ATHENS – Two years after being shut down without notice, Greece’s former national broadcaster ERT returned to the air June 12, bringing back hundreds of workers let go after criticism the station was wildly overstaffed.
The station absorbs the station which replaced it, NERIT, which had been staffed with other former ERT workers rehired to run a national broadcaster with far fewer people.
Restoring ERT was a priority of Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA Alexis Tsipras, who was irked that several previously-announced restarting dates weren’t kept.
The new ERT, with a fervent nationalistic theme and the national anthem playing, started up as workers hugged each other and cried, happy to get back their jobs after they were fired on orders of then-Premier and New Democracy Conservative leader Antonis Samaras to meet demands of international lenders.
Some 2,653 were let go in 2013 and fewer than half were brought back to run NERIT. Tsipras had fumed over the firings and vowed to bring back all the workers even though the country is essentially broke and facing more austerity measures.
Employees gathered on the set in the early hours of June 12 in tears as anchors prepared to present the first early-morning talk show, Reuters reported.
“It’s a special day for all Greeks, for Philhellenes, for those who love Greece and for those who love freedom of information,” anchor Nikos Aggelidis said at the start of the show. “We’re nervous. We’re very touched.”
Visibly moved, his co-presenter Vasiliki Haina added in a shaky voice: “It’s a special day for us, a difficult day.” The news ticker at the bottom of the screen read: “The return of ERT two years since the black.”
ERT, which cost 300 million euros a year to run, is expected to take over NERIT, whose logo went off the air. Workers climbed to the top of the broadcaster’s headquarters earlier this week to remove the letter’s “N” and “I” from the sign.
Tsipras’ SYRIZA party called its re-opening “a great victory for democracy” despite criticisms when it was closed that ERT was a patronage dumping ground for political hires and hacks. A concert to celebrate its launch was planned outside its headquarters for the evening.
ERT shut down on June 11, 2013 with newscasters cut-off mid-sentence, and set off a firestorm of protests, brought thousands to the streets and led to the withdrawal of the Democratic Left (DIMAR) from a coalition led by New Democracy and including the PASOK Socialists.
The move divided Greeks, many of whom saw ERT as a waste and political hiring ground and funded by forced deposits from citizens.
There were months of rallies calling for its restoration and condemnation of the closing by journalists around the world despite criticism ERT was essentially a place for politicians to put favorite hires.
The government has said all of the roughly 2,500 staff who were made redundant, including 600 journalists, would be rehired at a cost of about 30 million euros a year, covered through an existing monthly charge on electricity bills, the same way it was funded before.