ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece's conservative-led government was facing a political crisis yesterday after its decision to shut down state-run TV and radio triggered a wave of strikes and fierce opposition from within the coalition government.
The country's two largest labour unions called a 24-hour general strike for today with flights from Greece's airports set to halt for two hours that day.
TV and radio signals from the Hellenic Broadcasting Corp, or ERT, went dead early yesterday, hours after the government closed the broadcaster down and fired its 2,500 workers, citing the need to cut "incredible waste". Since being bailed out three years ago, Greece has been on a cost-cutting drive demanded by its international creditors.
Several thousand protesters gathered outside the company's headquarters north of Athens for a second day — sheltering from torrential rainfall in the building's giant lobby — as ERT's journalists defied the order and continued a live Internet broadcast.
"We've managed to keep the broadcast going through the analogue signal and web links," said Panagiotis Kalfagianis, leader of Greek federation of broadcast employees.
"The government has tried, using the riot police and technical means, to cut off ERT's signal. In some cases they succeeded, and in some they have not."
Journalist unions have also launched rolling 24-hour strikes, halting news programmes on Greece's privately owned broadcasters, while the government's centre-left coalition partners demanded that ERT's closure be reversed.
The government defended its decision, insisting a new, more efficient and less costly public broadcaster would be launched before the end of the summer.
"There was an enclave of waste and we got rid of it. They bother some people because they wanted to keep it going," conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said.
ERT started radio programming in the 1930s and television in the mid-1960s. Though it was widely regarded as reflecting government policy — it had a channel run by the military during the 1967-74 dictatorship — the broadcaster was also valued for showcasing regional and cultural content and for covering major sporting events such as the football World Cup and the Olympics.
ERT is largely state-funded, with every Greek household paying a fee through its electricity bills — whether they have a TV set or not. There are also several private broadcasters in Greece, including Mega, Antenna and Skai.
ERT employee Kaity Potha, 55, said the government was blaming the broadcaster's staff for its own incompetence, which included giving high-paid jobs at the broadcaster in return for political patronage.
"Our salaries have been cut 45 per cent in the past three years," she said. "Every clown who governed Greece in recent decades dumped us not only with their own governing board but also with 200-300 new staff — their salaries have not been cut."
The surprise closure of ERT is one of the biggest crises to hit the three-party coalition government since it was formed nearly a year ago.
Samaras faces escalating opposition from his own coalition partners — the Socialist Pasok and Democratic Left party — for the decision.