Quite suddenly and without warning, Alpha TV closed its office in Thessaloniki. Management representatives informed 15 cameramen and sound-operators and three journalists, two of whom are correspondents in other cities, that they were discharged. The other four journalists have been offered to sign individual contracts. If they refuse, they will follow their yesterday's colleagues, after being given their due benefits.
The deepening recession keeps complicating the financial situation of Greek private companies. After the huge decline in the advertising market many of the media have financial struggles and therefore, in addition to lowering salaries, they resort to cutting down staff as well.
"The wind of change" started being felt right after it became clear that the German media giant RTL, which had bought Alpha Media Group, and together with it Alpha TV for the amount of 125.7 million euros, is preparing to withdraw from the Greek market because of the negative economic situation in Greece. Since June, the media group has been back in the hands of its former owner Dimitris Kondominas, who decided to return the television's focus to journalist and informational productions. But at the same time to cut expenses as well.
However, Alpha is far from being the first TV whose owner has decided to close the office in Thessaloniki and the correspondent sites in other cities. More than a year ago, tthis was begun by TV Star. Since then, the news from Thessaloniki and Northern Greece has been reported by two freelance reporters, mostly via telephone conversations. Today, on the balcony where its office was located, the Union of Technicians from Private Televisions in Northern Greece has placed a large poster which reads: "TV Star's Thessaloniki office was located here. It was closed over one night by the Vardinogiannis family". The family is one of the television's major shareholders.
"The situation with private televisions in Thessaloniki is dramatic. If we assume that Alpha's office will actually be closed, only the offices of Mega TV and Antenna will remain. They are working with very limited staff - they have two journalists each. The technical staff is limited to a minimum - there are between 10-12 people, down from 20-25 some time ago", said the President of the Union for GRReporter, Dimitris Nasioulis. He described as absolutely unacceptable actions of the leadership of Alpha TV to close Thessaloniki office without notice. "We are talking about people who have been working for the television for 15-20 years. Couldn't they warn them at least a month or two earlier, so that they would be prepared, and be able to look for some other job?".
According to Dimitris Nasoiulis, "private broadcasters prefer not to have correspondent offices in Thessaloniki, because they can always use freely images or programmes from the public TV ERT. Their owners consider it normal to take advantage of this opportunity in order to save costs, instead of managing their own TV crews. They concentrate their work in Athens and do not hide it, and are not interested in the countryside. As if people with problems that need to be heard don't exist here".
The union had once requested the introduction of a condition for private TV stations, broadcasting throughout the country, to have correspondent offices in the province in order to be authorized, but the proposal had been rejected. In fact, authorizations have never been issued. Private Greek televisions, from their foundation in the early 1990s, work with temporary permits that are constantly renewed by the Ministry.
Meanwhile, reactions in the Thessaloniki office of Alpha TV have already started. The Journalists' Union of Macedonia and Thrace announced a strike on July 27 and urged management to cancel the cuts and not to close the branches. Technicians do not intend to remain idle either, and their Trade Union declared that it will support every single protest action of theirs.
Alpha 98,9 Radio, where major staff cuts have also been made, announced a 10-day strike, which will continue until July 29. Among employees' requests are for due wages from previous months to be paid, the redundant to be hired again, and the pressure on employees to sign individual contracts to cease.