A night that changed everyone’s life
“The atmosphere in the newsroom was really strange. People were nervous.” Around 3:00 p.m. someone in the newsroom of ERT, the state-run Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation received a phone call and then, there was panic. Anna Omiridou, an ERT journalist, didn’t know what was happening.
The Greek government’s announcement was delayed for an hour. No one could believe what was about to happen.
Legislative act for closing organizations with a ministerial decision which was enacted by virtue of Article 14B of Law 3429/2005 leaked in the morning of June 11, 2013. Later on that day, governments spokesman Simos Kedikoglou announced the immediate shutdown of ERT, calling it “a deficient corporation” and claiming it had fewer viewers than private stations. He said the government would create a new organization under the name NERIT.
Omiridou, 35, had been working for ERT’s regional broadcasting channel in Thessaloniki for thirteen years.
Simos Kedikoglou announcing government’s intensions to close ERT
“Many people still doubt those were the real reasons for the decision. They don’t really know why ERT closed. I want to say that ERT was not deficient as the government claimed. ERT provided surplus the last three years. Actually it was one of the most profitable Greek corporations.”
ERT began broadcasting in 1938 and its services included national radio services, three television broadcasting channels which used to emit from various cities in Greece and an orchestra.
“We are having a hard time since 2013. My husband also worked for ERT,” Omiridou said. She and her husband were among the 2,656 people who lost their jobs that night.
The night ERT was closed, the government promised a large payout to all employees. Some days after ERT closed, workers received the first installment and after thirteen months they received another one. These two installments amounted to four months’ salary.
Omiridou, as well as some of her colleagues, received unemployment benefit for several months but this wasn’t enough to cover the cost of living.
“The government destroyed our future. Many of my colleagues not only lost their jobs but their houses as well and live in the streets right now and many passed away due to heart attacks”.
For Omiridou, the memory of the day ERT was shut down still lingers.
“When ERT went black at 10:00 p.m., I was in the newsroom preparing subjects for the flow of the news broadcast. And then suddenly during air time the government cut the program. I watched everything happening from the newsroom and I couldn’t believe in my eyes. I had so many different emotions in the same time. I got angry, I thought it was really unfair for all of the employees. And now what?” Employees at ERT were overcome by anger and fear that night. As she described the scene, Omiridou couldn’t hold back her tears.
She and her colleagues decided that no one should leave the newsroom. They wanted to stay and organize shifts in order to continue broadcasting with technical assistance from the European Broadcasting Union, via a satellite transmission. The EBU also began providing Internet streaming of the ERT broadcast.
Employees still believed that something could change. The Greek political scene was changing from day to day. One of the three political parties in the government resigned. The political volatility, in combination with mass support from citizens, led Anna and her colleagues believe that ERT would eventually open again.
Anna clearly remembers that she was sitting in front of a window in the newsroom and watched hundreds of people arrive to protest with them. Popular protests, mainly in Thessaloniki and Athens, went on for months.
“It was really surprising that despite the fact that it was summer people were willing to participate in daily protests and every day they became more and more. Many people felt for the first time that the Greek national television was open for them and they really wanted to get in the building and meet people who used to work there”.
Today, 16 months after that dramatic night, citizens are not protesting anymore. Anna still believes that only a political decision can correct what she calls “a political mistake.”
On May 4 this year, NERIT started broadcasting from Athens. But people who lost their jobs in Thessaloniki and other cities are still unemployed.
“There is a legal battle ahead but I want to be optimistic because I miss my job, I miss my office, my friends and colleagues. I miss my life”.
By Valia Papadopoulou