|Employees of the state broadcaster Net protest at the company's headquarters north of Athens.|
By NIKI KITSANTONIS
June 11 2013
ATHENS — In a surprise move, Greece’s conservative-led coalition government said Tuesday that it would shut down the state broadcaster Net as part of a cost-cutting drive imposed by the country’s foreign creditors, prompting protests from labor unions and the government’s increasingly alienated junior partners, which said they had not been consulted.
Describing Net as a “modern-day scandal” and “a unique case of lack of transparency and waste,” a government spokesman, Simos Kedikoglou, said Net would stop broadcasting at midnight on Tuesday and reopen soon as a “modern state organization” with a fraction of its 2,900 employees.
Net has not been implicated in corruption scandals any more than any other state organization, and Mr. Kedikoglou’s strong language was broadly seen as the government’s attempt to show creditors that it was boldly and decisively moving to cut waste in the public sector.
Following the broadcast of the spokesman’s remarks on Net, the station’s anchors and commentators engaged in a furious live discussion lamenting their fate.
Reacting to the news, unions representing the workers crowded outside the broadcaster’s headquarters, north of Athens, and told reporters that they would stage sit-ins to ensure that Net’s five state television channels — three broadcast, one satellite and one cable — and 29 radio stations remained on the air. (Net has 2,650 full-time employees and about 250 people on short-term contracts.)
Standing with the protesters, a spokesman for the main leftist opposition party, Syriza, accused the government of “extreme despotism” in closing Net.
Earlier in the day, the government submitted an emergency bill to Greece’s Parliament — a type of decree that does not require lawmakers’ approval — enabling the merging and abolition of state companies and paving the way for Net’s closure. The move prompted an angry response by the junior partners in the coalition government — the Socialist Party, known as Pasok, and the more moderate Democratic Left — which accused the dominant conservatives of failing to consult them, an increasingly common complaint.
“The public broadcaster cannot close,” Pasok said in a statement. “A three-party government cannot make decisions without the participation of all party leaders.”
The surprise announcement came a day after representatives of Greece’s troika of foreign lenders — the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund — returned to Athens for fresh talks on the progress of the country’s economic reform program. A focus of the talks is a Greek pledge to lay off 4,000 civil servants this year, including 2,000 over the summer. Speculation has been rife in recent weeks that the bloated state broadcaster could be a target for the first round of layoffs demanded by the troika.