Greece shutters state television to save funds

GREECE said yesterday it would shut down state broadcaster ERT and relaunch it as a leaner and cheaper organisation as part of budget cuts, drawing protests from workers, other media and junior partners in the ruling coalition.

The closure was one of the most drastic measures yet to pare down Greek public institutions as part of austerity measures imposed on the country as a condition of its bailout.

ERT’s radio and television stations cost the country €300m (£255m) a year and the broadcaster had become a “typical case of ... incredible waste,” government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou said. “At a time when the Greek people are enduring sacrifices, there is no room for delay, hesitation or tolerance for sacred cows,” he added in a televised statement aired on the state broadcaster’s channel.

Programmes were scheduled to go off air after midnight last night and ERT’s employees – estimated at around 2,600 – would get compensation and a chance to reapply for jobs in the new organisation, Kedikoglou said.

Large crowds of ERT employees gathered outside its Athens headquarters after the announcement, vowing to fight the decision and calling for a general media blackout in protest.

The move will be a test for Samaras’s fragile three-party coalition, whose two junior partners quickly came out to oppose the shutdown and protested that they were not consulted.

“Public broadcasting can’t shut down,” said Yannis Maniatis, senior official of the Socialist Pasok party. “A three-way coalition doesn’t work with faits accomplis,” he said.

The move came a day after Athens suffered a heavy blow to another part of its austerity programme, failing to find a single buyer for natural gas firm DEPA and leaving it short of cash to meet bailout targets.

Inspectors from Greece’s troika of lenders – the European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank – arrived in Athens on Monday to measure progress under the bailout programme.