ATHENS – Greece’s promises not to meddle politically in a new state broadcaster reportedly haven’t been met and the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), the professional association of national broadcasters, wants answers from the government.
The EBU said it wants an explanation about how the supervisory board of the new state radio and TV broadcaster, NERIT, is appointed, fearing it may threaten the organization’s independence.
NERIT was formed earlier this year to replace the now-defunct ERT, which was summarily shut down a year ago with the firing of all 2,653 workers. ERT had been packed with patronage hires and was heavily criticized for inefficiency and overspending and for workers being hired on the orders of politicians.
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who directed the closing as part of plans to meet the demands of international lenders who wanted firings and deep spending cuts, said NERIT would run without political interference but EBU said that apparently hasn’t been the case.
Early in May, only 48 hours after NERIT went on the air, its President and Managing Director, former Columbia University Professor Giorgos Prokopakis, leading him to rail that people were being appointed to jobs for which they weren’t qualified, bypassing requirements set by the Supreme Council for Personnel Selection (ASEP). He didn’t say who appointed them.
He was replaced by Athens University academic Antonis Makrydimitris as head of the executive board, whose members charged that Prokopakis had failed to cooperate properly with NERIT’s supervisory council, which he vehemently denied.
“This is absolutely absurd,” Prokopakis told the Athens-Macedonian News Agency. “Some powers do not want this channel,” he said.
He said he was also angry that what he said was the failings of other board members meant that the broadcast on NERIT was an old Greek movie, although the station had months to get ready.
There hasn’t been any revelation of who was hired to work at NERIT although the government said it would bring back about half the former ERT staff to run a leaner operation.
The EBU letter reportedly said that it was “surprised and deeply disappointed” by the change in the way the board is formed. The EBU had strongly opposed the government’s decision to shut down ERT and helped stream programs from the closed station for several weeks.
The EBU said the NERIT shutdown was “a damning first in the history of European broadcasting.” Eventually though, the EBU agreed to support NERIT, but only after receiving assurances there wouldn’t be any political interference as ERT had.
An amendment – it wasn’t said who submitted it – was passed quietly in Parliament on Aug. 5 allowing lawmakers to elect the members of NERIT’s supervisory board from candidates submitted by the government, which controls the body, meaning Samaras could, de facto, put anyone he wants on the board.
According to the amendment, the board members would not be elected by the House’s plenary but at the Conference of Presidents, which consists of the Speaker and Deputy Speakers who are from Samaras’ ruling New Democracy Conservatives, the presidents of standing committees, the heads of each parliamentary group and a representative of independent MPs.
“The rules of appointment have been changed virtually overnight, without proper debate, and without considering best practice in Europe, which is a pity,” said the EBU’s Director General Ingrid Deltenre.
“The original appointment procedure in last year’s law was unique and looked overly complex and time-consuming. But unfortunately the new procedure lacks the legal safeguards to ensure the independence and pluralism of the supervisory council,” she added.
Major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) lawmaker Dimitris Papadimoulis asked for the European Commission to intervene, although it has close ties with Samaras and is ruled by fellow Conservatives. SYRIZA noted that the Commission had also agreed that public broadcasters should be supervised by an independent body.
The tiny Democratic Left (DIMAR), which quit the coalition over ERT’s closure, suggested NERIT’s credibility was in question as a result of the change to how the members of the supervisory council are appointed, but its leader, Fotis Kouvelis, reportedly is line to be the choice of the ruling coalition of New Democracy and the PASOK Socialists as its nominee for Greek President.
“You will find many different procedures in Europe and some of them might be even worse than the Greek model,” said Deltenre. “But even more important for us is that the independence of a public broadcaster is not only a matter of legal safeguards but a matter of responsible behavior by all political actors, including the members of the supervisory council and each and every staff member of NERIT. We should hold them accountable to live up to their promises.”
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