July 4, 2020

News Finds New Ways to Flow as Greek State Broadcaster Is Shut

“An Execution to Please the Troika,” read one in the center-left newspaper Eleftherotypia, a reference to the trio of creditors — the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank — whose representatives are back in Athens this week to audit Greece’s progress in sticking to conditions attached to the country’s multibillion-euro bailout.

Thomas Dedes, 67, a Greek retiree, said that a day spent chasing underground news reports and racing across online video channels and digital platforms like Twitter and Facebook reminded him of the unsavory days when Greece was ruled by a military dictatorship.

“This is worse than the junta,” said Mr. Dedes, recalling how people had to get their news surreptitiously or by word of mouth in 1973 when the junta’s leaders tightly controlled Greek state television and foreign news broadcasts. “What’s next? Tanks in front of Parliament?”

By early Wednesday, a form of guerrilla digital warfare had sprung up on the Internet to defy the government’s orders for a news shutdown. Numerous ERT employees continued operating an underground broadcast of Greek news through satellite streams. Those in turn were picked up by young Internet-savvy Greeks, who retransmitted hundreds of headlines on Facebook and Twitter throughout the day.

One leader of the organized charge is an Internet news outlet, the Press Project, whose founder, Kostas Efimeros, 38, sprang into action with his team of seven journalists and technicians immediately after the government announced that ERT, which ran radio and TV channels, would be closed.

As the government tried to cut the power to ERT’s antennas, Mr. Efimeros and his team tapped into satellite signals broadcast surreptitiously by ERT employees and posted them to the group’s Web site and on social media. In a telephone interview, he said the Press Project was working to transmit ERT’s broadcast signal via Wi-Fi as a backup.

The Press Project’s reporters have also been stationed outside of ERT headquarters north of Athens, where thousands of people have gathered in protest, as well as in front of the Parliament building, armed with cameras and microphones to keep the stream of news updates flowing.

Greece’s finance minister, Yannis Stournaras, said Wednesday that ERT employees were breaking the law by continuing to broadcast news surreptitiously and would “face the consequences” if they persisted.

Mr. Efimeros said they were ready for that.

“If the police try to shut us down, we will still have ways to broadcast the news for Greeks around the world,” said Mr. Efimeros, who said the group started “guerrilla transmissions” of news on the Internet three years ago from Egypt, as the Arab Spring broke out. He said its experience there taught it how to outwit government efforts to shut down alternative news outlets.

The government said Tuesday that it had decided to shut ERT and would reopen it later with far fewer employees to satisfy the demands by Greece’s creditors because the news outlet had become corrupt and bloated. That view has long been shared by many Greeks.

“It is common knowledge that every time a new government came in, they would put in a new director sympathetic to the leading party, and would then hire a lot of people,” said Amalia Zavacopoulou, 32, a schoolteacher. “There are a lot of stories about how many people work just two hours a day.”

Voicing similar concerns was Dimitris Sporakis, 47, who lost his job in a detergent factory last fall. “They’ve been having a party up in Agia Paraskevi with our money for a long time now,” he said, referring to the Athens suburb where ERT’s headquarters are. “It’s about time the civil servants felt some pain, too.”

Nonetheless, many Greeks felt uncomfortable with what Ms. Zavacopoulou called a “quasi-authoritarian” approach by the government.

Prokopis Doukas, a former anchor for ERT’s main state channel, Net, said he and his colleagues were shocked and disappointed by the sudden decision to dismiss them but also angry that a government that is itself accused of corruption should call the state broadcaster a “haven of waste.”

“I’m not saying that employees and unions are blameless, but it’s the management and the politicians who put them there who are chiefly responsible for wasteful spending,” Mr. Doukas said before entering a studio in ERT’s headquarters near Athens to join colleagues for a live program, being broadcast on the Internet.

“Our real fear is that the same government that engaged in the exchange of favors is now saying it will create a modern, transparent broadcaster,” he said. “We don’t want the government to fall, but how can we trust it?”

The event raised the specter of a further weakening of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s fragile ruling coalition, whose politicians suggested they would try to block the move on Wednesday night even though it did not require parliamentary approval.

“We don’t want to bring down the government,” said Andreas Papadopoulos, an official for the Democratic Left, which is part of the coalition with the prime minister’s New Democracy party. “But this is a mistake by New Democracy and Mr. Samaras and must be corrected. With such actions they are testing the limits of democracy.”

On Mr. Samaras’s orders, the Mass Media Ministry on Wednesday quickly released a bill outlining the framework for a new, leaner replacement for ERT. The government spokesman, Simos Kedikoglu, said Wednesday that the new entity would be set up over the summer. It remained unclear how many people it would employ.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/13/world/europe/closing-of-state-broadcaster-leaves-greece-in-turmoil.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Greece Shutting Down State Broadcaster ERT

The government cut the signal of the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation, known as ERT, just after 11 p.m., about an hour earlier than it had said it would. Earlier in the day, a government spokesman, Simos Kedikoglou, described ERT as a “modern-day scandal” and “a unique case of lack of transparency and waste,” and said it would reopen soon as a “modern state organization” with a fraction of its 2,900 employees.

ERT has not been implicated in corruption scandals any more than any other state organization, and Mr. Kedikoglou’s strong language was broadly seen as the government’s attempt to show creditors that it was boldly and decisively moving to cut waste in the public sector.

Following the broadcast of the spokesman’s remarks on Net, one of ERT’s television channels, the station’s anchors and commentators engaged in a furious live discussion lamenting their fate.

