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State media should become public and should not compete with private ones

25 November 2011 / 22:11:14  GRReporter
4619 reads

Anastasia Balezdrova

"The Minister of Education announced that textbooks will be distributed to all schools in the country by year's end. We will let you know the other news tomorrow, however, because today's working time is over," said the journalist, who took off the microphone from her lapel and left the studio. This is not a scene from a comedy sketch, but part of the news broadcast on the state television NET, through which the journalists working in it protested against the government. A day later, they stopped working for a few hours and today, from 11.00 am to 6.00 pm all state media in Greece were silent. The reason: The government's decision to give them all the status of civil servants and include them in the labour reserve system and the single payroll table. These interruptions are symbolic in nature and intend to demonstrate that the new law giving the state television ERT the same status as the rest of the public sector cannot be applied in news media operating 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, say the statements of the participants in the protest.

"Many people are paid by the state without being civil servants, i.e. the code of civil servants does not apply to them. The restrictions like the ban on carrying out other activities, issuance of invoices for services rendered and negotiating their pay do not apply to them either. Of course, we live in an era when labour relations in the public sector are particularly affected. Therefore, I think state media journalists are protesting because they feel that these measures are limiting their professional opportunities. They also fear that they will limit their freedom because a civil servant should follow the orders by the hierarchy. They do not have the freedom to say or write what they believe," said George Pilos, the head of Communications and Media Department at Athens University, in an interview for GRReporter

In August, the then minister and government spokesman Ilias Mosialos announced the closing of all peripheral television stations, and of the first channel of the state television in order to limit costs. George Plios strongly opposes such measures. "I am against this, because currently, there is a distribution of work between the two main state televisions. It is known that ET1 is a television with a focus on cultural programmes, while the programmes of NET are more informing. But there are other differences: ET1 could be defined as a better quality television. It does not follow the daily round; the news is not so dramatic, even in comparison to news broadcasts on NET. On the contrary, NET is a commercial state television. This is clear from the research we carry out in the faculty. It shows that from the three state television stations - ET1, NET and ET3, NET is the one that is closest to commercial broadcasters. Its news is more dramatized, its epicentre is the capital, and there is much non-political news, i.e. many of the characteristics of private broadcasters. This is also evident from the fact that the central news broadcast is presented by a person with extensive experience in private television stations. It uses the familiar approaches of private television stations - more comments, discussions and disputes especially between representatives of both government parties. Therefore, I think that if we would like to have public television, ET1 should not be closed. As I have always said, public television is accessible to everyone, and not to the majority. It should broadcast music programmes with classical music, theatre, circus performances, programmes of philosophical content, i.e. everything. All social groups: disabled people, immigrants and others should have access to."

According to the sociologist, the intention of the Greek government to apply to the Greek state media the models of contraction that have been applied in Sweden and the UK is not in the right direction. "We need to see the consequences of these practices in the specific countries. To determine whether they are causing problems and if they continue to work. Contraction of public television leads to expansion of private television stations, which in turn leads to not very pleasant change in the political sphere. The results of my research have shown that when public television imitates private television, it helps conservative and sometimes far-right political forces. This has happened in Italy. Silvio Berlusconi started to win when RAI began to imitate Mediaset in an attempt to become commercial. Therefore, I think ET1 should not be closed. To this, we could add the already widespread view that the Greek government's attempt to shrink public television, radio and Radiotileorasi magazine is actually an attempt to help private broadcasters, which are especially under pressure in this period of crisis."

However, George Plios also argues that the Greek state media should be reformed. "Not only that reorganization should take place, which ought to have begun 20 years ago. But this is quite different from the destruction of the state media. First, television must be made public and not controlled by the state and the governments, which appoint its directors. There must also be a rationalization. To see how many people work there, what posts they take and what salaries they receive. It is not possible for a television broadcaster to operate with 10 gardeners and 10 or fewer journalists, technicians, etc. However, this happens because ERT is controlled by political parties wishing to respond to their political clientele and they do not act based on the right criteria. Hence, there are numerous practical problems. Does ERT pay rent for the buildings instead of using its own? Does it pay large amounts for external productions, although it is able to make the same productions at a lower cost?"

Another "Achilles heel" is the parliamentary television, which is the subject of much adverse criticism, because of the number of people who work there, although its productions are limited. "Parliamentary television has not been established due to the inability of the state television to inform the public about the work of the National Assembly. It has been established as a result of pressure from politicians, who wanted to have a media and to control it completely, because they thought that they could have influence on people. However, they have forgotten to take into account that you can control the media, but you cannot oblige people to watch it."

George Plios indicated that ERT is rather a mix of private and state television, which should be transformed into public television. "It has been observed that lately we have been talking about the state television and we are not talking about the problems of private television. There are private broadcasters, who have not been profitable for years. In order to remain financially stable and not go bankrupt, they increase their share capital, without anyone controlling whether it is done in a lawful manner or not. They also take loans from banks but no one would have lent to them if they were not media companies having influence on the audience. We do not know whether they will repay the money ever. They often do not pay social security contributions and taxes. Recently, a TV director was arrested for non-payment of taxes. "

In conclusion, the sociologist defined public television as a "laboratory for experiments, creating new models of television broadcasts. No public television must follow the private and vice versa. We should forget about competing with private channels. It has to compete only with itself and its own measure of quality of news, films, theatre performances, music programmes, etc. Only in this way, will we have good private television too."

Tags: MediaPublic mediaPublic televisionERTProtestLabour reserveCivil servantsReform
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