Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Background analysis I: Bureaucracy and political appointees at ERT

For sure, the general negative opinion about bureaucracy stems from loads of frustration. The anger can unload at every possible opportunity. In the case of ERT, it seems that Samaras counted on that by using the standard phrase to justify his decision, namely that ERT was an inefficient organization. But despite such a play on general convictions, it would be a grave mistake if it would amount to an opinion that society could ignore the vital relationship between the media and politics, and thereby disregard the need for an independent public media to ensure that public opinion is being heard.

However, the inefficiency of a bureaucratic organization and the influence of political appointees are but two sides of the same coin. Of course, a majority of Greeks tend to believe bureaucracy at ERT is not working effectively,but they also know it has become a bloated apparatus due to many political appointees. Unfortunately for them there is nothing exceptional about this sad state of affairs. The practice by politicians is well known. It is common knowledge that once elected, they appoint their own clientèle and even relatives to lucrative posts within the civil service.

This kind of nepotism happens not only in Greece; it was revealed in Baveria at the beginning of 2013, that many members of the legislature had hired their wives, cousins or other relatives. The same applies to the European Parliament with even some of the Green fraction having followed this practice e.g. the ombudsman in 2000 had hired his wife who was happy to have erased hundres of emails, so that she could go with her husband out of lunch. And definitely the same applies in Greece not only to ERT, but as well to all the other public institutions.

In short, it could have been expected that 2000 jobs would be cut across the board. This was not done during the first year in government with one reason cited repeatedly that the Minister from Dimar and in charge of public administration, refused to sign on any cuts. That was the political red line for this small coalition partner coming from the Left.

Still, when others lose their jobs or receive lower wages not only in the public, but equally in the private sector, while those working at ERT continue, so it seems, to enjoy special privileges, then social jealousy can easily be invoked. That is, however, a most dangerous force.

Social jealousy is virulent when social status, not content or substantial work, count. An unbelievable number of people working inside the civil service have been hurt by this. Although diligent, dedicated and competent in the work they do, those linked to party machines have sidelined them or degraded their work. It explains already why so many initiatives and policy related implementation processes can easily be sidetracked. Good work is often prevented outrightly by someone clinging not only to the respective post he or she has, but safeguarding this position by whatever means. No wonder when people use sometimes up to 80% of their work time to keep their position secure, and devote only the rest of the time to doing actual work.

Still, real knowledge as to how administrations function, is at best scant. Even politicians make the mistake that they do not distinguish sufficiently between legislative and administrative work. Partly this ignorance is due to a low level of political debate so that policy related issues are hardly contemplated, itself surely a sign of many more people being out of touch with the political process itself. But there prevails as well a lack of opportunities to study public administration at university. If one adds to this insufficient research of official policy measures and thereby into how the bureaucracy works, no wonder when most of the time scant interest reinforces just overt comments and superficial judgements. In a society which is much more concentrated on fast cars and flashy models, no wonder if shallow interest prevails. Still, no society can afford the huge discrepancy between overt criticism of bureaucracy and the need for society to enter a more much substantial relationship between administration and citizens. It will simply not do to leave everything unregulated i.e. to the market. Public opinion is a crucial guidance at all times. 

In addition, if negative images about those lazy civil servants are constantly created by the mass media, bureaucracy shall be dismissed right away rather than related to in a practical and rational way. To overcome the main complaint, namely inefficiency linked to apparently unnecessary time delays, criticism would have to be translated into recommendations as to how a practical way handling of things could be improved upon. Policy measures which do make sense, could then be reinforced, positively speaking. It is done best by people adapting to what is required. It did not take long, for instance, before everyone had a seat belt on when driving a car. So common sense is needed to that people can agree on as what are necessary measures but for that to be realized more than reform of bureaucracy and political parties is needed. For citizens must themselves be able to set the practical agenda and act accordingly. Otherwise the political process would foster irrational behaviour.

To remind, public opinion is needed to reflect upon state of affairs and to act as a corrective insofar it amounts to enlightenment and passing on of information. If that is left out, it would reduce the handling of human conduct in all matters pertaining to existence on this earth to some mechanistic enforcement which includes police, but also bribery and corruption, if not illegal markets due to the subversive nature prevailing if the overall system seems to have no real validity. That then amounts to a need to upgrade the political process by lively debates reflecting public opinion.

The reason for that is two fold. For one, things can never be steered alone on the assumption that alone 'rewards and different forms of punishments' could coerce people into doing the right thing. On the other hand, disagreements shall prevail as long as already introduced measures make no sense. Even more so, if no learning from mistakes has taken place so far, then listening to public opinion shall not take place and no chance given what so ever to drawing the right consequences. Naturally the excuse often offered is that the general public is not interested, a claim which can be easily transformed into a make belief that the public is not interested in hearing the truth. That then is an open invitation to making use of the public lie or 'mendacity' as explained by Martin Jay.  

