Moody’s is putting Greece on credit watch negative because of the threat to government stability following the unilateral shock decision to dissolve the government broadcaster ERT in its current form and make the Greek screens go blank with hardly six hours’ notice.
I reported on the details of the decision in the previous post.
Recent developments give perhaps at least a slight hint why a governing party might engage in behavior which appears like madness: Instead of backing down, the government has threatened the European Broadcasting Union with legal action against the EBU’s transmitting of ERT signals via satellite. What this tell us is that the government’s action was never about shutting down a loss-making organisation, or finding 2,000 candidates for redundancy. It is instead about silencing a media channel, because — since the official closure — the channel costs the Greek government absolutely nothing and is run by what are in effect volunteers. In fact, the unrest and political fall-out costs a lot more than you could ever save by sending 2,000 people home from their jobs. The government is willing to spend all that plus the cost of threating the EBU for broadcasting the “pirate” version of ERT at EBU members’ own cost.
So for the Nea Demokratia (ND) party it can never have been cost savings. I wish we knew what it is that Nea Demokratia was so upset about or afraid of. Perhaps one day we will know.
I could go on and on about evidence that this is the action of a madman: 55 European broadcast executives have signed a petition, etc. etc.; We don’t really need a long list of reminders of the madness that was a unilateral action by one government party against the will of it’s own coalition partners. Instead, we need to talk about what sense is there for ND to wish to appear bereft of sense, and even notch up a gear and pick a fight with otherwise level-headed journalist organisations all over Europe?
Feigning madness can be a useful strategy, such as in the game of “chicken” (also known as “brinkmanship” in the US): When the game is thus: head straight for the oncoming car of your opponent, and the loser is the one who swerves first, the rational strategy is to growl, scream, throw whisky bottles out the window, and generally appear as totally bereft of one’s senses. So why would ND apply this strategy here, since it wasn’t a game of chicken to begin with?
Perhaps the government is happier to have a debate about something that really gets to the heart of the people instead to the heart of the matter. For the heart of the matter, as the government initially itself alluded to, is that the government has failed for three years to find even 2,000 public sector employees to make redundant. That was their original “excuse” for shutting down ERT. And guess what, no-one is talking about this colossal failure any more! Especially since there’s no-one really to broadcast it.
The government’s three party leaders are due to meet right now as I post this. The opposition has planned a speech right in front of the government building, and the junior government partners aren’t planning to talk during the government meeting, but rather thereafter once they are back at their own party headquarters. The stakes are being raised around the table.
Maybe that’s good poker, but more likely it’s a high stakes diversionary tactic. While all this goes on, no one talks about necessary reforms any more. Theater it is, politics it is not, for politics is too painful to contemplate for Greek politicians in government. Maybe they are tired of governing and prefer to put on a good show. Again, I am reminded of the Hitchhiker’s guide to the Galaxy: (I paraphrase) The best candidate for president of the galaxy is not the one who can govern, but the one who can most ably distract people’s attention from the task of government.
And maybe it is better to appear mad over sins of commission (being autocratic, not consulting junior government partners, messing with the media, etc.) that can be dressed up as complying with the troika demands than to be held accountable for three years’ sins of omission. Perhaps there is method in this madness after all.