Last week, the Greek government shut down public broadcasting station ERT to prove it was serious about austerity.
This was the equivalent of Washington finally acting out on its threat to cut funding to PBS or NPR.
But in Greece, the move has brought the masses to the streets.
And it now it appears to have mortally wounded Greek PM Antonis Samaras.
It’s another classic example of how small incidents can spiral into much larger crises (we are seeing this play out in Turkey).
It’s hard to argue that ERT didn’t need some reform: its 2,600 employees, three domestic television channels as well as radio stations cost Greek taxpayers 300 million euros ($400 million) a year, according to Reuters. By comparison, PBS operates every single one of its affiliates with just a bit more money (along with viewer support). A government spokesman said it had become a “typical case of … incredible waste”.
What has the country up in arms was the manner in which the decision came down. The move did not require legislative approval, but Samaras appears to have consulted no one else in his coalition. The leaders of the coalition’s junior parties said it would not abide by “faits accomplis” and called seizure “a coup.”
Guardian correspondent Helena Smith says Samaras’ decision instantly caused the goodwill he’d built up over the past year or so to vaporize:
His shock decision to close ERT has been met with as much criticism from conservatives and challenges to his rule from within his own New Democracy party cannot be ruled out.
Smith spoke with one analyst who predicted that while the coalition will survive for now, it won’t make it through another test, and likely won’t survive to see the end of 2014.
The government is totally dysfunctional. There are just too many accumulated problems, the deficit, the real economy, the recession, privatisations, restructuring of the public sector, for any government to solve,” says the political analyst Giorgos Kyrtsos. “The scenario of snap elections happening is no more than 10-15 per cent. But whether the government will survive the next six months is another issue. Some other problem will emerge that it can’t deal with. I give it an 80 per cent chance of collapsing over the winter of 2013-14.
Greek bond yields had already been trending higher in the past few weeks. This did not help:
We told you about how the same guys who put on the Eurovision song contest had helped Greek public broadcaster ERT broadcast a guerrilla signal to keep it going while its fate was decided.
Today, a court ruled a rump-ERT must be able to broadcast until a new public station is established.
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