At approximately 4:30 am local time Thursday morning, riot police invaded the main headquarters of ERT, Greece's national broadcaster, under orders to vacate the premises.
By Michael Nevradakis
Reporting from Athens
In the wee hours of Thursday morning, riot police, accompanied by a public prosecutor, raided the headquarters of ERT, the occupied public broadcaster which was officially silenced by the Greek government on June 11. Since June 11, ERT's fired employees continued to operate the public broadcaster, in protest of the government's decision and garnering worldwide attention in the process. These protest broadcasts are now in grave danger of being taken off the air permanently, after the invasion of riot police and a prosecutor at ERT's headquarters in Athens at approximately 4:30 am local time.
Urgent updates coming out of ERT's headquarters via ERT's social media accounts report that prosecutors have given ERT's employees a matter of minutes to completely vacate the premises. ERT's televised feed, which was still available via the internet, satellite, and via a limited network of over-the-air broadcast transmitters that was still operating in various parts of the country, initially showed live video of the riot police inside ERT's headquarters, but this video feed has since been replaced by a continuous video loop calling on the public to come out to ERT's headquarters in a show of support. The same continuous audio loop is also heard on ERT's radio broadcast. These feeds are both still available at www.ertopen.com.
In recent weeks, ERT faced increasing hurdles with regards to its ability to continue broadcasting. In late August, the European Broadcasting Union removed ERT's broadcasts from its satellite and internet broadcasters, throwing its support behind "DT" (Dimosia Tileorasi), Greece's new interim "public" broadcaster. More recently, ERT's satellite signal was removed from the Astra satellite, whose parent company is based in Luxembourg, following pressure from the Greek government. Dialogos Radio & Media was the first to report these pressures, via Twitter, several days before ERT's satellite feed was removed from Astra. Pantelis Kapsis, the government minister who was recently placed in charge of public broadcasting, recently claimed that it was necessary to vacate ERT's headquarters in order for the government to be able to prepare for the television coverage of the rotating EU presidency, which Greece will hold starting on January 1, 2014. Also recenty, the government attempted to discredit the broadcasts occuring from ERT's headquarters, claiming that the over-the-air broadcasts were creating unacceptable levels of radiation: 4800 megahertz of "radiation" to be exact, a laughable technical blunder that became the butt of many jokes in Greece's social media sphere.
ERT's headquarters have been the site of numerous protests in recent months, not just against the shutdown of Greece's national public broadcaster, but against the government and its austerity policies more broadly. Numerous concerts, theatrical performances, and speeches were organized by ERT in the months since its official shutdown, often attracting thousands of supporters. ERT's broadcasts following its official shutdown also earned praise, for being inclusive towards numerous social and political groups in the country who have effectively been shut out of Greece's overwhelmingly pro-government, pro-austerity "mainstream" media outlets.
ERT was originally shut down by the Greek government on June 11. Several weeks after the shutdown, the Council of State, Greece's highest court, issued a decision ordering the immediate restoration of public broadcasting, including television, radio, and internet services. The Greek government did not comply with this decision, instead waiting several weeks to launch an "interim" public television station, which operated largely using private studios and private transmission facilities, while an "interim" public radio service and website (a direct copy of ERT's previous website) were launched in early September. A new national public broadcaster, NERIT, was originally promised to be ready to begin operations within two months of ERT's shutdown, but recent reports indicate that it will not be ready to launch until March 2014, at the earliest. Notably, while ERT has been shut down and now invaded by riot police, the Greek government, earlier this week, passed a law which indefinitely legalized all television stations which were broadcasting in Greece as of August 31. This law was included as language within a broader, unrelated law regarding health care in Greece. None of these stations were previously operating with a legally valid broadcast license.
As of 5:30 am local time, six riot police vans are stationed outside the entrance to ERT's headquarters in Athens, while reports from inside ERT's headquarters are indicating that the situation remains calm for the time being. No official statement has been issued by the government or police as of this writing, and there is not yet any indication as to whether any ERT employees have yet vacated the building.
