NUJ Brussels backs API and condemns closure of ERT

Brussels, 18/06/2013. NUJ Brussels today voted to back the statement issued on 12 June by the Association de la Presse internationale (API), condemning the closure of Greek broadcaster ERT without warning or consultation.

This branch believes that public broadcasting has a vital role to play in every European country, in setting standards both for employment conditions and the integrity of programme and news content. In view of the pressures within private broadcasting companies from both owners and advertisers on workers’ rights and editorial freedoms, it is vital that public broadcasters are able to provide trustworthy information for viewers and listeners. The closure of Greece’s entire public broadcasting system is a fundamental and unacceptable attack on media freedom and democracy itself.

NUJ Brussels expresses its solidarity with all ERT staff. It demands that a public broadcasting service should be put back on air at once, and that any future rationalisation should take place in full consultation with employees and trade unions.

API statement

The International Press Association (API) considers the closure of the Greek public broadcaster, ERT, and the summary dismissal of its 2,656 staff to be indefensible and calls on the European Union institutions to demand an immediate reversal of the decision.

The claim by the European Commission that neither it nor the troika appointed to Greece, of which it is a member, was aware of the government decision is no defence.

It must have known of the legislative decree signed just prior to the announcement of the closure of ERT that allows ministers to shut down public entities. It failed to ensure the protection of institutions of
democracy as a result of this decree, or any other government action taken in response to pressure from the troika to reduce state spending. Curtailing free and plural media cannot be justified by economic considerations.

API, which represents Brussels based international correspondents, welcomes the Commission statement saying it “supports the role of public broadcasting as an integral part of European democracy”. Considering this and the protocol in the Treaty of Amsterdam that states “the system of public broadcasting in the Member States is directly related to the democratic, social and cultural needs of each society and to the need to preserve media pluralism”, the Commission has a duty to act in this case.

Claims that the Greek broadcaster cost substantially more than similar bodies in other member states or that it was part of a clientilist system operated by some Greek political parties do not justify the action. The indiscriminate accusation that hundreds of journalists working at ERT were mere political cronies constitutes unsubstantiated and dangerous populism. It should be noted that ERT has been widely praised in Greece for its high quality documentaries and investigative reporting.

The fact that the closure and dismissal of ERT’s staff is the first direct public sector lay off after three years of the troika’s continuing demands for rationalisation of the public sector, and that it was done without public consultation or a vote in Parliament must also raise questions about intentions behind the move.

The desire to reform and improve the quality of public services in the country is appreciated and respected, but the interruption of transmission and cutting of the power supply from ERT antennas by police forces, while a breaking news programme was on air, just a few hours after the official announcement was made, is a shocking negation of press freedom and represents a danger to democracy.

API expresses its solidarity with all ERT staff, not least colleagues working from Brussels, and hopes that the broadcaster will be back on air immediately when consultations about any required rationalisation take place in line with the EU’s continued emphasis on the need for engagement with social partners.

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