The Greek government announced late Tuesday that it is shutting down its only public television broadcaster—the latest in the country's drastic austerity measures—spawning both widespread anger and a guerrilla TV station organized by the European Broadcasting Union.
The move, which has left 2,700 people without jobs and a country without its public broadcasting station, ERT, is being criticized as the "most dramatic in a series of attacks on free speech and public space by the Greek government."
Over 3,000 people including the now former ERT employees gathered outside the broadcaster’s headquarters north of Athens on Tuesday night following the announcement, vowing to stage a sit-in until the government rescinded the order.
And that is just what they did.
"A number of ERT staff have defied the government order, staying overnight in the broadcaster's headquarters and managing to continue broadcasting a makeshift schedule of news and talk shows," the Guardian is reporting.
As tensions rose, reporter Maria Margaronis described the scene as it happened:
One by one, the transmitters around the country are being turned off. Journalists and production staff are occupying the broadcaster’s Athens headquarters; the network’s musicians are playing protest songs in the courtyard. Many thousands of protesters are gathering outside; so are busloads of riot police. @amaenad tweets, “Everyone in #Greece has been watching #Occupygezi. And PM Samaras just gave them a spark. He was always as stupid as he was arrogant. #ERT”
ERT's TV and radio services did go off air overnight, but employees were able to maintain broadcasting over the internet.
However, members of the The European Broadcasting Union also managed to set up a satellite news outpost in the parking lot outside of the ERT building, and continued to broadcast the news from there.
Through the satellite, the news was broadcast around Greece and Europe—albeit on selective stations.
Fear countinued to mount Wednesday over a police crackdown, in which they would empty the building, cut off power and seize all ERT equipment.
Meanwhile Greek labor unions have scheduled a 24-hour national work stoppage for Thursday and journalists on privately owned television and newspapers have initiated an open-ended strike.
"The strike will only end when the government takes back this coup d'etat which gags information," the journalists' union said.
The abrupt closure was announced directly after one of Greece’s lenders, the International Monetary Fund "chastised the government as having failed to take 'politically difficult measures' to shrink the public sector since it received its first bailout in 2010," the New York Times reports.
"This is a blow to democracy," said ERT newsreader Antonis Alafogiorgos at the end of the main station's final TV broadcast.
The founder of Shedia, a Greek news magazine, Chris Alefantis said: "The overnight closure of the state broadcaster is a sad day for Greek democracy, and not only for the Greek media landscape. The Greek people are just about to lose their voice."
Leftwing opposition leader Alexis Tsipras criticised the closure as "illegal" during an interview on ERT's online broadcast. "Many times the word 'coup' is used as an exaggeration," he said. "In this case, it is not an exaggeration."
As Margaronis explains at the Nation, ERT was one of the only remaining stations that wasn't "pushing the agendas of the oligarchs":
So, in the name of transparency and cutting costs, the government has closed, by fiat and at great expense, the country’s only public broadcaster—the only broadcaster (for all its flaws) that isn’t pushing the agendas of the oligarchs. It has laid off some 2,700 people in one fell swoop—exceeding the Troika’s demand for 2,000 more public-sector job cuts. And it has opened the way for the distribution of lucrative franchises—for sports broadcasts, for instance—to the private TV channels which feed the Greek people the relentless diet of pap, hysteria, conspiracy theories and xenophobic propaganda that has helped sink the country into its current mess. Last week, Turkish TV notoriously showed movies about penguins instead of the police repression in Taksim Square. Greek TV has been poisoning people’s minds for decades; penguins would be an improvement.
A Greek independent news service is providing a live blog of the unfolding events.