7:49 PM PT: As of 5:45 am local time, ERT's social media accounts on Facebook (www.facebook.com/ertsocial) and Twitter (www.twitter.com/ertsocial), as well as its website, continue to be updated, with an open call for the public to come to ERT's headquarters in a show of support.
7:53 PM PT: As of 5:50 am local time, there are reports, via ERT's social media accounts, that several ERT employees have been detained and are being taken to central police headquarters in Athens.
8:07 PM PT: As of 6:05 am local time, there are reports that additional riot police vehicles are headed to ERT headquarters, where crowds have begun to gather in protest.
8:18 PM PT: ERT3, the Thessaloniki-based ERT television station, is rebroadcasting the looped message airing on ERT's main broadcasting, calling upon the public to gather at ERT's headquarters. Two of ERT's radio stations, the "Third Program" and ERT3 radio from Thessaloniki, continue to air normally-scheduled programming for the time being.
8:41 PM PT: Thessaloniki-based ERT3 is now broadcasting live, with reports about all of the events that are unfolding at ERT's main headquarters in Athens. According to reports from Athens, the headquarters are completely surrounded by riot police, while prosecutors who are reportedly on the premises have not actually been seen by ERT's employees as of yet.
8:42 PM PT: Four ERT employees, including president of ERT's employee union, have been reportedly arrested and transferred to main police headquarters in Athens.
8:43 PM PT: Police reportedly entered headquarters soon after 4:30 am, broke lock to entrance to premises, and soon surrounded the headquarters. It is estimated that 300-400 police forces are on site at the moment.
8:44 PM PT: Reports of tear gas and violence on the part of riot police towards any individual who attempts to approach #ERT headquarters.
8:46 PM PT: All traffic shut down on Mesogeion Avenue, one of the main thoroughfares in Athens, outside of ERT headquarters, where tear gas are reportedly hitting protesters and anyone who attempts to approach the headquarters. Use of tear gas has also been rumored.
8:48 PM PT: Reports of members of the public, ERT employees, members of parliament being hit by riot police, tear gas being thrown in people's faces.
8:48 PM PT: 5 ERT employees were reportedly inside ERT headquarters at the time that riot police invaded. 300-400 forces reportedly on site.
8:50 PM PT: #ERT satellite broadcast is still on the air, over the air digital broadcast also reportedly still on the air in Athens.
8:51 PM PT: Access to ERT headquarters not permitted even for members of parliament who have arrived on location. Reports that they've been tear gassed.
8:53 PM PT: ERT3 employees calling upon citizens in Thessaloniki to gather outside ERT's Thessaloniki headquarters on Leoforos Stratou.
8:56 PM PT: Greek Minister of "Public Broadcasting" Pantelis Kapsis (former Greek government spokesman and former journalist with Mega Channel, Greece's largest private television network) claims that he "did not know" about impending raid of ERT's headquarters.
9:03 PM PT: Greek government has a knack for creating an issue out of nowhere, when uncomfortable stories are in the news. Today's news agenda included impending troika-imposed closure of Greek defense industry, impending lifting of ban on foreclosures of homes (including primary residences), further cuts and closures to schools and hospitals.
9:05 PM PT: Greek governments have a tradition of dealing with media with force when deemed "necessary": in 2001, the Greek government sent riot police to forcefully shut down 66 radio stations which were operating in Athens. Stations allowed to remain on the air mostly owned by major media moguls. Excuse at the time was that these stations "interfered" with communications of new Athens International Airport, which opened that day (March 28, 2001).
9:07 PM PT: ERT employees attempted to conduct inventory of all equipment and supplies in ERT headquarters, in order to not be accused of theft or damage. Prosecutor on site did not allow this, claimed that this was now the responsibility of the "brigadier general" in charge!
9:15 PM PT: SYRIZA MP Panagiotis Lafazanis live in ERT3's studios, with harsh criticism towards government.
9:18 PM PT: Reporter on ERT3 calls on public to get off of Facebook and Twitter and to go out to the streets in protest.
9:19 PM PT: Crowds continue to gather outside ERT headquarters in Athens, despite extremely heavy police presence and use of violence.