However, to be fair in criticism shall never be easy. Too often positive efforts to modernize the services are overlooked, hence very little is acknowledged as to what does make a difference. For example, the offices for the unemployed have been revamped so much that compard to the chaos which existed there before, today's offices and services are not recognizable any more. They are modern and rational i.e. forthcoming to anyone in need of them. 

Often enough bureaucracy and bad politics are lumped altogether when the state as such is denied. Interesting to watch was, for example, that in the debate about the role of the state in America, with the Tea Party pushing an agenda for having almost no state at all and everything done  better if in private hands, to see Barack Obama remind after Sandy sturm wrecked the East Coast, that the state is needed whenever needs exceed the abilities by the individual to cope alone. Likewise the need to provide society with public news and information cannot be left in the hands of a private organization or media concern. Especially in the case of ERT which services not only society, generally speaking, but also remote localities and regions, as well as the Greek diaspora abroad, this need for a reliable public newscaster should not be forgotten.

Also it should not be forgotten that there are some problems which are not easily resolved. Since within bureaucracy formal authority counts the most, the hierarchical principle can be evoked any time. Repeatedly studies and practical work experiences made by civil servants validate the thesis that this principle being upheld for the sake of a mere formal status prevents in practice a much more sophisticated reflection of contents. That seems only possible once people do work together horizontally and therefore in recognition of each other. Insofar as the principle is linked to accountability with the Minister's words counting the most, it is still another matter to realize that it leads over time to some dominant structures hard to change.

Sometimes miracles do happen and a Minister can make some simple changes and still they can have a tremendous impact. All what needs to be done, is to open, for example, doors to let in fresh air. When Tina Birbilli took over as Minister of the Environment, not only that took place but also the political floor (on the fourth level of the Ministry) became accessible for all and vice versa the political staff came down to the permanent civil servants to consult them. It created immediately an open working atmosphere. For it does make a difference to walk through a corridor with every door closed or if all are open and people pop in and out since a friendly work atmosphere allows as well reaching across the aisle to help the other out whenever needed. Naturally a good atmosphere is not enough. Hard decisions require a willingness to administer them according to what the legal text stipulates, and that means it has a corresponding administrative translation to ensure it is put into practice. If there are, however, entrenched interests which will block effectively progress of work, and may this be out of obstinate reasons linked to a certain belief of how things should be maintained, nothing shall go further. Sooner than later the failure to reform will lead to the resignation of the minister if he or she has not understood to evade in time the blame game. It matters in critical times if the press stands on the side of the minister or joins in the blame game. Birbilli had to go after serving but less than two years with a prime reason being a general blame she would be preventing foreign investments with her insistance that environmental impacts would be taken into consideration before agreeing. Of course, there are always other reasons, one prime one nothing being more dangerous to the usual norm in politics, namely not to be exceptionally good and therefore a danger to those who do nothing. Setting good standards by a progressive praxis means to hit very soon the invisible borders drawn by those who want power and money, but not exposure to anything out of fear to be labelled by the others as doing something wrong. At a certain point this means to touch upon deeper inconsistencies between acclaimed goals and what is being practiced in reality.

Unfortunately as long as the hierarchical principle is being upheld by society, politics and the administrative set-up, energy needed to good work shall be wasted. Ernst Bloch described hierarchy as the greatest unresolved problem of philosophy. Hence even if a political party with a clear political strategy to articulate goals and to initiate reforms would come into power, if the administrative problem is ignored and therefore not resolved, nothing shall pass as real reform. The daily lives of citizens will remain unaffected or even worse still at the mercy of an inefficient administration due to being more a subject of political influences than an outcome of good responses to societal needs. 

Clearly there is always the temptation for political parties once elected and in power, that they seek and try to influence the administration. This has happened to ERT over many years. Yet it is so short sighted. For the media needs to stay independent. Only then can people trust the information they receive. Hence ever more political interferences reproduce in turn a growing mistrust although politics needs the media to communicate its policy measures to the people. Again sound explanations which do come across can convince. A failure to do so will stop the reform process in its tracks. 

