Greece cracks down on ‘Triangle of Corruption’ in TV

The New York Times  — Since Greece opened its media to private broadcasting in the 1980s, the market has been an almost unregulated scrum. Licenses are given out on an ad hoc basis. Media outlets have proliferated. The chaos ushered in hundreds of millions of euros of debt and invited the undue influence of banks, media barons and successive governments.

Now, the government led by the Syriza party under Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras says it wants to crack down on what it characterises as a “triangle of corruption,” by auctioning off a limited number of licenses on Tuesday.

But whether that effort is actually aimed at bringing order to the market or is yet another attempt by a Greek government to shape the media to its advantage has set off a hot debate and an intense wrangle for power here.

Syriza opponents accuse it of a power grab under a different guise. The conservative New Democracy party said the government was seeking “absolute control” of the media. The once-mighty Socialist party, Pasok, has charged Syriza with disrespecting democracy and freedom of speech.

Meanwhile, the European Commission, though not objecting to the auction per se, has signaled that media independence could be at risk.

The auction will limit the number of nationwide TV licenses to four, meaning half of Greece’s stations will be forced to close.

The government argues that eight channels are too many for a small country like Greece, citing the dwindling size of the TV advertising market, whose annual revenue has been slashed by two-thirds since the crisis erupted in 2009, to under 200 million euros.

The Greek media is in the worst state in its history, with advertising revenue plummeting and consumers turning in droves to the internet, he said. “Yet all we are talking about is who is going to get the licenses,” he said. As for what will be on Greek TV after the auction, “I have no idea.”

The European Commission has expressed concern about the independence of the Greek regulator that was supposed to conduct the auction and about the extent of government control over media owners. The media owners say they are being unfairly targeted, and deny exerting any improper influence or seeking political favours.

In comments to a parliamentary panel investigating funding given by Greek banks to media organizations and political parties this month, Dimitris Kontominas, the owner of Alpha Channel, who also owns a Greek insurance firm, said that he was not corrupt and that his “only connection to the state is when I buy stamps for my letters.

Yiannis Alafouzos, who owns the center-right Skai channel, claimed that the main concern of the government was not to tackle entangled interests but to install new candidates and “establish a status quo in Greece.” Describing the government’s stance as “totalitarian,” he said, “They’re taking us 15, 20 years back.”

Stratis Liarelis, the managing director of ANT1, whose holding company has a presence in 14 countries and whose major shareholder is the shipowner Minos Kyriakou, said the government was tarring all channels with the same brush.

“Everyone is included in the same ‘triangle’ when we haven’t taken one public contract,” he said, adding that if there are illegal loans or public contracts given because of interplay with politicians, the authorities “should go to a prosecutor, not demolish the entire media industry in Greece.”