9:24 PM PT: On the "interim" "public" broadcaster DT, no mention of riot police invading ERT's headquarters. Instead, the front page headlines of this morning's newspapers being presented on DT's morning news program. National private broadcasters Mega, ANT1, Skai, and E TV with live coverage.
9:27 PM PT: Live video feed from inside ERT headquarters in Athens once again, after approximately two hours. An entrance, likely through which riot police entered, is visible.
9:35 PM PT: Not one mention of riot police raiding ERT headquarters on website of new "interim" public broadaster (hprt.gr)
9:38 PM PT: Reports that 8 SYRIZA MPs have been allowed inside ERT's headquarters.
9:40 PM PT: Live roundtable discussion continues on Thessaloniki-based ERT3, which also is broadcasting live images from ERT's Athens headquarters. Reports that ERT3 satellite signal and digital signal (broadcast over the air from the roof of ERT Athens headquarters) are, for the moment, still operating.
9:42 PM PT: Report on riot police invading ERT headquarters given all of 30 seconds on DT, the new "interim" "public" broadcaster in Greece. Report given by police correspondent Zois Kakkavas, a former ERT employee.
9:47 PM PT: Reports that ERT employees that had been detained and transferred to central police headquarters in Athens, have been released.
9:54 PM PT: Crowds continue to gather near ERT's headquarters on Mesogeion Avenue, while at least 10 riot police vans are on site, keeping the crowd several dozen meters away from the entrance. According to reports, police originally entered from all sides, including from back entrances to the headquarters.
9:55 PM PT: Wildly varying estimates as to the number of ERT employees that were on the premises when the riot police arrived. Estimates range from 5 to 50. Without access to the headquarters and with difficulty reaching employees who may still be inside, no number can be confirmed.
10:03 PM PT: ERT radio still continues to broadcast on 105.2 FM in Thessaloniki, and on various FM and AM frequencies throughout Greece, outside of Athens.
10:05 PM PT: At least 500 police officers reportedly at ERT headquarters at the moment. Only police seen entering and leaving main ERT building in Athens at this time.
10:06 PM PT: Reports now of at least 15 riot police vehicles outside ERT headquarters in Athens.
Audio of final moments of main ERA radio broadcast, prior to being taken off the air by riot police: http://www.ertopen.com/...
10:17 PM PT: ERT employees demanded a written confirmation that they left all equipment in mint condition and working order, were denied by prosecutors, who claim to be conducting their own inventory.
10:18 PM PT: ERT radio personality, in final seconds before going off the air: "I have just been ordered not to speak."
10:21 PM PT: President of Independent Greeks political party, Panos Kammenos, now speaking live on air on ERT3. Heavy criticism towards the government and its unconstitutional actions against a "voice of freedom" (ERT).
10:23 PM PT: Entrance to ERT headquarters once again being denied to members of parliament that have gathered outside the main entrance.
10:28 PM PT: On June 11, ERT was shut down with zero parliamentary debate, but instead with a ministerial decree. The story that was going to dominate headlines today is the government's intention to shut down the Hellenic Defense Industry, again with a ministerial decree.
10:30 PM PT: Discussion on ERT situation on "DT," the "interim" "public" broadcaster, including a PASOK MP but no members of the opposition. Not surprisingly, the tone is very pro-government.
10:45 PM PT: Reportedly, the operation using riot police to invade ERT's headquarters was ordered by the head of Greece's Supreme Court (Areios Pagos), Efterpi Koutzamani.
10:51 PM PT: There is a call for citizens to gather outside the stormed ERT headquarters in Athens at 4 pm today.
10:56 PM PT: Rainy weather in Athens serving as obstacle for larger crowds to gather in protest outside ERT headquarters.
11:17 PM PT: Acccording to Greek government spokesman, in an interview given a few moments ago on news radio station Real FM 97.8 in Athens, the police raid of ERT headquarters came because "legality had to be restored" and that this took place "in the best possible manner." He added that the order for the police invasion came directly from Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and from the Vice President of the Greek government, Evaggelos Venizelos (Tourkoglou).
11:19 PM PT: Photos of the chained main entrance to ERT's headquarters in Athens, complete with a pair of handcuffs attached to the chains, have gone viral on Twitter and Facebook.
