EBU provides satellite news gathering operation in car park outside Greek state broadcaster's Athens headquarters
Protesters gather outside the Greek state broadcaster’s HQ in Athens, where the EBU has set up a makeshift studio. Photograph: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images
The European Broadcasting Union has stepped in to help Greek TV journalists keep the country's state broadcaster on air after the government announced on Tuesday night it was closing it down as an austerity measure with immediate effect.
A number of ERT staff have defied the government order, staying overnight in the broadcaster's headquarters and managing to continue broadcasting a makeshift schedule of news and talk shows.
However, there are fears that police will move to empty the building, cut off power and seize all ERT equipment later on Wednesday.
ERT's TV and radio services went off air overnight, but had been broadcasting over the internet. "This is a blow to democracy," said ERT newsreader Antonis Alafogiorgos at the end of the main TV station's final broadcast.
The EBU, the body representing all of Europe's public service broadcasters, has set up a satellite news gathering operation in the carpark outside ERT's offices, enabling journalists to set up a makeshift TV service using equipment that has yet to be confiscated.
This is being fed around Europe on an EBU satellite as part of its European news exchange operation and can be picked up by commercial stations in Greece but not the general public.
A spokesman for the EBU, which is headquartered in Geneva, said a "high-level meeting with a conference call" with the director general of ERT would take place later on Wednesday to decide on next steps.
Roger Mosey, the BBC's editorial director, who is on the EBU board told the Guardian: "We're watching events in Greece with great concern. When countries are in difficulty, there's an even bigger need for public service broadcasting and for independent, impartial news coverage. I hope that's restored in Greece as soon as possible."
The EBU spokesman said ERT staff in contact with the organisation have told them the power has not yet been cut by the government, but email servers have been taken down. They are now contacting the EBU through smartphones, using Facebook and personal email accounts.
"This is unprecedented, stations have closed and re-opened for a number of reasons, but never with such abruptness," said a spokesman for the EBU.
There are also fears that the police will move in on ERT's Athens headquarters later on Wednesday to forcibly remove the journalists who have refused to leave the building and to confiscate cameras and other broadcasting equipment in the makeshift studio outside where thousands have gathered in protest.
The EBU has expressed its "profound dismay" in a letter to the Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras, urging him to reverse the ERT closure, which included firing about 2,500 workers.
The EBU's assistance comes as the EU commissioner for monetary affairs, Ollie Rehn, says it did not request the state broadcaster was closed down as part of the bailout programme.
ERT has overall funding of €328m (£278m), which comes from a €51 per household levy on energy bills.
The budget dwarves that of smaller countries like Ireland, which is also in an IMF/EU bailout programme and where public service broadcaster RTE has an annual income of €185m from licence fees and advertising.
However, it is similar to that of the less populous Denmark whose state broadcaster has annual revenues of €518m.
Greece's Conservative-led coalition government announced the unprecedented move to shut down the broadcaster, claiming it was required to cut "incredible waste" and that it planned to reopen a smaller state broadcasting operation at a later date.
"ERT is a case of an exceptional lack of transparency and incredible extravagance. This ends now," government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou said on Tuesday.
The controversial move comes five days after the International Monetary Fund chastised Greece for not moving more quickly to cut public spending.
Greece's largest unions, the GSEE general workers' union and the civil servants' ADEDY, began emergency meetings to decide on likely strikes in response to the ERT shutdown on Wednesday.
The founder of Shedia, a Greek news magazine, Chris Alefantis said: "The overnight closure of the state broadcaster is a sad day for Greek democracy, and not only for the Greek media landscape. The Greek people are just about to lose their voice."