In symbolic move, Greece to reopen shuttered state broadcaster

ATHENS, April 29 (Reuters) - Greece’s parliament passed a bill on Wednesday to reopen the state broadcaster abruptly unplugged nearly two years ago, in a symbolic move to heal what Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has called a “great wound” of the country’s bailout programme.

Re-opening The Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT) has been a priority for his leftist Syriza party, which fiercely protested the way television screens went black at midnight on June 11, 2013, after the then conservative-led government decided to shutter the 75-year-old institution.

“This government is determined to put an end to the black screen. This government of the left is re-opening ERT,” said Syriza lawmaker Yiorgos Pantzas, hours before the bill to revive ERT passed.

ERT, which cost 300 million euros ($326 million) a year to run, was replaced with a slim-downed broadcaster named NERIT, which is expected to be merged or absorbed by ERT.

NERIT was shunned by many at first, but has since seen ratings pick up. ERT ran three domestic TV channels and several radio stations before going off the air.

The government has said that all of the roughly 2,500 staff who were made redundant after the closure, including 600 journalists, would be rehired at an annual cost of about 30 million euros. This would be covered through an existing charge on electricity bills of three euros a month.

Athens, locked in talks with its lenders for months in an effort to reach a deal that could unfreeze financial aid, has promised not to take any measures that would “negatively impact fiscal targets.” It has vowed to trim operational costs and waste, and revive ERT while keeping NERIT employees.

The government was expected to outline details of its plans in coming months.

ERT’s shock closure, with newscasters cut off in mid-sentence, was one of the most drastic measures to help meet the terms of the country’s 240 billion-euro international bailout.

It sparked a wave of protests and the withdrawal of a partner from the coalition government at the time, igniting what many view as the beginning of Syriza’s rise to power.

For weeks, journalists broadcast a bootleg news channel over the Internet, defying management orders to leave the shuttered broadcaster’s headquarters. Hundreds rallied outside the building in daily protests, as musicians from ERT’s national symphony orchestra performed, some in tears. The government has said it plans to rehire the musicians.

“We won’t forget and won’t write off the black of ERT,” said parliament speaker and Syriza lawmaker Zoe Constantopoulou who had joined protesters against the closure. “It marked the beginning of a reverse course which activated our people’s democratic reflexes.” (Reporting by Renee Maltezou; Editing by Alan Crosby)