Probably the Only Badass Public Broadcaster in the World
By Kirsten Han
The ERT building in Thessaloniki seems empty, standing silently among cracked sidewalks and spray-painted graffiti. It certainly looks nothing like the noisy protest site it was a year ago, when the Greek government suddenly shut down the public broadcaster to save money.
But for the past 14 months it’s been home to a very unusual media outlet: a television and radio network run without funding, without authorization, and with the distinct possibility of being raided by the police.
The employees of ERT3 have occupied the space since they were fired on 11 June 2013, staying in the Thessaloniki office even after police cleared ERT headquarters in Athens. The crew still maintain television and radio news bulletins, now broadcast over the Internet and on various analog signals.
Ch-chk. Tap. Tap. Is this thing on?
The chaos of the early days — occupiers, protesters, allies all crushed in — has been replaced with the quiet determination of a skeleton crew. A fraction of the original staff still volunteer long hours to pump out six hours of live television broadcast a day. No one expected them to hold out so long.
“This is the first year in my life that I haven’t gone on vacation,” said journalist and anchor Christina Siganidou as we followed her into the largely-deserted newsroom. Five or six people were plugging away at old computers on worn-out desks.
Christina was originally in charge of the foreign news segment in the daily bulletin, a role she kept after the shutdown. But as people began drifting away, it didn’t seem that the show — or ERT3 itself— could continue.
“So, I said I would do the whole thing,” she said. “They didn’t believe me. ‘The whole bulletin?’ they asked. I said yes. And I did it!”
She still hosts the daily news every single weekday; an hour of reports and interviews and drawing on contributions from supporters all over the world.
Bzzzzt. Testing. Zebra. Bravo. Fzzzzzzzzzzt
The protest comes with a price. Elefteria Farantaki and Dimitrios Malakasis are one of ERT3's many husband-and-wife teams who lost their jobs — and pay checks —with the shutdown. The couple have devoted themselves to the channel’s fight: their family of six now depends on the pension of Dimitrios’ 82-year-old father.
“I have to do this. I have to resist. Because [the shutdown] was an undemocratic decision,” said Farantaki. “I have worked here 20 years. It was my life and I can’t leave my life behind.”
—Kirsten Han is a journalist based in Singapore