Greek political deadlock over state broadcaster continues

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Talks Wednesday between Greece’s prime minister and his coalition partners failed to resolve the political deadlock caused by the government’s shutdown of state broadcaster ERT, and are set to continue.

“It was a very difficult discussion that will continue and will be concluded tomorrow evening,” said socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos after the meeting ended.

Conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras had a marathon, three-and-a-half hour meeting with his coalition partners, in an attempt to find common ground over the future of ERT.

Socialists Pasok and moderate leftists Democratic Left strongly oppose ERT’s sudden closure, a move that has seriously shaken the coalition government’s cohesion.

“It is not just about the public broadcaster, it is about the operation of the three-party coalition government,” said Democratic Left leader Fotis Kouvelis after the meeting.

“There has to be a collaboration that ensures common ground between the three parties,” he added.

Venizelos and Kouvelis are set to confer with their parties before Thursday’s meeting with the prime minister.

Meanwhile, about 2,000 protesters, according to police, gathered outside the Athens headquarters of ERT on Wednesday, in a solidarity protest organized by unions.

“No one can fool around with democracy in this country,” main opposition party leader Syriza Alexis Tsipras, who joined the protesters, told reporters.

Speaking at a conference earlier in the day, Tsipras called the shutdown of ERT a “brutal attack to the constitution and democracy.”

Samaras’s coalition partners have demanded that broadcasts be restored immediately, but the prime minister has adamantly refused to reinstate ERT.

ERT’s five TV channels and 24 radio stations remained off the air, two days after Greece’s top administrative court told the government to restore public broadcasts, although without specifying if ERT should be the company managing them.

The shutdown has also blocked the local digital signals of the BBC, TV5 and Deutsche Welle, while Greece’s parliament channel, which had also been blocked, went back on air late on Wednesday.

“One of the issues (discussed) is how the state broadcaster will operate again, with respect to the Council of State’s decision,” said government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou after the marathon Wednesday meeting.

Announced eight days ago, the shock closure will result in the loss of 2,700 jobs and has sparked national and international uproar.

Greece is under pressure by its EU-IMF lenders to meet the terms of a massive 240 billion euro ($322bn) bailout. Among them is a requirement to axe 4,000 civil servant posts by the end of this year.

Representatives of Greece’s creditors, currently conducting a regular audit, issued a statement on Wednesday saying the government “has made important progress” in its reforms.

The so-called troika of auditors added that the audit would be resumed by the end of the month.

According to Athens News Agency, the government is working on a plan to get some news broadcasts back on air temporarily.

The plan involves hiring some 30 journalists to put together three news bulletins a day for two months, until the new public broadcaster is fleshed out, the agency said.

There is also speculation that a far larger number of ERT staffers will be temporarily brought back.

Samaras has rejected calls to reinstate ERT under its previous format, claiming that the company cost 300 million euros ($400m) a year for an overall viewer rating of four percent, less than half of its private competitors.

The government has also offered to compensate ERT’s employees, and to create a new broadcaster with less than half the workforce.

ERT was widely seen in Greece as a government mouthpiece and a haven of chronic mismanagement.

But it also offered educational content unavailable on private television, and an invaluable link to the homeland for the country’s large diaspora.

The dispute has sparked a furor at home and international media organizations have also slammed ERT’s lockup as undemocratic.

Samaras’ allies have also denounced the prime minister’s unilateral closure of the broadcaster as unbecoming to a three-party government.