Reporting from Taksim for a non-existent channel
Considering the dramatic events that have been taking place during the previous days, June 11 looked initially like an “ordinary” day. The Gezi Park protesters had settled peacefully in the park. The police had withdrawn. And I, as I had done every day, since the 31st of May, had finished my morning reporting for my radio and television channel (the Greek public broadcaster, ERT), trying to analyze those perplexing social and political developments that looked like they would keep me busy for quite some time.
It was already afternoon and I was preparing for my channel’s main news at 9:00 p.m. I was quite excited. After covering Turkey for many years for the same channel, I had now found myself in the fortunate rare position of any correspondent to have to report on a real news drama with all its ingredients: social unrest, youth protests, authoritarian rule, police brutality, loss of human life, destruction of public and cultural property, destruction of the environment, political complexities, hidden sides of the story, conspiracy theories, fast-changing social and political agendas; in short anything that a correspondent would wish to experience at least once in his or her lifetime away from the homeland. I was enjoying every minute of it, postponing any feeling of physical fatigue for less exciting times, later.
I had already talked to my news editor about the menu of the latest developments in Turkey. Everything was set and when my company phone started ringing, I did not pay too much attention. It was the foreign news desk editor. My first thought was that she called me by mistake. It had happened so many times before. I did not even pick it up. I was even annoyed that anybody would disturb me when they knew that I was trying to gather the latest. When the phone rang again, I understood I had to answer.
“We are closing down. This is our last broadcast. They just announced the closing down of ERT. Get ready for your last report,” my panicky editor was screaming on the other end, himself in a shock and disbelief like me.
The minister responsible for media and press had announced that the Greek government had decided to close down ERT “with immediate effect,” that all (app. 2,700) of its employees were dismissed and that “after a short intermediate period” of no-signal, a new smaller and “cleaner” company would be set up to serve the public.
In short I became unemployed just as I was about to go on air.
I had experienced this weird feeling before, but that was on a personal level. But being hit by two shocks simultaneously, one of the content of your report and of the loss of your job puts you into a kind of numb desensitized state of vacuum where you do not really feel anything: One shock neutralizes the other.
However, in our last “legitimate” main news program, I did manage to talk about the mass entry of the police into Taksim Square and the bloody clashes with the demonstrators, the use of tear gas and pepper spray. I knew it was the beginning of the last phase of the Gezi drama and the beginning of a bigger one, but I had no means to report it.
A little while later, the screen went black, all four TV channels of ERT closed down and all ERT radios fell silent.
The blackening and the silencing of ERT has caused an uproar worldwide, the staff who remained in the studios are keeping the program going with a continuous live transmission; the program is being transmitted through the Internet via alternative outlets, including the EBU.
And since then, I have found myself in a surreal position to continue covering Turkey as an unemployed correspondent still hooked on the most exciting story of my working life. Now I am sending my voiced-only pieces to an officially “dissolved” company with no legal entity which runs an “illegal” channel which continues to be on the air thanks to the determination of its “former” employees.
Perhaps this second story will become a story even more exciting to cover than that of Gezi Park. But who knows where I will be then.