Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Big Bill taught Little Willie a lesson!

Little Willie had been trying for over an hour to make his donkey move; the donkey didn't move. Big Bill came along. "Boy", he said to Little Willie, "you're doing it all wrong! You gotta reason with the animal!" Defiantly, Little Willie challenged Big Bill: "Ok, you show me how to reason with an animal!" Big Bill took a heavy 2x4 and hit the donkey on the back with full force. The donkey jumped forward. "Wait a minute!", Little Willie cried, "you said you would reason with the animal!" "Yes," Big Bill replied, "but before you reason, you gotta get his attention!"

The Greek government may not have used a 2x4 but it sure got everybody's attention. There have been many occasions in the last 3 years where I wondered why a Greek PM wouldn't use motivating phrases like "Who, if not us? When, if not now?" Apparently, there are now over 2.500 ERT employees who are asking "Why us? Why now?" Those are good questions!

One could view this as a smart political move or a dumb one. Smart, because it is highly unlikely that ND's coalition partners would risk the fall of the coalition government: they would most likely come out of new elections even weaker than they are now. From that standpoint, Mr. Samaras seems to be able to get away with bloody murder (nearly!).

But it seems dumb to use one's political strength for an action which simply is unworthy of a democracy of the First World. One does not shut off a public broadcasting network (or any major media) just like that. It simply is not hygienic in a democracy. It simply sends the wrong signals. It simply is not very sensitive.

Having said this, it is worthwhile to ponder the new method which the government seems to be flirting with. That method being: instead of attempting to reform something which cannot be reformed, eliminate it altogether and start all over again with a fresh start.

That method has been applied to companies, to larger institutions and even to countries: Charles de Gaulle considered the 4th Republic as non-reformable. So he created the 5th Republic and got a new constitution implemented. There have been suggestions not too long ago that even Greece as a country might want to consider a re-launch: a new constitution and perhaps even a new name (a German member of the EU parliament, of Greek origin, had suggested the name "Hellas" for the new Greece).

I would argue that there are social systems, particularly public institutions (perhaps even ministries) which cannot be reformed from within. Either because they are so large or so complex or so rotten. Social systems typically have established formal or informal defense mechanisms to assure their survival; to resist change. There, the method of tearing down and starting from scratch may indeed be a useful method for the simple reason that is so much easier to start something from scatch than having to continually improve something which has existed for ages.

BUT! The successor institution must be in place before the existing one is being dismantled. The successor institution must be up and running as soon as the existing one ceases to exist. AND: there must be due deliberation and a democratic decision-making process instead of simply an edict. If these rules are adhered to, there would be nothing wrong with applying that method even to a public broadcasting network. A new Greek Public Broadcasting Network (GPBN) would have to be in place so when ERT is turned off at midnight, the GPBN starts operating right after midnight. And no one is taken be surprise.

The procedure followed by the Greek government in the case of ERT will leave deep scars in Greek politics for some time to come. Hopefully it will only be scars! But if one wants to get something positive out of this deplorable procedure, one should explore how the procedure should be amended so that it could be applied in other cases in a democratically legitimate way.


  1. A couple of years ago, we had invested into 4 satellite dishes for our TVs in Austria because the cable provider had eliminated ERT Global from his list of channels. ERT Global was the only direct link my wife had every day with her homeland. Well, thanks to Mr. Samaras, my wife now no longer has a direct link to her homeland...

    It will be interesting to see if the new ERT will offer a program via satellite!

  2. Not sure if its the same as ERT Global, but my ISP provides ERT World, along with similar German, French, Indonesian, Malaysian, Chinese, Hungarian, Arabic... channels, at no extra cost over the copper wire network, or fibre optic if you can get it. The ERT service appears to be working as I write this.

    Can you give any precedent where any state ever created a new state broadcaster to replace an existing one, whilst the latter continued to operate - and then closed down the old one. I can think of similarities in other sectors - e.g shipping and air ports - but often there isn't much reform just a new location and name.

    What's needed, not only in Greece... is the equivalent of Chapter 11 for SOE's. Anyone who's ever worked for a private company that's gone into Chapter 11 or similar. would know that amongst other things it focuses the mind of of management & employees that their feather-bed days are over.


