The government, or more precisely the Nea Demokratia faction of it, shut down Greece’s national broadcaster on six hours’ notice.
Nea Demokratia says it’s the only way to find the 2,000 public sector job cuts they’ve been searching for for three years. While ERT is a mess (see below), the fact that they could not find the redundancies in any other way smacks of incompetence or lack of will, but most likely both. Not a good bill of health that the government has issued on itself there.
How convenient then, that future in-competencies cannot be reported by the national broadcaster any more. They will also not be reported by anyone else on TV (see below).
There are three types of TV stations in Greece, ERT (the one which was shut down), Sky (the only other one that brings real news from time to time), and all the others (let’s call them the private ones for simplicity). On that, there are a few more factoids for us foreigners to appreciate:
(1) All except ERT are operating on temporary or expired licences, and even those whose license has not expired have never paid their license fees. So they could all be justifiably shut tomorrow, one by one.
(2) The private stations don’t bring news of any value, if at all. Last night, as Yannis Varoufakis’ blog attests, they were all transmitting movies and commercials, with no word of the “coup”. How weird must that have felt to the Greeks in their living rooms watching the drama unfold: The only station reporting that ERT was to be shut down was ERT, and the signal was lost right in the middle of the reports. Were the other stations operating under instructions or under fear? Does it matter which?
(3) Sky is essentially a news channel. A friend of mine works there. She is not allowed to work on stories that aren’t directed from the top, and even then they are heavily edited. Political interference is rife and internally there isn’t even a hint of pretense about it.
(4) ERT, much like the BBC but more so, has been staffed with “friendlies” every time there was a new government. This has caused the overstaffing that the current government complains about.
Now it is not a very far-fetched assumption that Samaras’ Nea Demokratia party, being finally in government after a very long hiatus, but in a coalition government with two other parties, got really frustrated that they couldn’t mettle in the set-up and the program of ERT the way previous governments had done, and that they were stuck with cronies of previous governments inside ERT. Why not do exactly what they did? Close the station and make everyone re-apply for jobs in a successor organisation! Rather than restructure the beast, close it and you get to build one from the ground up, much more to your liking.
Instead of being a sign of resolute willingness to comply with EU demands (the EU has absolved itself of any responsibility in the matter already), it is the opposite: It is a sign that nothing at all has changed in the way politics are conducted and jobs are handed out. A sad state at the very least, but also a potently dangerous and frankly stupid maneuver.
With the two other coalition parties not in agreement with the move, the government must either fall or lose tremendous credibility. Note, however, that the disagreement of the other parties has to — at least partially — also be seen from the point of view that their cronies are the ones who will most likely lose their jobs. It really is a right royal mess.
Speculation that a Turkey-style popular uprising is in the works are misplaced. There is genuine frustration in the public about the way ERT was handled over decades, and frustration with the license fees which will now, for the duration of the closure, be suspended. So Greek opinion is, surprisingly, divided. But even the disenfranchised Greeks might belatedly realize that this government is just doing what others did before them, handing out jobs to cronies and firing unwanted elements in journalism, only more blatantly and with audaciously spurious excuses.
There never was an easy solution on how to untangle the clientilist networks in the public sector, but the six hours last night cast serious doubt on whether the government even intends to do break the spiral of clientilism in the first place.
Greece has given itself a yellow card. But as in all matters EU, there isn’t a referee in sight who might pull out the red one. It’s hard to see how this will be resolved. Yet if it isn’t, Greeks may start to desire what is anathema to every other European nation: more EU interference in matters of purely local jurisdiction.