Policy recommendations for the re-establishment of the Public Service Broadcaster ERT

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Published in Efimerida ton Syntakton 24.03.2015

translation from the Greek by the author

One of the long awaited for immediate political decisions of the new Greek government was the re-establishment of ERT. The current ERT Bill under discussion int he Greek Parliament would provide not only the foundations for the reestablishment of public service broadcasting in the country, but would  shield free speech against future attempts to squelch it.

What are the lessons gained in Greek society in the case of ERT  since June 2013?  First, citizens have experienced State violence violating the human rights of accessing information and freedom of speech; it experienced the ‘Black’ No Signal screen and the riot police occupying the headquarters of the nation’s public service broadcaster in Athens, in June and November 2013. Second, it learned that civil disobedience is a necessary and effective tool of democracy, as demonstrated by the continuous labour and support of ERT workers and those who became “new” workers, i.e. those members of the wider society, who undertook various roles in the broadcaster’s production program.

Thirdly, society experienced in no uncertain terms the meaning of solidarity in sustaining the work of social critique and information against impoverishment and violation of human dignity. Fourth, it collectively experienced what it means to “do” public service broadcasting ‘from below’, joining forces with viewers and audiences in the country, and the international community – journalists, scientists and civil society.

The Bill under discussion is incomplete, unfair and wrong ignoring society’s political struggles, lessons in citizenship  prosecution and the vision of Greek society. It lacks the element of institutionalization and care for an effective dialogue between ERT with the wider community, as this developed in the months-long operation in ERT3, EPA, ertopen since June 2013.

My recommendation, through my research and teaching in questions of global media and public service broadcasting in Europe in the past 20 years, is as follows: Since the new Bill must reinstate and establish the Social Audit Committee, the Committee on Public Value and the Supervisory Board as control mechanisms over each and any administrative authority and as a matter of substantial contribution to the multilateral governance of ERT.

These committees would be in accordance with European standards, such as the Austrian ORF and the British BBC, although not identical, yet innovative and,why not, exemplary to other Public Broadcasting Systems in the continent. They would need to be institutionalized, would have precise and specific responsibilities, be pluralist and representative of society, and would not be subject to the Executive Board or the CEO, the/any respective government or other governing, managerial formations that include the representation of the interests of the private sector.

The tasks of the Committee on Social Audit would be to generate, monitor and seek to support the implementation of a fundamental dialogue about programming, in order for ERT to meet the needs of a constantly changing society in crisis. This role  will be determined by law and will provide for the active participation of local radio and television, local authorities and citizens, and will not be determined by the Board, as stated currently in the Bill .

The Committee on Public Value would evaluate proposals for future programming and expansion activities of ERT to ensure innovative policy and programming , meritocracy and a sustained “open door” policy to new journalism practices and culture by young, new and independent producers and mainly to avoid mistakes of the past.

The Supervisory Board would have the overall evaluation of ERT and the Executive Board work and its chief executive, would control and assure the high standards and quality in the use of public resources to accomplish its mission ERT and protect its independence. The Supervisory Board is a necessary measure in a democratic ERT – even if ERT governance were to be in the hands of its employees, in a non hierarchical manner as since June 2013, a political direction that the new government does not seem too enthusiastic about.

The Supervisory Board would be independent and consist of specialists and scientists representing the fields of action and principles of ERT, derived from the law. It would examine the progress and findings of the Social  Audit and Public Value Committees to judge the responsiveness and cooperation of the EB with these institutions.

We face a unique political opportunity not only -or simply- to re-establish as a state and society, the ERT, but to project a progressive model of governance, a form of legislation that would protect against future authoritarian and undemocratic attempts, and which would open the way for independence and sustainability of the public service broadcaster – a message of support of the public interest and public services across Europe.

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