It is personal: why Greece matters

published by Univieblog univie.ac.at

“I came to theory because I was hurting…I came to theory desperate, wanting to comprehend” wrote bell hooks in Teaching to Transgress in 1994. She was referring to the many faces of discrimination and ultimately the hurt that social injustice causes. But also, she discussed the ways in which good theory can help heal the hurt by providing the tools to comprehend: the reasons behind and causes of injustice, conditions, and possibilities for resistance. And change.

Writing about ERT, the Hellenic Public Broadcaster, that was shut down abruptly and outside the letter of the law, is my way to heal using theory. Yes, the story of ERT stroke a cord with people’s sense of integrity. It is hard to be personal, while writing this, I am an academic. It is hard not to be personal. When ERT was shut down, it felt like my own childhood memories were erased, the fairy tales I listened to on the radio or cartoons I watched on television, while I was growing up in Athens, were snapped away. It was as if my own history was being deleted. I have lived longer outside Greece than in the country and my history and identity is made up not only of the roots I consider mine and humanity’s heritage, but also of the many turns my journey has taken, the many languages I listened to and the many ‘translations’ I was honoured to make with my interlocutors. I am a Greek/British national with Austria being my home. By now, I speak as a European, who has benefitted from and often critiqued the programmes offered by public service broadcasters, such as the BBC or ARD, the ORF.  And I am concerned.

I am an academic. My job is to doubt declared ‘sudden deaths’ and ‘miracles’ and inquire. Over the internet I was alerted about the closure. I witnessed the moment ERT, the screen went black, and like probably millions of citizens in Greece, I felt my heart sinking. The black screen defied any logic. There are some things that in this part of the world, you just don’t do. With the blackened screen, down went the orchestras, choirs, archives, websites, radios, world service, social and cultural programmes that ERT was maintaining. I started immediately to study, I approached those continuing to broadcast and serve the public, I documented, asked, listened and documented some more. I visited the headquarters in Athens and an irony filled me with joy: never before had I visited ERT and here I was, as if entering a temple. Entering a free space. Or a refuge. Everyone was open, welcoming, free, determined. They made their own decision to continue broadcasting and producing information for citizens, under the status of self-governance. For them it was an immediate unanimous response. I spoke with technicians, anchor people, journalists, lawyers. ‘Thick skinned’, seasoned, tough professionals spoke with anger and outrage about the injustice, with determination to not let this pass, as if they were to defend the country, before turning their heads away to hide their tears. Everyone was hurting. Everyone was trying to comprehend. A line had been crossed.

Next to surprise, outrage, determination comes pride for daring the first ‘pirate’ public television and radio in Europe, and pride that eight months and multiple violent attempts later to shut down ERT, have been resisted successfully by a 700-plus strong network of employees across the country. Through the online ERT, I got to know more those who have worked for 10, 20 years diligently and responsibly. I got to know the ERT I would have wanted to see while it was allowed to broadcast, where all social strata were given a voice. The injunction, this unprovoked and arbitrary closure insults my sense of social justice, my belief in the rule of just law, it hurts. It is an act that shows despise for the common moral compass of society. The closure signalled to me as it did for thousands of people in Greece and in Europe, and not only the diaspora, that this was more than bad policy, incompetence or necessity. It was a moment of personal vendetta, a demonstration of power. Power to disregard the country’s constitution, universal human rights and moral standing. Power to impose, oppress, and humiliate.

As scientists, we know when the times demand that we use reason, evidence and astute careful analysis and stand up for what is right. I have listed extensively the social and political implications of the ERT closure with regards the cultural, political, human rights and legal dimensions of ERT’s contribution and the role of public broadcasting in the country (www.aej.org). I have also written in detail the reasons why this closure is NOT a Greek drama (zukunft.orf.at) and the lessons learned in civic education from those employees in front and behind the cameras of the self-governed public broadcaster (www.newdiaspora.com) and on the reasons why the ERT closure is not a ‘success story’ but a symptom of a dangerous wave of unfree media landscapes in Europe (http://www.greeklish.info/en/greece/internal/77). This is the place from where I try to provide some understanding to the ‘drama’ ERT, especially to my international interlocutors. I am doing this as an enlightened cosmopolite, fully aware of the responsibility I have towards the public I serve and I have always served, whether in Austria, in Britain but also my birthplace Greece. My bias is that under no circumstances should anyone who takes away from people their right and possibility to speak, be tolerated. Instead, through free speech and public debate they should be stripped from pretences and demagogy. To carefully examine the case of ERT and to methodically unravel its history, the path to the current self-governed ERT are worth our close attention, our personal involvement, even our anger and action as citizens. ERT stands as a symbol for the prosecutions of journalists and bloggers in Greece, threats, violence against them and murder, the shutting down of media that maintain a critical stance to the causes and management of crisis and those that champion solidarity. It stands as a signal for the future of Europe, the UK Leveson inquiry, the Hungarian Media Law, the Italian media ownership, the rights to freedom to assembly, to work, to life; what we learn as citizens about what needs to be done to resist, to bring change, and justice. The experience of ERT demands our vigilance. Demands free speech. ERT is a personal matter. And the personal is political.

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