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Inside Story

Is austerity undermining democracy?

As Greece shuts down state broadcaster ERT, we ask how meeting eurozone bailout obligations is affecting press freedom.

Last Modified: 15 Jun 2013 14:23
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Greece's government is trying to fend off accusations of strangling press freedom after its decision to close down a state TV channel. ERT was pulled off the air on Tuesday night after 75 years of broadcasting, and more than 2,500 of its employees have been laid off.

There was a great need for reform across the board in the public sector but this is one thing - the other thing is how you manage the reform process ... the management of it [the ERT closure] leaves much to be desired. Tactically at least it was a major political blunder, now whether the political fallout will be a major one,  remains to be seen.

 Kostas Ifantis, University of Athens

The government says it is part of measures demanded by Greece's creditors. Prime Minister Antonio Samaras has been slashing spending and raising taxes to meet conditions of a European bailout.

But critics have described the move as a "direct blow to democracy." The European Broadcasting Union, which represents public broadcasters across the continent, and of which ERT is a member, is asking the Greek government to reverse its decision.

Samaras' coalition partners are threatening to block the ERT closure, raising the risk that the fragile government could fall apart.

Fotis Kouvelis, the head of the country's Democratic Left Party, says: "The issue of friction [within the coalition government] is not only about ERT but larger issues that have come to the surface, not only differences of opinion but also clearly opposed ideas."

Samaras is under increasing pressure to cut government costs after he brought a new coalition together a year ago to pursue an austerity programme.

In October 2012, Greece's parliament passed an $18bn austerity plan aimed at securing a new round of EU and IMF bailouts.

A month later, eurozone finance ministers agreed to lend Greece its next installment. It was seen as a way of preventing Greece from leaving the euro. But austerity has taken a big toll.

Last week the IMF - which led Greece's bailout three years ago - admitted it had miscalculated the damage austerity would do.

The IMF had predicted Greece's economy would contract by 5.5 percent and unemployment would rise to 15 percent by this year. Instead, growth has plunged by 17 percent and the jobless rate  has shot up to 27 percent.

So, what does this latest crisis mean for Greece and its bailout obligations?

Inside Story, with presenter Hazem Sika, discusses with guests: Kostas Ifantis, a professor of international relations at the University of Athens; Stephen Haseler, the director of the Global Policy Institute; and Yanis Varoufakis, a professor of economics at the University of Athens.

"What happened at ERT is a catalyst. Of course we need to do away with the past and be decisive. The citizen wants another kind of state at his service, the service of growth and employment; he wants transparency, he doesn't want sly and makeshift solutions to cover for 2,000 people to lay off just because we couldn't find a proper solution. We want a full guarantee of ERT's independence."

- Evangelos Venizelos, the leader of the PASOK political party

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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