In a surprise move, the Greek government abruptly closed public broadcaster ERT on Tuesday. According to the network, 2,656 employees have been laid off as a result. TV screens went dark in the evening, but journalists from the broadcaster remained defiant, continuing to stream live news programming throughout the night as protesters gathered in front of ERT’s Athens headquarters. A live stream was still running this morning on the ERT website.
According to Greek daily Ekathimerini, government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou on Tuesday called ERT a source of “waste” and said “The Greek people are paying for ERT, which has three times, even eight times, as much staff as it needs. It has ample assets, which have remained unused.” Greek households pay a license fee of about $6 through their monthly electricity bills. As long as the broadcaster remains off air, those payments will cease. Greece reportedly plans a leaner operation to replace ERT; Kedikoglou referred to a “modern broadcasting service” but did not provide details. The network’s programming included children’s blocks, culture shows and documentaries, foreign programming, soaps and series like Downton Abbey. The European Broadcasting Union expressed its “profound dismay” at the closure and sent a letter to Greek Prime Minister, Antonis Samaras, urging him “to use all his powers to immediately reverse this decision.” Greece is in the throes of severe austerity measures amid the debt crisis and is looking to slash 15,000 public sector jobs by the end of 2014. Just yesterday, it became the first developed nation to be cut to emerging-market status by equity index provider MSCI.