Greece's public TV signal still off despite court ruling against PM move to pull the plug

ATHENS, Greece – State TV channels in Greece remained off-air Tuesday as the political storm over the future of public broadcaster ERT rages on despite a court ruling that the prime minister’s decision to pull the plug was wrong.

The threat of a snap general election was averted late Monday after a meeting between Conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and his centre-left coalition partners who strongly oppose his June 11 decision to close ERT and fire all its staff of nearly 2,700.

The three-party talks came as Greece’s high court ruled that the government should not have switched off the public TV signal despite conceding that it had the right to restructure the broadcaster. Samaras had indicated that he wants a leaner and more efficient replacement by late August.

But he offered coalition partners to start programming sooner under a transition broadcaster and the three leaders have agreed to continue negotiations. They will meet again Wednesday.

Samaras is under pressure from Greece’s international bailout lenders to continue with austerity reforms in return for continued payouts from their 240 billion euro ($320 billion) rescue program.

Though an imminent election appears to have been averted, analyst George Tzogopoulos said the ongoing political crisis triggered by ERT’s closure was making the government coalition look weak.

“The signal that is now sent to our partners in Europe and the markets is that this coalition is not stable any longer,” said Tzogopoulos, a senior researcher at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy.

Fired ERT workers have continued live broadcasts streamed online and satellite, helped by the Geneva, Switzerland-based European Broadcasting Union, which represents the continent’s public broadcasters.

The EBU Tuesday urged the government to restore ERT’s signal immediately, citing the court ruling. Samaras has also faced criticism from international human rights groups and the powerful Greek Orthodox Church.

And in Brussels, EU Commission spokesman Olivier Bailly said the Commission expects the Greek authorities to “respect” legal decisions.

Shares on the Athens Stock Exchange were up nearly 2 per cent Tuesday, outperforming their peers in Europe as investors breathed a sigh of relief that an election has been seemingly averted.