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Greek coalition parties meet to try to settle state TV row

After Greece's highest administrative court suspends state broadcaster closure order, coalition leaders struggle on how to relaunch it 'in a smaller capacity'

Reuters , Wednesday 19 Jun 2013
An employee in the ERT control room wipes tears as she works with colleagues to broadcast a web TV signal (Photo: Reuters)

Greece's ruling party leaders met on Wednesday to try to agree when and how to resume state TV broadcasts, two days after a top court ordered the immediate reopening of the state broadcaster ERT, abruptly closed by the government a week ago.

ERT's screens were black or showing colour bars for an eighth straight day after Prime Minister Antonis Samaras's unexpected decision to pull the plug at a few hours' notice to save money and help shore up Greece's bankrupt state finances. His government said it would pay off the staff, and reopen the broadcaster later in a smaller, leaner form.

The resulting outrage from the two junior coalition partners as well as opposition parties and trade unions has plunged Greece into fresh political turmoil just a year after it went to the polls.

While the risk of a snap election has significantly faded since Monday's court ruling, the rift between the allies remains wide.

On Monday, Samaras proposed a cabinet reshuffle and promised to revise the coalition agreement to ensure that his conservative New Democracy party consulted more closely with the Socialist PASOK and Democratic Left.

A senior government official said Samaras had since offered PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos and Democratic Left head Fotis Kouvelis more concessions on ERT, but both had rejected them. He did not elaborate on what these concessions were.

"The only thing he cannot back down on is the closure of ERT and the need to proceed with the reforms," said the official, who declined to be named.

Monday's ruling by the Council of State, Greece's highest administrative court, suspended the closure order, meaning ERT could resume transmission until a follow-up hearing in the coming days. A final ruling is expected in September.

PASOK and Democratic Left want ERT to reopen exactly as it was before until the smaller version is launched. Samaras's conservative New Democracy wants a transitional broadcaster run by only a few staff that will broadcast a few ready-made programmes.

"It is unacceptable for a democratic government ... to continue behaving in this way and not comply with the Council of State decisions on such serious matters," PASOK spokeswoman Fofi Gennimata told local radio.

Some 2,600 staff who have defied management orders to leave the studio since ERT was taken off air last Tuesday continued broadcasting a bootleg version over the Internet, with newscasters lamenting that the government was dragging its feet on the issue.

"We are marking the second 24 hours since the government failed to implement the court's decision," anchorwoman Alexandra Douvara said as she opened the afternoon news bulletin.

Journalists' unions tried to bring a suit on Wednesday against Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras and government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou, a deputy minister on media issues, for not implementing the court order to reopen ERT, court officials said on Wednesday.

However, Greek ministers cannot be prosecuted unless parliament decides to lift their immunity.

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