    1. Re ERT: it is ERT World that we have. The reason why we had to change to satellite was that our provider had scrapped it. Yesterday, the screen was black. Today, it is as always, sending normally. What I can't tell is whether we are watching legal or illegal ERT...

    2. Re Ch11: I agree with you. I have always been a great fan of Ch11. European bankruptcy laws, at least the ones that I am familiar with, protect the creditors. Ch11 protects the borrower. I have never worked for a Ch11 company but I have lent to one. There is no better risk than a Ch11 company because debt to it is senior to all other debt. And when a company comes out of Ch11, it is literally clean like a whistle.

      With or without Ch11, what I outlined generally can and does work in practice, provided that there is civil obedience. The trick is that the new company has to make all contracts, agreements, etc. new. And it has to hire the staff anew.

      I doubt that a country which is highly politicized and does not have a strong democratic tradition can ever have an 'independent' public broadcaster. I don't know how many times Austria reorganzized its ORF, every time with the loud promise that, this time, it would become completely independent. Never happened. Actually, there are many commentaries in Austrian blogs, etc. today suggesting that Austria should immediately copy what Greece has done...

      I will not hold my breath to expect that the new ERT will be independent. On paper it will definitely appear independent but I am afraid practice will be different. I don't rule out that one party might indeed favor complete independence but it will never trust the other parties to do the same. So they keep influence just to make sure that other parties would not misuse the network should they come to power.

  3. The satellite ERT is currently rebroadcast by the European Broadcasting Union based in Geneva, from live studio feeds in Thessaloniki. The EBU has been broadcasting the feed continuously on the internet, without a break since the official switch off. I understand that there are also some digital terrestrial broadcasts in northern suburbs of Athens.

    I do not accept that there is any legitimacy in what Samaras has done, nor any logic. The legal basis of the action is a decree law that has never been put to the Vouli: this would never be accepted in any northern European country, and certainly not in the UK, France, Germany, Austria, etc. Moreover, interfering with a state broadcaster plus all the relay transmissions plus the Vouli channel -- sorry, this is fascist and clearly illegal. As usual, Greek judges and so-called constitutional lawyers have nothing to say on important issues, unlike their daily interference in trivia.

    We have reached the point where a puppet government run by a wooden headed Pinochio is trying to save the two major political parties not only at the expense of the real economy, but also with the pricetag of losing all constitutional and democratic accountability. Moreover, ND has placed many of the political appointments in ERT over the last year, including at least one person in the office of Kedoglou (the spokeman who recited some crap about why ERT was being closed).

    This is just the 1930s being re-enacted by ignorant buffoons who think they are really clever. In my view, it the turning point of Greece's descent into anarchy and third world economic and political standards.

  4. Yes, there were lots of comments in germany too, about how great it would be to just close down ARD, ZDF, and the state-based broadcasters that are funded by the licence-fee.

    I doubt anybody, anywhere, is satisfied with state-funded broadcasting.

    On the specific Greek case, though. There's the the constitutional issue. The only way state employees can be made redundant (without extremely long disciplinary procedures, court judgements, etc) is if the law that created the job that they are doing is revoked.

    And both Pasok and Dimar and ND all have their clienteles, so trying to get agreement on any such revocation is pretty near impossible.

    So: if the employees of ERT really want to know why they've suddenly been dismissed. It's basically because of:

    "Article 103.4. Civil servants holding posts provided by law shall be permanent so long as these posts exist. Their salaries shall evolve in accordance with the provisions of the law; with the exception of those retiring upon attainment of the age limit or when dismissed by court judgement, civil servants may not be transferred without an opinion or lowered in rank or dismissed without a decision of a service council consisting of at least two-thirds of permanent civil servants."

    I'm sorry, I know that sounds brutal, and I'm a bit ashamed to sound so callous. That public-service broadcasting can achieve good things is not something I would dispute.

    But they've been made redundant because the political and legal mechanisms are not available, to remove useless, incompetent time-servers, whether from ERT or any other state-owned body.