Greek PM offers to restart news broadcasts to defuse crisis

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 14, 2013 1:44 PM
Greek PM offers to restart news broadcasts to defuse crisis

By Lefteris Papadimas

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras offered on Friday to hire a small number of workers to resume public broadcasts to stem an outcry over the shock closure of state broadcaster ERT and mend a rift in the ruling coalition.

The proposal was dismissed as inadequate by one coalition partners, the Socialist PASOK party, which is demanding the immediate reopening of ERT's television and radio stations.

There was no immediate comment by the third junior coalition partner, the Democratic Left party, which wants the broadcaster to reopen.

Greece announced ERT's closure on Tuesday, one of the most drastic measures yet in the country's struggle to shore up its bankrupt state finances, reduce the size of the public sector and meet the terms of an international bailout.

The decision prompted a nationwide strike on Thursday, bringing thousands into the streets in protest, and triggered a political crisis that has renewed fears of political instability in the bailed-out country.

On Friday, the coordinating committee of media associations (ETER) unanimously decided to continue a strike by all radio and TV media against the shutdown of ERT.

"We are continuing our struggle to cancel the government's coup decision to close down ERT. It is a fight to defend public television and democracy," the coordinating committee said.

Samaras proposed that a special liquidator appointed for ERT would set up a committee backed by all parties to hire workers so that ERT's news broadcasts could restart immediately.

"I expect a stance of responsibility from (the coalition's)political leaders so that our cooperation can continue unhindered," he said in a statement.

His coalition partners support a restructuring of ERT, but not with blacked-out screens. The government has said the shutdown is temporary and that ERT will be relaunched as a slimmer and more efficient organization.

"Pasok has clearly stated its position publicly. Mr. Samaras's statement does not address what Pasok has said," an official from the party said.

Samaras, who has branded defenders of ERT hypocrites, told a party gathering earlier on Friday he would press on with reforms. He has invited the two junior coalition parties for talks on Monday to find common ground.

"Those pretending to be mourning for ERT were pushing it from strike to strike," he said in a broadside against the leftist opposition Syriza party which has blasted the shutdown.

The closure has drawn fire from unions and opposition lawmakers who have accused the finance minister of sending e-mails to private channels warning them not to re-broadcast ERT.

The Communist-affiliated channel 90.2, which broadcast bootleg ERT program, has been taken off the air.

In a show of solidarity, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) put the broadcaster back on air, enabling Greek satellite subscribers to watch the station's news channel.

Before the move, ERT's output was only available via a live stream on the EBU website.

The move to shutter ERT and fire about 2,600 employees influenced the working group of euro zone ministers and officials, which backed the country's next 3.3-billion-euro ($4.4-billion) bailout payment, two Greek finance ministry officials told Reuters on Friday.

($1 = 0.7496 euros)

(Writing by George Georgiopoulos)