The Day the News Died

On June 11, 2013 the Greek government unapologetically attempted to silence the nation’s only public broadcasting station. Ellinikí Radiofonía Tileórasi—known widely as ERT—began in 1938 as Greece’s first radio broadcast. It has since grown to encompass four national radio stations, five television channels, a website, and a number regional shows. Its abrupt closure shocked the Greek public and left the 2,656 workers unemployed. But the closure of ERT was hardly the end of ERT.

Maria Tomara had been a radio journalist for twenty years when the station was shut down. For over a year she and other former workers of ERT have hijacked the airwaves and continued the broadcast, relying entirely on volunteered hours and donated equipment. As the initial shock from the event simmers out, Maria worries that the greater issues surrounding the shutdown are being quietly forgotten. Sensa Nostra spoke with Maria about the day the station went black, and about why it is important to speak up even louder when everybody is telling you to quiet down.

I went to the station at 9:00 a.m. and gave the radio show for two hours, no problem. At 12 noon some rumours began to circulate on the Internet that “something bad is going to happen.” No one really believed the rumours. At about 6 o’clock that afternoon, a representative of the government went live on the national website and confirmed: “The government has decided to shut down ERT.” One by one the radio signals went out across the country. The TV headquarters in Athens continued to broadcast as the event unfolded. And then at about 10 o’clock the signal stopped. It was black.

The government’s main argument for the shutdown was that there was not enough clarity in the station’s finances. A lot of information was circulated immediately after the shutdown about the ‘huge salaries’ of ERT journalists—salaries of 5,000 Euro, 10,000 Euro per month. My colleagues and I did not receive these paychecks. At my station in Kalamata we had two journalists, three secretaries, and six technicians. The journalists job was done by two people. I was making 1,000 Euros a month. It is a decent salary, but certainly not enough for the amount of work we were doing.

The general issue is that people read this kind of message and they believe that everybody at ERT received this kind of money, so, after a while, they stopped showing sensitivity to this matter.  When the station originally shut down, citizens in every town—Athens, Kalamata, Patras, Trikala, Thessaloniki—from all kinds of jobs, all kinds of political parties, showed up to the stations to protest and show their support to the workers and the journalists. But over the course of one year people have gotten quieter. They have other problems.

A number of journalists from ERT did not continue the struggle for ERT-open, but, instead, went to the opposite side. They signed contracts to work at the new ERT, NERIT. The new company uses the same machines from ERT. It is practically the same, but in a different wrap, a different kind of attitude.

Continuing the station is not just important for the workers and the fans. Whether they listened to ERA or not, whether they watched ERT channels or not, this act was something deeply undemocratic. The media has never been black here in Greece.

There have been periods of controversy, sure. In 1967 a dictatorship was installed in Greece by a military coup. Not even in 1967 did the television go black. During the second World War, the Germans were here and they made sure that news continued to be broadcast, just in a more, you know, “protected” environment. Only that. But black just was never an issue here in our country.

The shutdown reminded us of some dark seasons of history—of the war, of the dictatorship. This was a violent act. It was something that does not fit with the Greek soul. The Greek soul is free, it is liberal. To keep the station alive is clearly something very rebellious.

So we work in shifts and we continue to have live shows telling the news. Today fifteen of the original nineteen radio stations continue to broadcast. We are connected with the other ERT stations so that the listener will know everything that happens all over Greece, 24-hours a day. No one is being paid to do this. I had received financial help for one-year as compensation for unemployment, but now the year has finished. I have had to turn to my parents to help me financially.

ERT was the first channel that Greece ever had. Its archives hold every concert, every movie, every  documentary, everything important that has happened in Greece since Greece had television. As for the radio, if someone wanted to listen to songs that are from our tradition, from local alternative jazz to the biggest Greek composers—really quality music—you could only hear it on the radio ERT-ERA. ERT was something different for the Greek citizens, which is why I go into the office every morning and another colleague goes every afternoon. It is much more difficult now, but we must continue to do it. ERT is the voice of people. It is the voice of the people, and we want it back.


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