11:21 PM PT: It should be noted that Simos Kedikoglou is a former ERT journalist and television personality. A few weeks prior to the shutdown of ERT, he promised that ERT would not be shut down.
11:22 PM PT: The president of POSPERT (ERT employee union) Mr. Kalfagiannis spoke a few moments ago on ERT3, after having been released from detention at the central police headquarters in Athens. He said that prosecutors and riot police entered ERT headquarters, did not present a warrant or any legal documentation authorizing their entrance or operation, and then proceeded to detain four ERT employees, incuding himself. They were not told what the charges were against them or the reason for their detention.
11:41 PM PT: Main ERT television feed once again showing looped message calling upon the public to converge at ERT's headquarters.
11:57 PM PT: The riot police invasion of ERT comes just two days after a law was passed giving blanket legalization to all television stations which were operating as of August 31, 2013 (which were previously unlicensed or operating with long-expired licenses), and just one day after former government coalition partner DIMAR (the so-called "Democratic Left") lifted its self-imposed moratorium on appearing on DT (the new "interim" "public" broadcaster).
Thu Nov 07, 2013 at 12:15 AM PT: Not mentioned in any of the discussions I've heard this morning are the recent strong rumors that the main headquarters of ERT were to be included in the government's privatization program, under pressure by the troika. With troika representatives in Athens this week, could the police raid have been demanded by the troika?
Thu Nov 07, 2013 at 12:22 AM PT: At this time, this tired (and unpaid) journalist needs to take a break, after not sleeping all evening. We will be back later in the day with major updates if/when they happen, and will be on the air at 1:30 pm eastern on WUSB 90.1 FM with this week's fresh new broadcast of Dialogos Radio, where today we will feature an interview with economist Costas Lapavitsas, who will share his views on the economic crisis in Greece, the austerity measures, privatization program, and his belief that Greece should, even now, abandon the Eurozone. In addition, we will also have a short discussion on the day's events concerning ERT. Tune in at 1:30 pm eastern (6:30 pm GMT, 8:30 pm GR) to WUSB 90.1 FM in Long Island, NY and online at www.wusb.fm.
Thu Nov 07, 2013 at 12:25 AM PT: Visit Dialogos Media online at www.dialogosmedia.org.
Thu Nov 07, 2013 at 4:42 AM PT: Back online, with many updates:
- Sources from the Greek prosecutors office are denying that any order for police to swarm ERT's headquarters was given by them!
- A journalists' strike has been declared for today from 3 to 6 pm for all news coverage except for the ERT situation.
- Earlier this morning, a protestor was arrested outside of ERT's headquarters, allegedly for disobeying police, and will be taken before a judge this afternoon.
- The Press Project (www.thepressproject.gr) is webcasting live outside of ERT's headquarters, and has also restored the internet feed of ERT's radio programming. According to The Press Project, they will continue rebroadcasting ERT's programming indefinitely, via a technological means that "cannot be stopped" by the Greek government.
- A major protest outside of ERT's headquarters has been scheduled for 4 pm today, with ERT calling upon the public to converge upon ERT's headquarters in a show of support.
- Ruling partner PASOK, the supposedly "socialist" party, issued a statement earlier today hailing the "restoration of legality" in defense of the "public interest," adding that the only people protesting the government's actions are a small minority of ERT's former employees, those who have "petty political interests ".
- A similar congratulatory statement was issued by Kyriakos Mitsotakis, a member of parliament with New Democracy and son of former Greek prime minister Konstantinos Mitsotakis.
- DIMAR, the "Democratic Left" party which was a part of the governing coalition, issued a statement this morning expressing its "categorical disagreement" with the police invasion of ERT's headquarters.
- George Mouroutis, the foul-mouthed and tactless communications advisor to Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras, posted a series of tweets mocking the shutdown of ERT and ERT's supporters earlier today.
- ERT continues to broadcast, for the moment, on satellite (Express AM44 at 11 degrees west), online via ertopen.com and www.thepressproject.gr, and over-the-air (TV, FM, MW) in certain regions of Greece. In Athens, ERT radio is still on the air, with a limited coverage area, on 91.8 FM. In Thessaloniki, it is on the air on 105.2 FM. Digital television broadcasts continue in Athens on either 29, 31, or 34 UHF (frequencies keep being shifted to avoid interference).
