ATHENS (Reuters) - Plastered on a studio inside the headquarters of shuttered Greek state broadcaster ERT, a sign proclaims: “The revolution will not be televised.”
For roughly 600 ERT journalists who found themselves out of a job when the government abruptly switched off the signal on Tuesday, the move was nothing short of a coup.
Some defied management orders to leave the building and are broadcasting a bootleg news channel over the Internet in a sit-in atmosphere with conscious parallels to the protests in Istanbul’s Taksim Square in neighboring Turkey.
“Athens proudly sends its greetings to Istanbul,” a banner on ERT’s courtyard fence proclaims.
The feed, also shown by some small privately-owned stations, features feisty 24-hour coverage of the shutdown, with dramatic aerial shots of crowds of supporters outside the ERT building, interviews with protesters and laments by newscasters.
The government has vowed to relaunch a slimmed-down version of the 75-year-old Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation which it says was a hotbed of waste that had to be reformed. But the shock closure prompted a national strike on Thursday and has split Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ ruling coalition.
“What we’re saying is that we want public TV to belong to those who pay for it, and that’s the citizens of this country,” anchorwoman Chrysa Roumelioti said on air as her co-presenter nodded somberly. “Let them be the ones to judge us.”
A bevy of studio guests, from French and Italian journalists to local celebrities and actors, stopped by to express their outrage and solidarity.
A ticker at the bottom of the screen reads: “They’ve shut down ERT - staggering support.”
Conservative lawmaker Adonis Georgiadis, a supporter of Samaras, dialed into one show to accuse the journalists of waging war with the government. His charge that they went on strike each time Greece marked a momentous event sparked a live row with the presenters.
Newscasters complained they had worked for just 1,200 euros ($1,600) a month for the love of the job when they could have earned far more at private stations.
“We feel angry and scared and cheated,” Maria Alexaki, a 31-year-old foreign news editor told Reuters from the newsroom as she finished presenting her morning show.
“It still hasn’t sunk in, but our heart and soul is here. We’re doing our shows not for us but for all the people out there who are demanding a public broadcaster.”
Rolling coverage features clips from the BBC and other foreign media on the ERT shutdown as well as reruns of the televised statement by government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou - himself a former state TV journalist - announcing the closure.
Inside ERT headquarters, families, young children and elderly parents mill about in the corridors to show support while exhausted workers nap on sofas between shifts.
Musicians from ERT’s National Symphony Orchestra rehearsed in another corridor before appearing live on the bootleg channel to perform solemn music from Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet.
Outside, a festive mood hangs in the air as protesters hold a vigil and speakers blast the national anthem. Protesters read out a message of solidarity they said came from anti-government protesters in Istanbul.
Employees have formed a human chain to prevent police entering the building and a large banner hanging from the balcony proclaims: “ERT will stay open!”
The brutality of the shutdown - with newscasters cut off in mid-sentence as screens went black at midnight on Tuesday - stunned many Greeks and left ERT journalists in shock.
“It hit us like lightning,” said ERT radio journalist Andreas Marathias, who rushed to the office after a friend phoned to tell him the news.
“We never expected it to reach this point.”
($1 = 0.7498 euros)
Writing by Karolina Tagaris, editing by Deepa Babington