View from the inside: majorities and minorities
Vasilis Vasilopoulos, Head of Digital News, ERT
There has always been the majority of people working for the broadcaster who have made a favourable impression on Greek society. The battle for information was fought on a daily basis, validity and reliability being the primary issues (Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation’s designated purpose never being to aim at high viewing and listening ratings but, mainly, to be acknowledged as a public and social service that lived up to its reciprocal role). This was a battle waged under adverse circumstances due to the undermining actions of politically controlled executives holding key positions in the broadcaster. 1
One of many things proving the successful endeavour of ERT employees, was that the public broadcaster held the first position in viewing ratings during the two 2012 elections, with private TV channel “MEGA” coming second, according to a web medium connected to the latter. However, those who have been trying to blend in with the purpose of getting rid of their “past sins” or to protect their interests in the capacity of trade unionists clearly stand out and any such effort on their part is practically pointless. 2
Another testimony to the high quality of the journalistic material and the work produced by the broadcaster are the dozens of awards journalist Yorgos Avgeropoulos has been presented his films in “EXANDAS” Documentary Series. The most recent one under the title: “Stealing from the Poor”.
The 677 journalists working for ERT, both in Greece and abroad, along with 1477 technicians and staff producing ERT programme - who had never been paid the wages of their “high profile” colleagues – worked on the journalistic material distributed
by NET TV channel, “Proto Programma” radio station and ERT3, which, after having been moderated, was then broadcast by the rest of television and radio stations. NET was the main news TV channel broadcasting news from Greece and the world. News bulletins were the focal point of distributing information around which a whole structure had been formed consisting of current affairs shows, sport events broadcasts of a 2-hour duration per day, infotainment shows and both Greek and international documentary films. The news channel (NET) programme was enriched with Greek and foreign films; there were also entertainment shows addressed to a broader audience on weekends.
ET1 was ERT TV channel focused on culture. In addition to a basic news feed, its programme included Greek and foreign TV series, modern Greek films, foreign films participating in international film festivals, short films produced by ERT, award-winning international films, international coproduction, recent Greek and foreign documentary series and Greek and foreign children shows addressed both to school children and pre-schoolers. ET1 channel focused mainly on the Arts and Letters and the current way of living, broadcasting shows on ecological, multicultural and social issues. Visual and performing arts, literature and portraits of artists and other intellectuals, new technologies, an ecological way of living and the “understanding of strangers” focusing on migration, comprised the main subjects of its shows. 3
Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation constituted of: 3 Pan-Hellenic range TV channels, 1 satellite TV channel, 1 HD channel, 7 Pan-Hellenic range radio stations, 3 radio stations located in Thessaloniki, 19 local radio stations, 3 musical ensembles, “Radioteleorasi” radio-television magazine, a museum-archive dating back to 1938 and 15 sites run by the Multimedia department. Journalists and technicians produced a 12-hour programme per day for each one of the TV channels, NET, ET1, ERT3 etc.
ERT3, for example, with one television and three radio stations based in Thessaloniki, had 420 employees. 240 employees - 90 journalists among them - worked in television, producing a high quality programme to be coveted by many commercial broadcasters. An 8-hour live programme was broadcast every day, composed of 11 hours of news, 2 hours of sports, 5 hours of cultural shows and 6 hours of entertainment. There were 17 journalists, 6 developers and graphic designers employed in the Multimedia department who had created and been running 15 web sites, “www.ert.gr” being the foremost one, with no additional cost for the broadcaster. There were 400 updates, 25 edited multimedia posts, 65 rewriting of news updates, social media (Facebook, Twitter etc) distribution (moderation) of the sum of ERT news feed on a daily basis.
