In a bid to save money, Greece’s debt-crippled government has suspended operations at the country’s state television and radio broadcaster.
The decision was announced with little warning late on June 11, and Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT) channels subsequently stopped transmitting.
Around 2,500 employees are being asked to reapply for jobs in a new, smaller organization.
Thousands of people protesting the move have gathered outside the headquarters north of Athens and ERT journalists have refused to leave the building. Staffers have continued streaming programs via the Internet.
On June 12, government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou justified the surprise announcement on the suspension of operations.
"We are doing things correctly, and there was no other way, frankly, because already [over] the past months most of the time ERT [was not] broadcasting, at least no news. The journalists were striking because they wanted more special status [regardless of] what is happening generally in the Greek public sector," Kedikoglou said.
"There was no other way. If we announced that we were going to do this in three months then ERT would [would have remained] closed because of the strikes. We would prefer to do it this way."
Late on June 11, Kedikoglou described the broadcaster as a haven of wasteful spending, corruption, and mismanagement.
"ERT today has become scandalous, and everyone could see that every day, but no one dared to touch it," he said. "This all ends today and now. The government has decided to close ERT down under the current legal framework and ministerial decision. The transmission will stop after the end of programming this evening."
The spokesman said a more efficient ERT with fewer employees would be relaunched "as early as a few weeks and by early autumn at the latest."
The broadcaster was reported to cost the government some 300 million euros ($400 million) per year.
Employees said they were "shocked: by the authorities' abrupt decision. Journalist Katerina Ioannidou, who says she has worked for ERT for 13 years, told reporters that employees went unpaid for months.
"We gave our lives, our souls for a proper news station," she said. "We spent nights that we will never get paid for. We have been unpaid since November, all the staff, who work so hard here. All that effort has gone wasted. They are throwing us out just like that. It's a shame, it's a disgrace."
The country’s journalist unions called for a 24-hour strike on June 12, halting news programs on private television channels. Greece's largest labor unions have announced a 24-hour strike for June 13 in support of the broadcaster’s staff and to protest the government's decision.
The government’s center-left coalition partners have refused to support its decision to suspend ERT and are demanding that the decision be reversed.
The decision followed the failure on June 10 to find a buyer for the gas firm DEPA, which is part of the government's efforts to sell off of state assets.
Greece is facing demands to impose spending cuts and tax hikes and cut the number of state jobs in exchange for a 240 billion-euro ($315 million) international bailout.
With reporting by AP, AFP, dpa, and Reuters