- According to public broadcasting minister Pantelis Kapsis, NERIT (the new "public" broadcaster that is said to be replacing ERT) will be ready to move in to ERT's "former" headquarters within two weeks.
- Former PASOK government minister Ilias Mosialos deemed the police invasion of ERT as "unconstitutional." Mosialos had, a couple of years ago, proposed the downsizing of ERT, including the closure of one of its television stations and several of its radio stations, including most of its regional stations which are located in smaller cities and towns throughout Greece.
- ERT has issued an open call to the public to come out in support not just in Athens, but in all other cities where ERT had a presence. In Pyrgos, for instance, a protest is scheduled today at 6:30 PM, outside ERT's local facilities.
- ERT's journalists have been invited to speak on air on Sto Kokkino 105.5 FM in Athens, a radio station owned by the SYRIZA political party.
- Several articles regarding today's events at ERT have appeared in major international media outlets, including The New York Times, The Guardian, and the BBC. These articles are mostly quite lukewarm, and the pro-austerity bent and targeted choice of words and phrases ("bailout," "bloated public sector") is obvious. The New York Times' choice of headline is also unbelievably lazy (?): "Greek Police Raid Occupied Broadcasting Station"
Thu Nov 07, 2013 at 4:59 AM PT: The Press Project is broadcasting outside of ERT's headquarters, speaking not just to ERT employees but to union representatives, workers, and citizens on a variety of issues pertaining to the government's heavy-handed policies, austerity measures, and cuts.
Thu Nov 07, 2013 at 5:01 AM PT: The Press Project is also announcing that it will soon be uploading "revealing" video footage taken from the security cameras inside the ERT headquarters, that has not been seen anywhere else today.
Thu Nov 07, 2013 at 5:06 AM PT: Fate of ERT's archives, Greece's largest, most important, and most valuable audiovisual archive, is in question. Archives had been digitized but have not been available online since official government shutdown on June 11. Physical archives were stored inside ERT's headquarters.
Thu Nov 07, 2013 at 5:10 AM PT: Greek government claims regarding the "restoration of legality" with the police raid on ERT have come into question, as the ministerial decree which was issued in June ordering the immediate shutdown of ERT was never approved by parliament and ultimately expired. Details, in Greek, here: http://www.ertopen.com/...
Thu Nov 07, 2013 at 5:52 AM PT: In a statement released by the New Democracy political party, the police raid on ERT was presented as a necessary measure to allow ERT's "former" headquarters to be "returned to the public." Keep this quote in mind if/when ERT's headquarters are sold in the next privatization push.
Thu Nov 07, 2013 at 10:02 AM PT: Sto Kokkino 105.5 FM in Athens, a radio station owned by SYRIZA, is rebroadcasting ERT radio. Also being rebroadcast by independent online radio station Radio Bubble.
Thu Nov 07, 2013 at 10:02 AM PT: SYRIZA has called for a vote of confidence in parliament tomorrow, over the police raid of ERT's headquarters.
Thu Nov 07, 2013 at 10:04 AM PT: 300,000-400,000 subsequent viewers reportedly watching ERT's online broadcast.
Thu Nov 07, 2013 at 10:05 AM PT: POSPERT (ERT's employee union) issues open call to unions to meet tomorrow at 6:30 pm outside the University of Athens, in order to coordinate upcoming strike actions.
Thu Nov 07, 2013 at 10:07 AM PT: According to The Press Project, there have been four hacking/takedown attempts against its servers today, which are rebroadcasting ERT's programming on the web.
Thu Nov 07, 2013 at 10:30 AM PT: ERT's 9 pm evening newscast will be broadcast as scheduled, on the scene outside ERT's headquarters in Athens - will be streamed online at ertopen.com and thepressproject.gr
Thu Nov 07, 2013 at 1:46 PM PT: Over 1,250,000 people watched ERT's protest newscast at 9 pm, via the internet stream available at ertopen.com and thepressproject.gr. That figure easily beats out any of the "major" television networks in Greece.