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Greek prime minister offers to reinstate limited state broadcasts

By Elinda Labropoulou and Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
updated 3:48 PM EDT, Fri June 14, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is offering to reinstate a public broadcaster
  • Under his plan, a small number of employees would be hired back
  • Greece suspended its public broadcaster in a cost-cutting move

Athens, Greece (CNN) -- Greece's prime minister offered Friday to reinstate a limited public news broadcast following protests over the government's decision to suspend it as a budget-cutting move.

Under the plan, a small number of employees would be hired so the broadcaster, ERT, can start broadcasting again, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said in a televised speech.

A draft bill has already been submitted to parliament that outlines the new operation, and it could be voted on as early as next week, he said.

An exact time frame for the new organization has not been announced, but a government spokesman has said the new broadcaster should be operational before the end of the summer.

The General Secretariat of Information and Communication said the new state broadcaster would be called the Organization of Modern State Television.

Samaras' announcement followed a meeting between European Broadcast Union President Jean-Paul Philippot and Greek Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras, where the government was pushed to reconsider its position.

"We expressed the emergency to re-establish public signal on TV, radio and web," he told reporters following the meeting.

He said Stournaras and others relayed the government's plan to create "a new public company."

ERT's TV channels and radio services were pulled off the air early Wednesday, although some employees have continued to broadcast via the Internet.

Most of those who took part in the peaceful protest outside ERT's Athens headquarters were employees, but others were ordinary Greeks who turned out in a show of support.

Greek unions also vowed to fight the decision, which comes as the country struggles with a debt mountain, soaring unemployment and a lengthy recession.

Government spokesman Simon Kedikoglou cited chronic corruption and mismanagement of funds as reasons why the broadcaster was closed down, at least temporarily.

"At a time when the Greek people are enduring sacrifices, there is no room for delay, hesitation or tolerance for sacred cows," Kedikoglou said in announcement shown on the broadcaster.

ERT has said the decision means 2,656 employees will lose their jobs.

To meet its commitments to its creditors -- the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund -- the Greek government has to dismiss 2,000 people from the wider public sector by the end of the year and 15,000 by the end of 2014.

The European Commission said Wednesday it had not sought the closure of ERT, "but nor does the Commission question the Greek Government's mandate to manage the public sector."

It added that the commission "supports the role of public broadcasting as an integral part of European democracy."

Reporters Without Borders expressed dismay over what it said was a "bizarre" decision by the government to shut down ERT's activities while carrying out the overhaul of its services.

Greek lawmakers agreed in April to cut thousands of government workers to secure another 8.8 billion euros ($11.5 billion) in international bailout funds.

Journalist Elinda Labropoulou reported from Athens, and CNN's Laura Smith-Spark from London. CNN's Joseph Netto and Chelsea J. Carter contributed to this report.

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