A few hours ago, the Greek government announced that state television and radio channels would be silenced at midnight. No public debate, no debate in Parliament, no warning. Nothing. ERT, the Greek version of the BBC, will simply fold its tent and steal into the night. As probably the only Greek commentator to have been blacklisted by ERT over the past two years, I feel I have the moral authority to cry out against ERT’s passing. To shout from the rooftops that its murder by our troika-led government is a crime against public media that all civilised people, the world over, should rise up against.
It was two years ago that the then Greek Minister of Propaganda (official title: ‘Minister for the Press’ and Government Spokesperson’) ordered the producer of an ERT(Greek state) television program never to invite me again on state television. How do I know? He did so in my presence, after a television panel was completed in which I had the audacity of pointing out to the said Minister that his account of the European Union summit he had just returned from was laughably misleading (nb. the Minister had claimed that the Greek side had succeeded in convincing our European partners to introduce the Tobin tax – a decision that, to this day, two years later, has not been made).
Of course, the wrath of the Greek government against my person had been brewing for a while, as I would regularly argue, on air, that Greece had gone bankrupt at the end of 2009 and that it was, therefore, idiotic to have secured (as we had done in May 2010) the largest bailout loan in human history to add to already unserviceable debts and on condition of reducing our national income (for this is what savage austerity does). Precisely the point which now, belatedly, the IMF has admitted to.
At first, between mid 2010 and early 2011, the Papandreou government tried to ridicule my line of argument on air. To present me as a doomsayer who could not see that Greece could turn the corner, courtesy of the bailout. I was even accused of High Treason by the then General Secretary of the Finance Ministry. But as time passed and calls for a ‘debt restructure’ began to be voiced by other commentators too, ERT producers started telling me that government officials were leaning on them to keep me off television screens. Still, even after the Propaganda Minister issued his verbal order, ERT producers kept inviting me, in defiance of their political masters. However, one day things came to a head.
Just before I was interviewed on ERT’s NET main news bulletin, Ms Elli Stai (the anchor) asked of me, almost as a favour, that I do not speak the two ‘forbidden’ words: ‘debt restructuring’. Her concern was that, if I keep talking about a ‘debt restructure’, a haircut of Greek debt, the pressure from government to keep me off the screens would become inexorable. Naturally, the first thing I spoke off on that very program was the “inevitability of the debt’s restructuring”. That was the moment the proverbial camel’s back was broken – and I never again appeared on ERT television. Since then I remain well and truly blacklisted on Greek state radio and television.
In view of the above, you may think, dear reader, that the government’s decision to close down ERT tonight would leave me cold; even enthuse me. Not in the slightest! For whatever the faults of our public broadcaster, however suggestible its producers may be to government officials, our public media are the only chance we have of news, current affairs and cultural programs that run through audiences as a civilising force. Our only possibility of programs that are provided for their contents’ worth, packing values that are irreducible to prices and advertising revenues.
Naturally, public media can be terrible. Just like public schools and hospitals, even the public system of justice and the courts, can be awful. Still, public media offer us (like public schools, courts and hospitals) a shot at civilising our social world. Without them, we are at the mercy of the Rupert Murdochs of the planet who, having heard of the Greek government’s decision, are surely getting nasty ideas on how the Greek model can be exported to Britain (BBC beware!), to Australia (ABC you are next!), to everywhere there is money to be made from dismantling public media.
So, coming from the heart of one that has blacklisted for two years by ERT, I must say: At the stroke of midnight tonight, when ERT television and radio channels go silent, we shall all become poorer citizens. All over the planet.
 For some reason ERT3, the Thessaloniki based channel, never received that ‘order’ and they kept, to their credit, inviting me to appear. One explanation I received of this ‘inconsistency’ was that the order was verbal (as a written down order would have been unconstitutional) and had to be relayed mouth-to-mouth. It seems that this ‘transmission’ mechanism never reached the producers in Thessaloniki!