s success will give a meaning to this huge mess that the sudden death of ERT has created. Maybe it will become the perfect example for even more anti-democratic moves in the future. After all, time will tell, and history will decide.

5 Responses to ERT: In Public Service

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