Humanitarian crisis in Greece with closure of ERT news organization and mass layoffs

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THESSALONIKI, Greece — Over the past weeks, many hours of airtime and many inches of newspaper columns have been dedicated to the controversy of Greek national debt. The “modest proposal” presented by the Greek Government for debt renegotiations has drawn the attention of media across Europe.

The Greek side of the debate has voiced great concern about the austerity policies applied with bailout packages by the International Monetary Fund, European Commission and European Central Bank. Greek Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, has urged for time to deal with the furthering humanitarian crisis taking place within the country.

Recent reforms forced by the current Greek Government since 2011 include cuts to salaries, pensions, jobs in the public services and increased taxation have helped feed an unprecedented financial crisis which has eventually turned into a social one.

Employment statistics provide testimony to the above; Greece is on the top of Eurostat’s unemployment rates table for December, 2014, with 25.8 percent unemployed. In other words, approximately 1.5 million people are jobless.

2,656 jobless in one night

The instance of the Hellenic Public Broadcasting Corporation in Radio and Television (ERT) is a symbolic act reflecting the brutal austerity policies adopted in Greece. On June 11, 2013, the spokesman of the then Greek Government, Simos Kedikoglou, issued a statement announcing that ERT had been a corrupt and expensive organization encumbering on tax payers’ money and should stop broadcasting. A legislative act was issued by Greece’s Conservative-led coalition government the same day of Kedikoglou’s statement.

“ERT is a case of an exceptional lack of transparency and incredible extravagance. This ends now,” Kedikoglou claimed. The operations of the historic worldwide network went off air overnight. Police troops cleared the headquarters of ERT in Agia Paraskevi, Athens, cutting off the power and seizing all equipment the day after.

Outrage over the event of the “black” monitors — as people widely referred to the ERT’s shutdown – was massive. Within the night, more than 2,600 workers across ERT’s Radio, TV and Arts departments were dismissed. According to reports, a large number of them have not yet received salaries for the last months before the closure, nor their legally-entitled redundancy payments.

Almost 2 years since then, the heart of ERT is still beating, 300 kilometers away from Athens in the Greek vice-capital, Thessaloniki. Christina Siganidou, an active journalist and anchorwoman for ERT for the past 19 years, is among the last 60 people remaining in service in the newsroom of the ERT online broadcasting from Stratou Avenue, Thessaloniki.

ERT3
(Photo; Konstantinos Koulocheris)

“The overall experience has been amazing so far,” she said. “We have became a solid team working voluntarily with the assistance of a few members of the technical staff trade union of ERT.”

Critics and political circles claimed that the corporation was one of the most expensive state-owned broadcasters in Europe, with a 328 million euros funding per year, but nevertheless ERT was profitable considering the vastness of its coverage, not only nation-wide but also globally with its own satellite service.

The experienced anchorwoman then referred to the political interests that have been largely involved with the hiring policies of the corporation over the past decades. When asked about issues of opacity and extravagance within ERT practices, Siganidou admitted that indeed “there were scandals in the operation of ERT, but the responsibility for these is not the staff, but those who forced the ‘black.'”

Siganidou also referred to the closure of ERT as a dreadful act of censorship of the Media, placing further blame on the management of the public broadcaster during past years.

The prospect of cathartic reforms of ERT’s structure and practice has been the topic of a major debate between the staff trade union, POSPERT, and the State. Most of the proposals involved strict fiscal and hiring regulations, but the talks have not brought any definite results.

Sissy Gerogianni had been in the newsroom for 18 consecutive days by the day we talked. She joined ERT in 2000 as a staff secretary. “We will remain here for as long as we have to, she told me. “If someone would have told us that we would stay on here for 20 months as unpaid volunteers, we wouldn’t have believed them.”

On the day of the “black,” Gerogianni explained, “police troops didn’t try to re-occupy the offices because they used us as an alibi to provoke further social unrest.” Referring to the future, Gerogianni declared that everyone at the office had expectations about the new elected government. “We never accepted our dismissals, and this is why we are still here.”

Christos Avramidis is another member of the ERT’s newsroom for the past 12 years who remains in his position despite the closure of the organisation.

