Greece: Struggle over public broadcaster unites left

Issue 

The protests and demonstrations over the announced closing of the whole Greek Public Television and Radio Network (ERT) by the Greek government on June 11, are not only about the proposed firing of 2650 workers, nor are they simply a protest about the severe blow to quality broadcasting and entertainment.

The government proposal for completely dismantling ERT and replacing it with a new much smaller company is one of the measures dictated by the troika of the European Commission, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Central Bank. It acted as a catalyst for what is being perceived as an authoritarian turn that endangers basic social and democratic rights.

This can explain the impressive turnout in protests on June 11 and 12. Especially, during the first night when all signal of the three public TV networks was lost, thousands of people rushed to the headquarters of ERT and to local stations all over Greece.

The feeling and the atmosphere was reminiscent of the days of May-June 2011 and the “movement of the Squares” against austerity and for real democracy. Many people also gathered at ERT headquarters on the second night, making sure that it would be impossible for police forces to enter.

At the same time, the debate has been a test for the strength of the Greek coalition government, which has been under heavy pressure.

In this light of pressure from the troika for more austerity, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and his advisors opted for an aggressive stance against public television. For Samaras, ERT seemed like an ideal target: an example of “big spending” state and public sectors unions that supposedly “defended their privileges”.

What it did not take into account was the fact that, in the eyes of many citizens, ERT also symbolised public service, objective reporting, and quality entertainment.

At the same time, it was obvious that leaving news broadcasting only to private media and their ties to particular corporations, would only seriously undermine democracy.

Moreover, the whole method of shutting down a public corporation with 2650 workers with a single government act seemed like a legislative coup d'etat and an extreme case of state authoritarianism.

Such a perception was justified since Samaras and his New Democracy Party that head the coalition government have been moving towards a very authoritarian combination of neoliberalism and neo-conservatism. This is exemplified in law-and-order rhetoric, anti-union measures (such as the “back to work order” against striking secondary education teachers), and anti-immigrant policies.

However, for the other two smaller parties of the pro-troika tripartite government, PASOK and Democratic Left, this turn meant an extra pressure on them. This can account for their opposition to the law shutting down Public Television. (On June 21, Democratic left withdrew from the government.)

This kind of a government crisis as a result of protests against a government decision is another example of the depth of social contest and struggle in Greece. It is proof that there are still important social and political dynamics that come forward.

The attack on ERT acted as the condensation of a broader range of grievances. It highlighted the fact that Greece has been going through a major political crisis, with the potential to turn into a deeper crisis.

It is also important to note that this struggle has brought together different social and political forces. It has been an opportunity for a united presence and struggle of the forces of the Greek Left.

In the rallies outside the headquarters of ERT, one can see the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), The Greek Communist Party (KKE)and the Anti-capitalist Left Cooperation for the Overthrow (ANTARSYA) flags side by side. SYRIZA offered its radio station and KKE its TV Station as means to re-broadcast the ERT's signal.

The very fact that ERT has kept on broadcasting, even as a web-TV station, under the control of its workforce — opening up its programs to social movements, trade unions and intellectuals — is a powerful example of the different functioning of the public sector based on self-management and social responsibility, not market trends.

In this sense, it is also an experiment in self-management and worker’s control.

The general strike on June 13 and the mass rally in front of ERT headquarters, in which all forces of the Left took part, showed the potential for bringing together social and political forces into a movement for the overthrow of the government.

It shows the potential to open up of a different road for Greek society, one that will get us out of the vicious circle of austerity, unemployment and recession in the name of fulfilling the terms of the bail-out agreements and staying within the embedded neoliberalism of the Eurozone. The fight is far from over.

[Reprinted from The Futre Last a Long Time. Panagiotis Sotiris teaches social theory, social and political philosophy at the Department of Sociology of the University of the Aegean. ]