Two weeks ago I had a coffee with a Dutch photographer who visited Athens for a photo workshop. We had a chat about what’s happening in Greece and he asked me about the story of Alter TV. I was surprised that he knew and he was surprised to find out that such things
can happen are happening in a European country. A week later I visited the tv station with another Dutch journalist who is based here in Athens. Both thought that this was a story worth told and were puzzled that we Greeks don’t see it as “extremely interesting”, but rather as a normality. This is the story of Alter TV, one of the 6 private free-to-air channels in Greece.
Alter TV's offices (Photo: Kostas Kallergis)
The station is in a state that we call is “epischesi ergasias” (επίσχεση εργασίας), a phenomenon of the Greek job market I presume. So what is it? It’s something like a strike. When an employee owes several salaries to his employees, they have the right to proceed to an “epischesi ergasias”, which means that they still go to work, but are refusing to work because of the employer’s arrears. The difference with the strike is that they are not losing their wages while practicing it. They go to thei posts to show their readiness to work (though refusing to produce) and, in some cases, to protect the company’s personal (movable) property in case of bankruptcy. But let’s take the story from the beginning.
According to its employees, Alter TV got into financial trouble last year but managed to re-emerge as the second (and at times first) most popular news channel (based on the main news bulletins’ ratings). The channel is mainly owned by three men, the father and son Kouris and Kostas Giannikos who was also responsible for the day-to-day running of the place (the Kouris family had 51% of the shares, Giannikos had 25% and the rest was free floating on the market). In the past years he went on a borrowing spree, getting loans in the name of the Alter TV and then using them to create a network of sister companies which were totally depended on Alter. A music company, Legend, which produced music CDs that were advertised solely on Alter. Modern Times was a publishing house whose books were also heavily advertised by Alter. At a time when publishing houses could not afford to advertise books on TV, Modern Times could advertise any piece of junk they wanted on prime time and see them easily in the Top-10 list. The employees of the channel were employed not only to produce the channel’s programs but a series of tv ad clips which were done for the sister companies at a dirt cheap cost. The station also sold great parts of its advertising time slots in advance without securing a constant cash flow. As a result, when the Greek financial crisis became a fact in this country the station went into trouble. The employers started owing a month’s salary at the beginning and were paying their employees at an increasingly unpredicted way. A salary after 1,5 month, another one after 2 and so on.
Right now the owners owe between 8 and 12 salaries to their employees who have been in a state of “epischesi ergasias” for more than 2 months. Kostas Giannikos left the company and focused on his other companies which also ran into financial troubles. The employees at his financial newspaper “Investor’s World” are also in a state of “epischesi ergasias” now. Alter TV’s new Board of Directors has told the employees that there is a possible investor who is willing to take over the channel but they can’t mention his name. According to their plan, out of 650 employees about one third (286 employees) will have to be laid off. They’ll get 70% of what is owed to them and will receive their compensations after 12-24 months. The ones who’ll stay will get 60% of what is owed to them, they’ll have to work for free for the coming months until the company officially enters the protection of Article 99 (Bankruptcy Law which protects about-to-bankrupt companies from creditors). Oh yes, there will also be a renegotiation (sic) of their salaries with 10%-30% cut according to their previous salaries.
The employees did not accept this proposal and are waiting for another solution. In the meantime they have been using the station’s frequency to broadcast messages against the owners, the Kouris family.
As they told us, it was their reply to a cheap and dirty propaganda war launched by the Kouris family against its own employees. This can best be depicted by a front page of Avriani newspaper (owned by the Kouris family) which, at an attempt to blame and shame the employees, gathered all salary expenses in the past two years, including the salaries of celebrity tv presenters, changed the amount to drachmas and published this:
Avriani (28-12-2011): The employees of Alter have pocketed 81.903.196.293 drachmas
Right now the employees of Alter TV are going to their offices every day. They are there to meet up with their colleagues and at the same time protect the facilities as there have been attempt by the employer and by creditors to extract part of the equipment (which, in case of bankruptcy, must be sold to fund their compensations). There has also been a widespread solidarity towards them by trade unions and single citizens, who are bringing foodstuff and other goods of need. The studio where they used to record the weather bulletins, the so-called Virtual Studio, is now turned to a warehouse where they gather all these goods.
Akrivi Kyrikou, one of Alter TV's camerawomen, shows the list of goods whic were donated to them (Photo: Kostas Kallergis)
Another studio, where cooking celebrity Vefa Alexiadou once produced her gastronomy show, is now used by the employees to cook for themselves.
Alter TV employees cook in the studio formerly used for a cooking show (Photo: Kostas Kallergis)
Apart from messages against the owner, the employees also produced a daily short news bulletin with news about their struggle, informing about other strikes (e.g. the strike at of the workers at Halyvourgia steel factory) and lately they included in their broadcasts documentaries (e.g. Aris Chatzistefanou’s Debtocracy) which have a critical point to the current Greek financial crisis, its causes and its possible solutions. Last week Alter TV’s transmitters were shut down. So all you can now see is this