ATHENS, GREECE — Greece's said Tuesday it would shut down state broadcaster ERT and relaunch it as a leaner, cheaper organization as part of budget cuts, drawing protests from workers, other media and junior partners in the ruling coalition.
The closure was one of the most drastic measures yet to pare down Greek public institutions as part of austerity measures imposed on the country as a condition of its bailout.
ERT's radio and television stations cost the country 300 million euros [$398.24 million] a year and the broadcaster had become a “typical case of... incredible waste,” said government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou.
“At a time when the Greek people are enduring sacrifices, there is no room for delay, hesitation or tolerance for sacred cows,” he added in a televised statement aired on the state broadcaster.
Programs would go off air after midnight and ERT's employees - estimated at around 2,600 - would get compensation and a chance to reapply for jobs in the new organization, said Kedikoglou.
Large crowds of ERT employees gathered outside its Athens headquarters after the announcement, vowing to fight the decision and calling for a general media blackout in protest.
Riot police blocked the entrance to an ERT studio in central Athens where protesters had unfolded a banner reading “Down with the junta, ERT won't close.”
Private TV stations took their shows off air, replacing them with re-runs and commercials, in a six-hour display of solidarity.
“Journalism is persecuted. We won't allow the voice of Greece to be silenced,” said George Savvidis, the chief of journalists' labor union POESY.
The move will be a test for Samaras's fragile three-party coalition, whose two junior partners quickly came out to oppose the shutdown and protested that they were not consulted.
“Public broadcasting can't shut down,” said Yannis Maniatis, senior official of the Socialist PASOK party. “A three-way coalition doesn't work with 'faits accomplis',” he said.
The move came a day after Athens suffered a heavy blow to another part of its austerity program, failing to find a single buyer for natural gas firm DEPA and leaving it short of cash to meet bailout targets.
“This blind strike against ERT is a diversion to the DEPA fiasco,” said independent lawmaker Christos Aidonis.
Inspectors from Greece's “troika” of lenders - the European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank - arrived Monday in Athens to measure progress under the bailout program.