Net’s midday news anchor, Antonis Alafogiorgos, lashed out at the government for accusing the state broadcaster of corruption. “This hypocrisy has to stop,” he said before playing a video from last month showing Mr. Kedikoglou insisting that the state would protect ERT from cutbacks. “None of us want the government to fall,” Mr. Alafogiorgos said, “but these methods are unacceptable.” Echoing other journalists in the live debate, the anchor said his concern was not for his job but for ERT to remain operational. “Mr. Kedikoglou can take my compensation and do what he wants with it,” he said.

Reacting to the news, unions representing the workers crowded outside the broadcaster’s headquarters, north of Athens, and told reporters that they would stage sit-ins to protest the closing of ERT’s five state television channels — three broadcast, one satellite and one cable — and 29 radio stations. (ERT has 2,650 full-time employees and about 250 people on short-term contracts.)

Standing with the protesters, a spokesman for the main leftist opposition party, Syriza, accused the government of “extreme despotism” in closing ERT.

Earlier in the day, the government submitted an emergency bill to Greece’s Parliament — a type of decree that does not require lawmakers’ approval — enabling the merging and abolition of state companies and paving the way for ERT’s closure. The move prompted an angry response by the junior partners in the coalition government — the Socialist Party, known as Pasok, and the more moderate Democratic Left — which accused the dominant conservatives of failing to consult them, an increasingly common complaint.

“The public broadcaster cannot close,” Pasok said in a statement. “A three-party government cannot make decisions without the participation of all party leaders.”

The surprise announcement came a day after representatives of Greece’s troika of foreign lenders — the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund — returned to Athens for fresh talks on the progress of the country’s economic reform program. A focus of the talks is a Greek pledge to lay off 4,000 civil servants this year, including 2,000 over the summer. Speculation has been rife in recent weeks that the bloated state broadcaster could be a target for the first round of layoffs demanded by the troika.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: June 11, 2013

An earlier version of this article, as well as the summary and caption, misstated the broadcaster’s name. It is the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation, known as ERT, not Net. (Net is the name of one of its television channels.)

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/12/world/europe/greece-state-broadcaster-net.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Cyprus Set to Reject Bailout, Citing Tax on Bank Deposits

Lawmakers were scheduled to vote late Tuesday on the €10 billion, or $13 billion, bailout.

Should the measure fail in Parliament, Mr. Anastasiades and his E.U. partners would have to return to the negotiating table. Analysts have also raised the possibility of bank runs and a halt in liquidity to Cypriot banks from the European Central Bank if the measure did not pass.

The bailout plan, negotiated over the weekend, has aroused harsh criticism in many quarters for its unprecedented inclusion of ordinary bank depositors — including those with insured accounts — among those who would have to bear part of the cost.

The original terms of the bailout called for a one-time tax of 6.75 percent on deposits of less than €100,000, and a 9.9 percent tax on holdings of more than €100,000. The moves are designed to raise €5.8 billion of the total €10 billion bailout cost — a condition imposed by Cyprus’s E.U. partners.

Under a new plan put forward by Mr. Anastasiades early Tuesday, depositors with less than €20,000 in the bank would be exempt, but the taxes would remain in place for accounts above that amount.

But Mr. Anastasiades said that the changes probably would not be enough to secure a majority in the 56-member legislature to approve the bailout plan.

“I estimate that the Parliament will turn down the package,” he said on state television as he headed into a series of meetings.

A government spokesman, Christos Stylianides, echoed that opinion, telling state radio, “It looks like it won’t pass.”

The managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, said Tuesday she was in favor of modifying the agreement to put a lower burden on ordinary depositors.

“We are extremely supportive of the Cypriot intentions to introduce more progressive rates,” she told an audience in Frankfurt.

She urged leaders in Cyprus to quickly approve the plan agreed to by European leaders in Brussels last weekend.

“Now is the time for the authorities to deliver on what they have commented,” Ms. Lagarde said.

She complained that critics have not recognized how much the agreement will force Cyprus banks to restructure and become healthier.

In Brussels, Simon O’Connor, a spokesman for Olli Rehn, the E.U. commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, said Tuesday that finance ministers from countries using the euro had agreed the previous night in a teleconference that Cyprus could adjust the way the levy would operate.

But Mr. O’Connor said that E.U. authorities still were waiting to see whether the adjustments being discussed in Cyprus deliver “the same financial effect” as the agreement between Cyprus and international lenders in the early hours of Saturday.

“On the parameters of this levy, we will not comment as long as that’s a process that’s still under way,” Mr. O’Connor.

Cypriot banks were closed Monday for a bank holiday that has been extended through Wednesday.

The governor of the Cypriot central bank governor, Panicos Demetriades, warned lawmakers on Tuesday that as much as 10 percent of the €65 billion in deposits placed in Cypriot banks would flee the country as soon as banks’ doors open Thursday morning, should Parliament approve the deposit tax.

He also cautioned that the plan to exempt deposits under €20,000 from the tax posed a new problem, since the government would only be able to raise €5.5 billion, instead of the full €5.8 billion required by lenders. The gap would be considered a breach of the bailout agreement and “perhaps might not be accepted” by Cyprus’s lenders, he said.

It could also mean that Cyprus could eventually seek a higher tax on bigger deposits, a move that raised further alarms in Russia, where President Vladmir Putin has condemned the tax as unfair.

On Tuesday, Russia’s envoy to the European Union, Vladimir Chizhov, said in Brussels that the levy was “similar to forceful expropriation,” and warned that “the whole banking system can collapse,” Reuters reported.

Jack Ewing in Frankfurt and James Kanter in Brussels contributed reporting.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/20/business/global/cyprus-set-to-reject-tax-on-bank-deposits.html?partner=rss&emc=rss