By Karolina Tagaris
ATHENS (Reuters) - Both junior partners in Greece's ruling coalition have turned down a compromise by the prime minister over the shutdown of public broadcaster ERT, raising the prospect that the rift among the parties might be impossible to mend.
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras offered on Friday to rehire a smaller number of staff to resume news broadcasts, in response to an outcry over Tuesday's closure of ERT to save money under the terms of Greece's international bailout.
But his concession failed to satisfy the left-wing parties in the fragile coalition, the Socialist PASOK and the Democratic Left, who are demanding the immediate reopening of ERT's television and radio stations.
If no compromise can be reached, the government might fall and new elections would be called, meaning almost certain derailment of the country's bailout program. Both partners have so far said they do not want to have to go to a vote.
"Our position remains the same. Any restructuring of ERT has to take place with the broadcaster open, as it was before," Andreas Papadopoulos, spokesman of the Democratic Left party, told Reuters on Saturday.
The three coalition partners are expected to meet on Monday evening, one year after the country went to the polls, to try to reach an agreement over the issue.
Papadopoulos said Democratic Left leader Fotis Kouvelis would propose the immediate reopening of ERT and the creation of a committee to come up with a restructuring plan within three months.
While Greeks have little love for 75-year-old ERT, viewing it as a wasteful source of patronage jobs for political parties, the abruptness of the decision was a shock. Unions and the opposition have branded it a "coup-like move".
Almost two out of three Greeks, or 64 percent, are against the ERT shutdown, a Kapa Reasearch poll published in Sunday's To Vima newspaper found.
But a majority of Greeks also want political stability, according to the poll, carried out on June 12-13, after ERT was taken off air. About 57 percent of respondents said the country should not head to the polls.
Screens went black on Tuesday night just hours after the government's spokesman, himself a former state TV journalist, announced the move.
Private-sector journalists have also gone on strike, causing a nationwide media blackout. But some newspapers broke the strike on Saturday after a court decision that ruled it illegal.
The government has always said the shutdown was temporary and that ERT would be relaunched as soon as possible in a downsized and more efficient form.
Samaras, who has branded defenders of ERT hypocrites, insists that the reform is necessary for Greece to show it is making good on its reform promises to lenders.
"Reforms and democracy go hand in hand," Samaras wrote in an opinion piece in conservative daily Kathimerini. "None of this can happen if you're not prepared to break eggs."
The three domestic television channels, along with regional and national radio stations, have a combined audience share of about 10 percent and cost Greece as much as 300 million euros ($400 million) a year, the government has said.
Samaras's coalition partners say ERT is essential to maintain public broadcast services.
"PASOK doesn't want elections but we are not afraid of them," PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos told the Ethnos newspaper which ran the headline "On the edge of elections" on its front page.
(Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)