Reuters — Greece awarded new broadcasting licenses on Friday in a politically controversial step to cull the number of television channels operating in an industry that authorities say is mired in mismanagement and corruption.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s left-led government has said the move will help regulate the sector, but the media says it will curb free speech and shut down stations, putting thousands of people out of work.
Only four licenses were on offer, meaning some of the eight channels now broadcasting nationwide will have to close ‘within 90 days’.
Skai TV won the first license, allowing it to stay on air.
“We were not contesting a license, we came to negotiate ransom,” Costas Kimbouropoulos, Skai’s representative, said.
Authorities said four channels was an appropriate number of broadcasters which could stay viable, based on advertising industry estimates of the television commercial market worth 280 million euros annually.
The government, which came to power promising to take on “the oligarchs”, has said the move will help bring order to a sector mired in debt and discredited because of its political links.
Broadcasters, who have mounted a legal challenge to the process, say the auction was little more than an attempt to gag critics, but they still took part in the process.
Antenna TV and two new entrants also won a license. The bidders were on lockdown at the Press Ministry for more than three days, mobiles phones were banned to ensure no leaks.
Skai had called the auction “a bad reality show” aimed at distracting the public from economic hardship.
Existing operators Star channel and Alpha TV failed to secure a license. Mega TV , the first private station which aired in Greece in 1989, did not qualify to participate in the licensing round because of outstanding debts.
The state secured a total of 246 million euros.
The bidders were either powerful Greek families or shipping magnates. Three of them, including a Russian-Greek businessman, also owned Greek premier league soccer clubs.