A blank screen on the democratic foundations of the European Union

17/06/2013
Press release
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FIDH and the Hellenic League for Human Rights deplore the decision taken by the Greek government on Tuesday, 11th June to brutally and suddenly close the doors of the Greek state broadcaster, l’Ellinikí Radiofonía Tileórasi (ERT).

Following this decision the three public channels have ceased to broadcast- a development which has sparked a widespread strike within the country and outrage, both in the European and international press and among political leaders across the world.
 
According to Dimitris Christopoulos, Vice-President of the Hellenic League for Human Rights and of FIDH, ‘The closure of this broadcaster forms part of a context which is particularly critical for the future of Greek democracy.’ He went on to assert : ‘it poses a serious threat to both democracy and the exercising of the right to the freedom of information.’
 
Indeed, ERT’s closure comes at a time when, in the space of three years, Greece has fallen almost 50 places in the world rankings on press freedom, published by Reporters Without Borders. The organization highlighted the fact that the country has ‘plummeted’ in the rankings, coming in at only 84th place in the 2013 edition.

In response to the decision, FIDH President Karim Lahidji declared : "this trend is an alarming one and the attack on the public audiovisual sector should be of grave concern to the European Union, which has made democracy and the respect of human rights the foundations upon which it is built. The essential pillars of these foundations include the right of citizens to be informed, the freedom of expression and the pluralism of the media. Consequently, in order to preserve these foundations, the European Union is duty-bound to react promptly and not to let such cases unfold across its territory."

Reading the treaties establishing the European Union and their protocols confirms the importance which Member States attached to the issue in 2007. These texts class a public broadcasting service as pivotal to democracy, and present it as the guarantor of the recognised need to preserve media pluralism and meet each society’s social and cultural needs [1]. Furthermore, its importance is regularly reaffirmed by the European Parliament, the EU institution directly elected by universal suffrage. The Parliament insists on ‘the need to maintain a strong and dynamic public service’ which allows a ‘genuine balance between public service and commercial broadcasters’ [2]

A number of international organisations, including the Council of Europe, the Office of the UN Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Rapporteur on the freedom of expression have recalled the importance of an independent public broadcaster. In 2007, for example, the Council of Europe’s Council of Ministers recalled the specific role of public broadcasting ‘to promote the values of democratic societies, in particular the respect of human rights, cultures and political pluralism.’ [3]

Finally, the closure of ERT is taking place within a country being put to the test by austerity policies. On 1st May 2013, the United Nations’ independent expert on the effects of foreign debt on the full enjoyment of human rights, Cephas Lumina, warned "that the conditions attached to the Greek bailout plan by international donors risk making it increasingly difficult to guarantee a standard of living which complies with recognised human rights standards for a considerable number of Greek people."

Justified by the Greek government on the grounds of the need to curtail state expenditure, the attack on ERT is a new indication of the urgent need for the European Union to adopt a stance which is as clear and resolute as possible, in order to ensure that budget cuts are not made to the detriment of fundamental rights.

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