ATHENS – Much of Greece’s media was hit with a 24-hour strike on Aug. 5 by journalists protesting a bill they said would benefit their bosses but not them.
The strike was to run through 10 a.m. on Aug. 6 as the unions accused the government of trying to serve the interest of media moguls through an amendment put before Parliament.
The unions said that the bill would lead to lead a concentration of media mergers and mass firings in an industry already decimated by an ongoing crushing economic crisis, with some newspapers and radio and TV stations closing down and a number of journalists going unpaid for months.
“The amendment allows media groups to merge with the excuse of reducing costs but in effect provides indebted businessmen a path to safety,” the unions said in statement and called for the amendment to be changed.
Greece’s politicians and media leaders have been accused of being cozy with each other, with party-aligned newspapers and other outlets backing government policies in return for lucrative ads, and opposition parties taking shots at the ruling administration.
The unionists’ demands followed a request from the major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) for the amendment to be withdrawn.
SYRIZA described as “provocative” the measure it said allows mass dismissals in the sector even though there are strict conditions for such sackings in other sectors of the economy, where workers are supposed to receive generous severance packages, which the country’s international lenders wanted withdrawn.
The would-be law treats employees from the same group of companies as being from the same firm, thereby allowing media groups to bypass restrictions on firings.
The amendment also allows radio stations to change their formats (e.g. from news to music) by applying to the National Council for Radio and Television rather than having to hand their license back to the state and bid for the frequency again.
It also allows broadcasters and publishers to keep applying a nuisance tax, known as “angeliosimo” in Greek, which has to be paid by anyone advertising on their media and which goes towards paying employees’ social security contributions.
The 22-page amendment was attached to a measure which had nothing to do with it, acceptance of a donation from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation to create a hostel for the families of cancer patients.
SYRIZA also asked parliamentary speaker Evangelos Meimarakis to throw out the amendment on the grounds that “it bears no relation to the bill it was submitted with.”
He, however, is a member of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ ruling New Democracy party and a bitter opponent of SYRIZA with whom he has clashed before.