Greeks strike over state TV closure as backlash grows

ATHENS Wed Jun 12, 2013 6:34pm EDT

1 of 9. An employee watches a speech by Greece's Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on a television screen, inside Greek state television ERT headquarters in Athens June 12, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/John Kolesidis

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ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek workers will stage a nationwide strike on Thursday, forcing hospitals to work on emergency staff and disrupting transport, in protest against the "sudden death" of state broadcaster ERT, switched off in the middle of the night by the government.

Greece's two biggest labor unions plan to bring much of the near-bankrupt country to a standstill during the 24-hour strike against Prime Minister Antonis Samaras's decision to close down ERT, which they describe as "coup-like move... to gag unbiased information."

The government described its decision to shut the 75-year-old broadcaster as a temporary move before its relaunch in slimmed-down form.

But the move infuriated the coalition partners keeping Prime Minister Antonis Samaras in power, restoring an atmosphere of crisis in a country that had seemed to be emerging from the relentless political drama accompanying one of the worst peacetime economic collapses in history.

Representing about 2.5 million workers, the unions have gone on strike repeatedly since Europe's debt crisis erupted in late 2009, although action has been less frequent and more muted lately than last year when marches frequently turned violent. The last nationwide strike was in February.

"In a systematic and autocratic way, the government has abolished the rights of workers and citizens one by one," said the public sector union ADEDY, which is organizing the walkout with its private sector sister union GSEE.

"We call on every worker and every citizen to fight to overthrow the government's catastrophic plans," ADEDY said.

Separately, a union representing journalists in Athens has called an indefinite strike of members, preventing some newspapers from appearing and forcing commercial broadcasters to air reruns of sitcoms and soap operas instead of the news.

The Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation ERT has shed viewers with the rise of commercial television, and its three statewide channels had a combined audience share of only 13 percent. Many Greeks regard it as a wasteful source of patronage jobs for political parties. But the abruptness with which it was shut - with newscasters cut off in mid-sentence - was a shock.

Samaras said he would press ahead with plans to reform ERT and relaunch it as a leaner and more efficient organization, dismissing the broadcaster's defenders as hypocrites who would block needed reforms.

He boasted that shutting the broadcaster was proof of the political will needed to transform Greece from "a real Jurassic Park, the only place on earth where dinosaurs survived".

The opposition's rhetoric was no less heated. Left wing leader Alexis Tsipras, addressing protesting ERT workers at a studio in Greece's second biggest city Thessaloniki, called on Greeks to defend democracy.

"What we experienced yesterday was unprecedented, not only for Greece but for all of Europe," Tsipras said. "Public television goes dark only in two circumstances: when a country is occupied by foreign forces or when there is a coup."

Most business and public sector activity is expected to come to a halt during Thursday's strike, with train and bus employees and bankers among various groups joining the walkout.

Several marches are expected to culminate in demonstrations outside ERT's headquarters, where workers have gathered since the closure was announced.

(Editing by Peter Graff)

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Comments (2)
Yashmak wrote:
So, in order to protest the dissolution of a government funded journalistic entity, the union of journalists strike. . .thereby cutting off additional journalism outlets.

. . .because that makes total sense.

Jun 12, 2013 6:13pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
OzBolts wrote:
Greece has the feel that, at the moment, no one seems to have a clue.

The banksters get away with looting the country, the civil servants want to go back to the way things were (also, part of the problem), small business is dead or dying, people are turning to crime and extremist parties, like the Golden Dawn and now journalists are striking to protest cutting off journalism.

No one, left or right… authoritarian or libertarian… seems to have a feasible solution, and keep pointing fingers at one another.

In the very cradle of democracy we are seeing a fractured population allowing their economic (and, to an extent, social)sovereignty to being taken away, not just by the Troika and Eurozone, but by their own elected officials and each other at a microcosmic level.

It’s like watching a really depressing episode of Arrested Development. No one has a solution, and everything that is attempted just makes things worse, as a crescendo of selfish/selfless/clueless/idealistic/criminal voices cry in unison “MY IDEA! MY IDEA”

Jun 12, 2013 7:33pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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