Ceasing the operation of Greek public TV and radio concerns all European democrats

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Analysis of the Greek situation by Dimitris Christopoulos, Vice President of FIDH, Associate Professor at Panteion University of Athens.

The Greek government ceased the operation of the Greek Public Radio and Television Broadcast Service (ERT) via an ‘emergency’ legislative act on June 11th 2013. On that unprecedented event, we need to point out what should be going without saying: a contemporary democratic regime with no Public Television and Radio is unconceivable.

In European states – so-called ‘western’ democracies - the right of the citizens to information requires the presence of the state in the field of Mass Media. The recent act of the Greek government removed Greece from the map of modern democracies concerning the right to information and the participation in the information society. As for the method through which this decision was formulated and implemented, this brings to mind some of the darkest times for the Greek constitutional history of the 20th century. The result is that even ordinary people that used to be disgruntled by the inveterate maladies of ERT stand aghast. “We didn’t believe that we’d see this”, whisper most of them. Yet, the most crucial blow is the one that is least expected. It prepares people for the worst and, above all, teaches them that they can no longer be certain about anything. This has been the main concern of the Greek government’s practices over the last three years under the supervision of the Troika. This is the quintessence of the neoliberal experiment which is taking place in the harshest way in Greece.

Whatever intervention to the Public Radio and Television Broadcast Service, towards the rationalization of its service, has its operation and function as a boundary. The suspension of the operation of ERT surpasses the limits of the Constitution while the extensive redundancies clearly violate what remains of the Labor law and EU legislation.

Public television is not an ordinary public service. It is a good of public interest, whose uninterrupted availability to the public is not to be left to the whims of each government. The control of the Public Radio and Television Broadcast Service under the Greek Constitution (Article 15, paragraph 2) is not a right in rem over TV and radio as perceived by those who govern Greece in order to satisfy the creditors’ claims for 2,000 layoffs from the public sector. These self-evident, for a modern democracy, facts should be shouted loudly and defined in 2013 Greece.

Whether the Greek people should trust a government that uses the Public Radio and Television as a means of the most grotesque propaganda and manipulation to “purge” ERT is another - rhetorical in nature - question which by no means should be disregarded but rather be constantly addressed to those who preach of reformation policies for the public sector of Greece. The fact that the government spokesperson, who on the 11th of June made a statement-act of culmination of state-authoritarianism, populism and revanchism saying that “the party is over”, will be leading the effort of the reformation of the Public Radio and Television causes abhorrence, amidst the ordeal of these days. That is simply because the “party” was (also) his, not the Greek people’s.

However, the Greek Prime Minister attempts something else though the decision of the 11th of June. Since no sane person in this country believes that this government is capable of even faintly improving and rationalizing ERT, ceasing ERT’s operation has been ​​a demonstration of political determination in order to convince both in the interior and our EU partners that his government - and only - can ensure the creditors’ rights. ERT is the just the beginning. The method through which this demonstration is communicated shrinks his already immersed in moral contempt government partners (the Socialist Party and the Democratic Left) to a point of political extinction, while it raises deeper dilemmas for the Opposition (the left coalition of SYRIZA) confronted with the imperative need for its “forced maturation”. The shortcomings of the Opposition weigh now more heavily than ever as a continuation of this government’s term would be reprehensible.

It is true that democracy is under strain in Greece. It is hard to admit it – being a Greek - but it’s the case. With no exaggeration, democracy is challenged. There couldn’t be produced a more symbolic snapshot of this tribulation than the "black" screen of ERT in the evening of Tuesday 11 June 2013 and the 2500 dismissals from the public service with two ministers’ signatures via an emergency legislative act. If this venture succeeds in Greece, it should be anticipated to go beyond the Greek border. For democracy in Europe it is crucial that it be overturned. Not surprisingly, the black screen of ERT found an advocate, the Greek Nazis.

In this sense, the event of 11 June 2013 concerns all European democrats.

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