On the occupation of the facilities in Thessaloniki and the fact that police troops didn’t try to “clean-up” and seize the building as they did in ERT’s headquarters in Athens the day of the “black,” Avramidis claimed that “they wouldn’t get in while they were passing anti-social laws through heavy taxation of the working class at the time.”

He also  noted that,  “this was a victory for the workers’ movement not only here, but wider, across the whole country.”

New broadcaster in the post-ERT era

ERT
(Source: Guardian.co.uk)

In the aftermath of the closure of ERT, the Greek government announced the establishment of a new low-cost public broadcaster with Radio, TV and Internet departments to fill the gap left by ERT. New Hellenic Radio Internet and Television (NERIT) broadcasted nationwide less than one year after ERT’s closure, on the May, 4, 2014. ERT employers still are not acknowledging the existence of the newly-formed public broadcaster.

A few blocks away from ERT’s newsroom, at Aggelaki street in the Greek vice-capital, is the NERIT office. Xanthos Chitas, a former ERT news director since 1992 is now working for the organization.

“The effort to make a new public broadcaster in the post-ERT era was the right thing to do,” Chitas remarked as our interview began. “I don’t know and I don’t think that ERT was indeed an expensive operator. I have no evidence for it — and it would be wise for anyone with evidence to speak when it comes to blaming such an institution as ERT was.”

Chitas is not an advocate of the decision to close ERT. “I am against the ‘black signal.’ I don’t think that anyone agreed to what happened. It was unacceptable,” he argued. “It was censorship of freedom of speech in the media. ERT had the biggest geographical and population coverage. It was unacceptable to close it the way they did it, especially for the staff — both journalists and technicians. Those who are still there deserve more than just credit.”

In a review of the facts since the “black” of ERT, many have linked the government’s call to shut down the public broadcaster to private corporations’ convenience. In this regard the former journalist of ERT, and now member of NERIT’s crew, claimed that “this act had nothing to do with austerity, as many said, nor opacity within ERT. It was an act that privileged the private digital network operators that provide a digital terrestrial television transmission network in Greece — something that ERT was doing by 2013.”

At the time of writing, ERT employees are still on service, operating an online TV program from Thessaloniki available online as well as across 17 local radio stations in the Greek countryside, as wekk as a news’ portal. Their demonstrations have been supported by the majority of the labour population in Greece and European media corporations. The new-elected coalition government of SYRIZA and Independent Greeks political parties has promised to reopen the public broadcaster in the near future.

The instance of ERT is not the only instance of controversy in the regard of labour rights in Greece. Similar cases in both private and public sectors mirror the negative employment landscape, such as mass dismissals from Hellenic Coca-Cola by 3E Limited and school teachers’ and janitors’ dismissals reflect a crucial part of Greece’s dire job market. The redundancies account for more than 18,000 jobs within in one year.

Analysis by Konstantinos Koulocheris

These comments are for " Humanitarian crisis in Greece with closure of ERT news organization and mass layoffs "

2 thoughts on “Humanitarian crisis in Greece with closure of ERT news organization and mass layoffs”

  1. Thanks for your nice words!

    PS: ‘The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.’
    -Karl Marx, Communist Manifesto

  2. Great article! We’re so insular in the UK; I had no idea this was going on so close to us. You can’t help but think of Marx and his call for workers of the world to unite…

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‘Joujou’ is another name for hope in the Brazilian wetlands

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A male jaguar named Joujou has returned to his home sweet home in the wild.

In Brazil he has become a symbol of the efforts of environmentalists, volunteers and firefighters to protect and restore a much affected strip of the Pantanal, the world’s largest tropical wetland area, which was ravaged by the fires last year.

Little by little, vegetation returning to the Serra do Amolar, a chain of mountains considered an environmental treasure because of the large number of species it houses.

Before the fires, 62 jaguars had been monitored in the region. Today, researchers are unable to say how many have survived and how many have returned to their habitat, which was scorched in the worst sequence of fires in 14 years. Between January and September of 2020, 2.3 million acres have been on fire, an area which is two times as big as the city of Rio de Janeiro.