But in order to explain what has really happened at the Greek Public Broadcaster, they should probably focus not only on the hard working majority, but on a special minority as well: the corporation’s past management. This is because key positions in the top management have often been assigned to people of the government’s and the competent minister’s absolute confidence. Although these executives held the management of a financially independent corporation - with revenue of 300 million euros per year through electricity bills where an “ERT fee” of 4.28 euros per household/ per month was included - they have paved the road to a crisis. It only took them one year to create all the necessary conditions for the corporation to shut down, mainly by undermining its goodwill. And when the critical moment came, they were the first to “abandon ship”.The time before the crisis
In the past ten years, people appointed at the corporation management had been literally handing out thousands of euros to high-profile executives and star journalists or directors. They had even been hiring people who possessed none of the essential qualifications to be employed by the corporation.
In a general atmosphere of deep corruption and arbitrariness, impunity and unaccountability, they have been hiring a significant number of highly paid employees. They wasted money on extravagances for private studio productions (there are ten such cases against the corporation’s administration during the years 2004-2009, at the courts of law at the moment; the accused have to be presumpted as innocent.) They even reached the point of obtaining several million euros bank loans in the name of the corporation, while offering themselves bonuses of 100000 euros at the end of each year, for, allegedly, having reached the aims they had set themselves. This type of management caused tens of millions of euros damages to the corporation and inevitably led it to a process of painful revitalization. The number of the corporation employees had at some time reached that of 4000 people between the years 2000 and 2010. Eventually, a process of rationalization began, leading to the final number of 2650 employees. At the same time 29 persons were scandalously hired with 3500 euros remunerations per month. During the 2010s the “chosen” ones’ remunerations whether newly hired or old executives of the corporation reached the amount of 40000 euros per month. A group of a hundred journalists and executives were paid from 25000 to 35000 euros between the years 2004 and 2009. Remember: We speak about a minority. The majority of employees were being paid 800 to 1200 euros, of course. It is typical that one of the main arguments of the Greek government for shutting down ERT was its state of deep corruption. The only thing is that this corruption was attested to by a document released by the head of ERT internal affairs department, who had been recently appointed. This document referred to several scandalous cases of the management period 2004-2009, already being under investigation by the law. The problems caused during this period, were made apparent when the past three fiscal years showed a surplus of 30 to 60 million euros, a fact that led to the Ministry of Finance to receive 75 million euros annually through ERT, coming from fees paid by Greek citizens.How we had been led to the crisis
May 2013. According to the corporation’s Directorate General of Financial Affairs, the corporation’s budget implementation in the first quarter of 2013 shows a 40 million euros surplus that has been given to the Ministry of Finance towards the country’s debt. This fact is unprecedented and it is being investigated (and should be investigated both by a chartered accountant and the law), given that the last company’s administration had assigned key positions to people who failed to publisize the corporations’s balance sheet on June 11th.The complete disintegration is confirmed by the fact that unionists had been exercising pressure towards the hiring of another two employees at the balance sheet composition department. 4
On Sunday, May 26th, Greek newspaper “Real” revealed that the Greek government planned to shut down ERT and dismiss all its employees. 5
It seems that a week before this piece of information was confirmed the political decision had already taken shape causing unbearable political pressure to the three parties of the coalition government. The two minor partners of the coalition asked the prime minister’s environment for clarifications, trying at the same time to dispel the impression that they had already been in agreement with the decision. However, there has never occurred a negation of the article foretelling the “black” television screens. The whole issue turned into a political thriller, leading to Radical Left – DIMAR party leaving the coalition and, eventually, to a cabinet reshuffle. During that specific week some ERT executives had disappeared and never made any effort to ask for the government’s confirmation or denial of the aforementioned article or to appease the broadcaster’s employees. It seems that they were packing up their personal belongings in order to leave the premises.Paving the road to a “sudden death”
Some of those holding the main administration and financial executive positions had long before made themselves scarce and only a few meetings attested to their presence in the premises. On Tuesday, June 11th, for example, the international relations department had scheduled a great event at ERT headquarters to honour the signing of an agreement with the Chinese public broadcaster. According to protocol, ERT should have been represented by its CEO, who, however, refused to attend and asked for the event to take place at the Athens Chinese embassy instead. Which it did, but there was no agreement signed with the CEO being absent. Maybe since the government had already informed him that it would be shutting down ERT in a while?
