ATHENS – The controversy over Greece’s shock shutdown of state broadcaster ERT took a comic twist this week when the government set up a court-ordered rival channel, airing stock footage swiftly dismissed as second-rate by viewers.
The new public channel was initially called EDT (Hellenic Public Television) when it premiered Wednesday but within a few hours the ‘E’ had been mysteriously dropped from the name.
For most of the day, it simply showed a still image of a globe and flowing lines, which some viewers said they found reminiscent of old Soviet TV backdrops.
At 9 p.m., the station broadcast an old Greek comedy on all three frequencies formerly occupied by ERT channels, followed by dated documentaries on space exploration, archaeology and bagpipe-making, with the screen occasionally freezing.
Early reviews were scathing.
The center-left Ethnos daily said the channel looked “cheap and rushed” while an advertising executive told the leftist Eleftherotypia daily that the backdrop was “a jumble of badly drawn lines” designed for “an election night in 1989.”
It was an inauspicious start to efforts by the government to reverse the damage to its reputation when it decided to ax ERT on June 11, arguing that the historic broadcaster defied reform and ate up €300 million ($384 million) annually.
The move, costing over 2,600 jobs overnight, caused an international outcry and nearly brought down the coalition government of conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras after one of his allies defected over the row.
The government says the DT channel will only be temporary, made to satisfy a court order last month that ordered authorities to restore public broadcasts.
A bill has been submitted to Parliament to create a new state broadcaster — provisionally called NERIT (New Hellenic Radio, Internet and Television) — and it is hoped that it will be up and running in a couple of months.
Meanwhile, ERT staff who have refused to accept their unexpected dismissal have entrenched themselves inside ERT’s headquarters in a northern Athens suburb, where for the past month they have been maintaining a rogue broadcast over the Internet with assistance from the European Broadcasting Union.
Millions of Greeks have logged in to watch the ERT news programs and talk shows operated by the unpaid journalists, technicians and support staff, a higher viewership than before when ERT was seen as a government mouthpiece.
They have won the backing of dozens of prominent intellectuals and artists who have staged several support concerts outside the ERT building.