By Dimitrios Papadimoulis, Vice President of the European Parliament and head of the Syriza party delegation.
There has been a lot of drama during the recent months over the TV licenses tender in Greece. The relevant bill authorizing the General Secretariat to launch and monitor the tender has been passed by the Parliament, with the front opposition party having turned against any effort of the government to set rules of transparency in the media landscape.
So far, a great number of domestic and foreign media have presented one side of the history, fostering a toxic environment for dialogue and mutual understanding. In the political level, the New Democracy party has been trying since the beginning of 2016, to block the entire process and protect deep-rooted, vested interests of media tycoons.
Since 1990, and for 27 years, private TV channels in Greece have been operating without authorisation, in the absence of any regulatory or binding framework. Owners of TV channels have been receiving excessive loans of millions of euros from the banks without providing the necessary guarantees, leaving behind overdue debts. The majority of entrepreneurs involved in this field have also developed strong ties with the biggest political parties of the previous decades, i.e. New Democracy and PASOK, ties that have also facilitated other illicit transactions, including vast public procurements.
For the first time since 1990, the Greek government has endeavored to re-organize the media landscape, voting for and implementing the media law, already anticipated in the first memorandum in 2010. In fact, what this government did was to simply put on track a reform that all previous governments have agreed to vote for, but never have done so.
Furthermore, the European Union law foresees that the democratic regulation of the media landscape lies exclusively on the member-states themselves. This was what the spokesperson of the European Commission Mr Margaritis Schinas repeated in September, endorsing the Greek government for moving forward to the tender and achieving to bring in additional income, especially under the current financial restraints of the Greek economy.
The tender for the four licenses successfully concluded last month, with the Greek state planned to receive €260 million within a period of three years – so far, one third of this amount has been collected. From a legal perspective, it is also a great achievement for the government as the Council of State has repeatedly issued judgements on the illegal and unconstitutional status of TV channels. In addition to that, it is the first time that media entrepreneurs are called to pay for using public frequencies, as it should normally happen in any other democratic and welfare state.
The Greek government has been the center of fierce criticism by these media entrepreneurs that did not achieve to get a license, but also by the front opposition party that since its leader Mr Mitsotakis was elected President last January was calling for snap elections to block this process and leave the media landscape untouched.
As for the allegations that the government aims at imposing its own “game” in the media, these are completely unfounded. SKAI and Antenna TV, both achieving to secure a license, have been strongly opposing to the government’s policy. Both entrepreneurs have close ties with the old political establishment, and have never been treated in a privileged way by the current government.
The New Democracy party, along with oligarchs-media tycoons, have orchestrated a campaign to cancel the tender, while front opposition leader Mr Mitsotakis has pledged to return the money to media entrepreneurs that have achieved to get a license.
These days, the Council of State – i.e. that has repeatedly stood firm against the unconstitutional status in which TV licenses were operating- is convening to examine the constitutionality of the relevant bill. We should all stop intervening in its work, and let us wait for its final verdict.
Dimitrios Papadimoulis is Vice President of the European Parliament, head of Syriza party delegation.