Often critical people refer to Orwell since they fear political influence has gone too far and the outcome is but media manipulation. Jürgen Habermas states a 'pathology of communication' has started to determine the media. He cites the media falling victim to media mungrols the likes of Murdoch, Berlusconi and would not leave out media co-operations like Foxnews in the USA. Also the BBC has suffered in reputation although one of the last to withdraw its countless local journalists if only to replace them with star journalists who are parachuted into hot spots to cover breaking news. It is an outcome of a mix of cuts in expenditures and a chase of only 'sensational' news as if the audience is no longer interested in really substantial and serious news. One reason for this is that people are generally over fed with information, tired of only negative news and more so unable to decode all the images which act no longer as subtitles but are used to tell the whole story e.g. demonstrators throwing stones at a police vehicle with a water canon. As if images of violence speak for themselves, once the entire sequence - what happened before the police started to move in - is no longer shown, the audience cannot make by itself any substantial judgement as to what took place in reality. Distortions can be subtle or just plain lies.

But to come back to political influence having been exerted on ERT all the time, no positive working atmosphere can be created as long as editors and journalists feel intimidated and an invisible censorship affecting the outcome, namely what is the quality of broadcast. This is especially the case if the political appointees are incompetent and do not know how to handle media questions. They antagonize still further if despite of this they end up enjoying within the organisation special privileges and better payments. That harms relationships and reduces the inner competence of the organization to communicate well: an essential prerequisite especially for a public media. Practical working relationships will be even further affected, negatively speaking, if the practical wisdom manifests itself that it is stupid to act in solidarity with others for to get anywhere, connections count, not competence. That would leave the collective body of civil servants succumbing to but a struggle for rare chances of promotion and a better post. 

Certainly there can be traced within ERT the PASOK or Nea Democratia related appointments made over years. All that was done to safeguard power once the parties had secured their posts. But to uphold the image of a political party or of government should not be the prime task of the media. Rather an institution like ERT has to provide the public space in which critical questions can be posed and different policy options discussed. By wishing that the media does not become too critical of them, the political parties disregard the need to respect the independence of a free press. This applies as well to political parties who have not been in power but have held seats in parliament over a number of years, including KKE but also Syriza. They too have a way to make their influences to be felt.

Equally there needs to be seen and followed up how political appointees within the administration maintain their own practical affiliations with outside interest groups. This interconnection with all decisive bodies springs out of a desire to stay atop the political game being played by all major actors. It brings about a collusion of interest. As political mediators, these appointees act as representatives of the political parties and therefore adopt certain 'theories' and beliefs shared only by strict followers of the party line. All that reminds of the term Gramsci used to designate shared interests: 'hegemony'. Since all that and more determines the decision making and implementation process in accordance with an intricate logic and a shared value system, it makes something impossible: transparency.


After the DIMAR party left the coalition government, and a cabinet reshuffle became necessary, Samaras in agreement with Venizelous from PASOK agreed to assign to Pantelis Kapsis as new sub minister to the Minister of Culture the task of resolving the issue of ERT. Whether or he will be capable of handling the situation, that remains to be seen. His first announcement after being appointed and sworn in on June 25 amounts to the following promise: “We have the chance to make a leap forward and create a new broadcaster which matches the expectations of the Greek people and is free of party politics and interventions.”

Hatto Fischer


Further analysis:

Giorgos Kogiannis, "Journalist responds to Samaras' claims of ERT graft". In: ENET English, 19.June 2013:

"When Samaras' asks, Kogiannis ponders, whether it "it possible to implement reforms without kicking out those who were so well ensconced in their jobs", is he referring to the 30 or so advisors and special staff appointed since his government came to power.

These include Giorgos Antoniou, a koumbaros [meaning best man, bridesmaid or another non-blood relative linked by baptism rituals, such as the godparent of a family member] of Samaras, who was appointed to ERT on a monthly salary of €3,500 and Menelaos Sevastiadis, a koumbaros to Samaras' communications director George Mouroutis, who was also hired on €3,500 per month.

Kogiannis also asks whether Samaras' claims that a state prosecutor is investigating mismanagement at ERT also involves the complaints filed by ERT staff about some of the decisions taken by people appointed by his government.

Among these complaints is the allocation of €1m to a show called "Mesogeion 136", which Kogiannis claims was created to give a job to Anthi Salagkoudi, a former New Democracy candidate and daughter of former New Democracy finance minister Yiorgos Salagkoudis, as well as other relatives of New Democracy officials who got jobs with ERT. Kogiannis says ERT's legal department refused to sign the contract with this show's production company, a contract that was drafted by Aimilios Liatsos, who was brought in to head the news at ERT by the Samaras government.

On Monday, Kogiannis tweeted the following figures that show that while salaries of regular staff at ERT may be somewhat higher than the national average, they are far from extravagant. The same, though, cannot be said for the salaries of those appointed to the broadcaster by the government."



Monthly salary (gross)

Monthly salary (net)

Administrative staff


















Political appointees



Special advisors



Special positions



Personal assistants 







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