Joujou the catJoujou has become a symbol of hope because he was shown on national TV with his paws burned. Some Brazilians said they cried in front of the screen when they saw the big cat suffering so much. In November, two jaguars were rescued. They could barely move. One of them didn’t make it. Joujou was taken to a center for housing and treatment of wild animals in the city of Campo Grande, capital of the state of Mato Grosso do Sul.

After months of intensive care, this example of the Americas’ biggest feline has recovered entirely and was flown back to Pantanal. Joujou now has a tracking collar and will be monitored for a year. He reached the hospital weighing just a hundred pounds. He now weighs almost 180 pounds.

Many other animals – including anteaters, armadillos, snakes, alligators and other jaguars – did not survive the blaze. However, Joujou, beautiful and strong, has been returned home safe and sound.

By Jorge Valente

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The priest who left no sharp stones

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SAO PAOLO, Brazil – One of the most iconic figures in the fight for the homeless in the city of São Paulo has been in the spotlight since the beginning of February.

Father Julio Lancelotti learned that the City Hall’s authorities had decided to cover the ground under a bridge with pointed stones, a move to prevent the homeless from sleeping underneath.

A reputed advocate of human rights, father Lancelotti had no second thoughts about the line of action he was about to take.

With a sledgehammer in hand, he took to the streets and positioned himself right below the bridge. And then attacked and destroyed furiously what he considered another serious breach of human rights in a city already plagued by many other violations.

On social media he later posted a picture showing the result of his action and wrote, “Outrage against oppression”.

São Paulo is believed to have more than 24,000 homeless living below the poverty line, according to a 2019 survey. But Human Rights Watch groups say this number skyrocketed during the pandemic.

City Hall authorities said that the decision to put the stones under the bridge was an “isolated action” and had already fired the employee who was in charge of the task.

Father Lancelotti, however, was skeptical about this take on things, and said another similar action had already been done, commenting, “It’s inhuman, looks like a concentration camp.”

By Jorge Valente

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Tourists damage 1500-year-old Gate of the Sun and rock monoliths in Bolivia’s ancient city of Tiwanaku

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Four women and one man from the eastern city of Santa Cruz were charged with damaging the carved stone relics of the civilization that flourished for five centuries on the site, forerunner of the Inca empire. The pre-Columbian ruins are part of the country’s most important archaeological treasures.

After seeing what they described as “suspicious activity,” caretakers said the group splashed the structures with an oily substance that stained surfaces and that experts say would attract gases into the stone, causing internal changes and deterioration.

By Milan Sime Martinic

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Myanmar university students rally near Chinese embassy, protest SEAFOOD

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YANGON, Myanmar – University students in Yangon rallied near the Chinese embassy Feb. 27 and called for the Chinese government not to cooperate with the Myanmar military.

Protesters in Myanmar suspect that China is transporting hardware devices to build a firewall for controlling the internet in Myanmar. When the protesters asked the question, the embassy told them that China was sending SEAFOOD to Myanmar. “SEAFOOD” is defines as Software Engineering Approaches for Offshore and Outsourced Development.

There are three main telecommunication companies in Myanmar: MPT, Ooredo and Telenor have provided faster internet connections since 2014.

At present, there is an internet blackout between 1am to 9am daily throughout Myanmar, and when it is available, internet connections are slower than before the military grabbed power from the democratically-elected government.

By Htay Win
Featured image credit: Sit Htet Aung

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Japan’s ruling party to allow women to watch its board meetings, but no talking

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Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party will invite up to five of its female members of parliament to board meetings, but they should not speak. This was announced by the party as it took what it said was a step toward equality.

“It’s important to fully understand what kind of discussions are going on,” said Toshihiro Nikai, the LDP general secretary. “Look. That’s what it’s about.” Nakai added that women should not have a say in the proceedings but can submit suggestions in writing after the meetings have concluded.

The party’s action has sparked criticism from the opposition, which charges male chauvinism and discrimination against women is ingrained in the LDP, which depends on the voices of Japan’s strong nationalist circles with their traditional role models. They are tentative in grappling with women-friendly ideas, according to women’s groups, and progress is slow. The party’s make-up is 40% female, but women only hold 10% of its parliamentary seats, a figure far below the 25% global average.

According to the World Economic Forum 2020 report, Japan ranks 121 out of 153 countries in its gender parity global ranking.

By Milan Sime Martinic

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