May 9, 2014, 11:22 p.m.

"Democracy: no signal"

Nikos Ornithopoulos is among the initiators of the Solidarity Kitchen in Katerini. Today is food collection and distribution day and Nikos has been running around everywhere all morning, coordinating cars going to transport food collected in front of supermarkets, helping volunteers to organise and distribute the food to those in need, and answering many questions from the curious Eastern Caravan crew…

For the World Press Freedom Day on May 3rd, he went back with us on the closure of public television in Greece. And here’s what he told us…


June 11th 2013 was a black day for Greek media. As journalists from the public broadcaster Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT) were working, the signal was shut down. “This moment marked the end of democracy and was worthy of the 1967-74 military junta dictatorship. What kind of country closes its national television while journalists are still working? This was not a random act and happened with the specific aim to serve business interests”.

Only one (private) company in Greece provides digital television signals: Digea. It was established by the shareholders of private TV stations, who happen to be some of the richest men in Greece (including Vardinogiannis, Bobolas, Kiriakou, Psiharis, Kontominas and Alafouzos). Since Digea has a complete monopoly on the frequencies, it wasn’t possible for ERT to transmit its programmes on other signals. They tried at first to air news using other signals (902 TV for instance), but these signals were soon enough closed as well.

The 2700 ERT workers were promised that they would be re-hired after the restructuring of ERT. This number corresponded to the number of civil servants that the Troika (European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund) had recently asked Greece to lay off in its memorandum. There is strong argument to believe that the restructuring of public television wasn’t done with the purpose of improving TV quality as it was claimed, but to satisfy the Troika’s demands and to shut down national voice in one go.

Nikos spoke of a “vicious triangle” between big investors, government and media: these powerful and very rich investors win most major public sector contracts, have a very strong influence on the government and control the media notably through Digea. In this triangle, each helps the other out through propaganda, corruption, fake reports; in the end, these investors have the power to indirectly pass any laws and policies that are in their interest. Is there any other place in Europe where democracy is so openly and blatantly violated?

Media pluralism in Greece but also in Europe is an immediate concern. The closure of ERT was followed by many demonstrations and solidarity initiatives, in Greece and internationally. For some time, many ERT journalists continued to work for free, sending out their programmes on the web.

Since almost a year now, the Greek countryside (and many more in cities as well!) doesn’t have a voice anymore as many journalists who were based all over the country, including in peripheral areas, have been laid off.

“Not only the closed station should re-open, but also all the peripheral stations closed as well. We need help at the European level, through signatures and condemnation of what happened”.

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