There is also the blatant case of a former yellow press journalist who became a member of ERT’s top management. Even when present at his office he would not see anyone. He had long before stopped conducting and participating in meetings. He wouldn’t even meet with the news director. People invited to current affair shows were his one and only concern. He would not agree to meet anyone with the constant claim of having “previous engagements”. For the last month he kept asking for information (employees’ names, specialties, working times etc) to be officially sent to him, a fact that had caused great concern to administration employees.Members of the administration who stayed to fight against “black screens”
Since the first moment of closure the wheat has been separated from the chaff. After the shutdown dozens of ERT employees left, as well as the high-profile journalists and a few others, along with those appointed to high administration offices by the government. The General Director of Radio was the only one from his fellow general directors who stayed at the closed ERT premises, although the same does not apply to the deputy director general, best man of the Greek prime minister, who did not show up… Directors of every directorate were present as well as all editors and editors-in-chief. All technicians have been present and all administration employees, even heads of departments, who even have been taking turns in guarding ERT premises.
They couldn’t have done otherwise. The employees’ general assembly had decided not to comply with the closure of ERT. They couldn’t have abandoned their subordinates. This is how a separating line has been drawn between the mismanagement of the appointees and the employees’ management. It goes without saying that the first group consists of people who are to be employed in the new broadcaster by the title of “NERIT” or “EDT” or however it might be called. The second group is made out of people who struggle to negotiate with the new government representative although he shows no intention to hold an effective dialogue conducive to a solution. In case one wonders, there certainly are certain “gray areas” in the second group: However, those who have been trying to blend in with the purpose of getting rid of their “past sins” or to protect their interests in the capacity of trade unionists clearly stand out and any such effort on their part is practically pointless. It’s again a story about majorities and minorities….What the majority does at the moment
In the current state of self-management, ERT broadcasts an alternative programme focused on the country’s political and financial current events as well as news concerning major social issues, such as education, health, labour relations and racism. The broadcasting takes place via the WEB with NET television channel being the spearhead of the effort. Employees of an average 1000 Euros monthly salary, the ones who have remained and kept working at Aghia Paraskevi ERT headquarters, are those who had suffered a 36% pay cut from 2010 on, in order for the corporation to become profitable in a short time and to escape the stranglehold applied by the Troika (IMF-EU-ECB) and the memorandum in the context of drastic solutions concerning public sector utilities (DEKO) deep in debt. Many ERT employees have lost their jobs in the last 3 years due to their employment contracts not having been renewed, not because they were no longer needed but because of the “labour cost”. However, it is apparent that their sacrifice has been pointless, since a profit of more than 100 million Euros in the last three years has not been enough to prevent political resolutions. For the time being, they hope to be vindicated, after their having found a reliable partner to converse with towards finding a solution to the current impasse, on the one hand, and avoiding potential pitfalls of any politician or unionist taking advantage of their sincere fight, on the other. A task that has not proved to be an easy one…
And never forget: The “biggest majority” in Greece, the people, have the right to have a trustful, accountable and independent media voice. We have to focuse on that. The majority of people holding administration positions in the currently self-managed ERT are very competent, and certainly necessary to the public broadcaster in order for the new entity to acquire the quality mark it really needs! •Reference list:
This article was published in "TEXTE 9 - Why Greece matters" (2013)
3 “The lost signal of Democracy”: http://vimeo.com/68532357
4 http://www.ertopen.com/eidiseis/item/57-eggrafo-sth-gallikh-humanite-apokalyptei-ta-kerdh-ths-ert-to-a-trimhno-toy-2013#.UeOj19JFCSp; http://www.humanite.fr/monde/revelations-le-groupe-audiovisuel-grec-ert-etait-r-543838