Greece media auction will reduce number of TV channels to four
Channels had previously operated without licenses, and the government claims the current eight channels are not economically viable as advertising revenues have fallen
Greece today is holding an auction for four private TV licenses, a move that will force the closure of an equal number of television channels, and has sparked considerable controversy, with charges that the ruling Syriza party is attempting to control the media.
There are eight groups that will compete for the four 10-year nationwide licenses. Opening bids start at 3 million euros ($3.35 million).
“For 27 years, television channels operated without licenses,” said Nikos Pappas, an aide to Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. “The result was the creation of a closed oligopoly of established interests in a market that should have opened from the beginning. Taxes weren’t paid, borrowing was excessive (nearly €1.5 billion in debts) and there was a lack of transparency.”
Both the conservative New Democracy party and the socialist party, Pasok, oppose the auction.
The expected bidders today are existing channels Skai TV, Star Channel, Antenna TV, and Alpha TV, along with new bidders Ivan Savvidis, Evangelos Marinakis, Yannis Kalogritsas and ITV CP – a Cypriot-based company.
Authorities say they want to clean up an industry known for workforce exploitation and rumored under-the-table deals between media moguls, bankers and influential politicians, while bringing an end to 25 years of chaotic licensing.
Government officials have noted that ever since private TV broadcasts began in Greece, channels have been allowed to operate on provisional licenses renewed 15 times since 1995.
…Rival TV representatives were shown arriving early Tuesday with luggage. One had a mattress in tow. They are to be kept in complete isolation, and under closed-circuit TV surveillance, to prevent arranged bids. They are not to leave the building or communicate with the outside world until the process is concluded.
One TV manager called the conditions “humiliating,” while another said stations were being “held to ransom.”
But it is not the first time a Greek government has been accused of trying to control the media. The Greek political class has always used the public sector for its own ends and has always had “interplay” with the private sector, as in many other European countries, said Stelios Papathanassopoulos, a professor of communication and media studies at Athens University.
“All this upheaval is because the government wants to gain a tactical advantage,” he said. “It wants to crush corruption, but it could end up creating a new corruption.”
Still, he said he was surprised that debate about the TV auction was entirely politicized with no discussion about content or the future of the media.