October 27, 2016
Greece is the only EU member-state that has never regulated the media landscape nor proceeded to a TV licenses auction. Private channels have been operating for 27 years under a state of anomy and in the context of a temporary function.
Previous governments, namely ND and PASOK, have been postponing a final resolution for 15 consecutive times. None of them has ever achieved to collect taxes nor any other means of income for the use of public frequencies. The Syriza government has already received €51 million before the auction took place, added to the first tranche of €85 million submitted by the new TV license holders last month. The overall gain for the Greek state would reach €309 million by 2019. The government has pledged to distribute this amount among these social groups that have been direly hit by austerity all these years.
The Ministry of Education had been already implementing the relevant bill to support 15,000 children and their families that face serious financial restraints, while the Ministry of Health was about to stimulate the healthcare sector with another 4,000 recruitments, necessary to cover the growing operational needs of the hospitals.
The decision of the Supreme Court
Yesterday night the Supreme Court deemed unconstitutional the regulation of Pappas bill (i.e. Article 2A) to transfer the right of launching the TV licenses auction from the relevant independent authority (NCRTV – ΕΣΡ) to the General Secretariat of the Ministry of State. The Court in its ruling did not contest the bill and left untouched all major regulations, including the number of licenses that will be provided, all legal and labour aspects, as well as the period during which all four licenses will be valid (i.e. 10 years, renewable)
The decision of the Court is literally controversial. In 2010, the same body has deemed unconstitutional the operational framework that has been de facto established since 1989, while in late August 2016, just before the auction took place, it ruled that the auction should accelerate and conclude for reasons of national interest. In other words, within two months, the Supreme Court reversed its ruling for reasons that we cannot be certain of.
The Greek National Council for Radio and Television (NCRTV)
The decision for the composition of the independent administrative authority that supervises and regulates the radio/television market in Greece has been blocked by the front opposition party since early 2015. The Greek government has repeatedly attempted to find a compromise with ND party on the composition of the Board, but in the end no solution was reached. Even last week, when the President of the Greek Parliament Nikos Voutsis proposed to the Committee of the Presidents, in front of all political parties, his draft on the proposed members for the NCRTV, ND party decided to draw support. None of the propose members has any direct political link with Syriza party or any relation with the government; still, the stance of ND was again negative.
ND leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis wants the bill to be vanquished and withdrawn, Minister of State Nikos Pappas to resign, and start the entire process from scratch. For the time being there is no space for compromise, nor any indication that ND party will respect the decision of the government to re-organize and set rules in the media landscape, departing this time from the composition of the NCRTV. It is an open political war, but this war can be easily explained when the broader context is provided.
The Political Background
The Supreme Court has been repeatedly contested for decisions that have not only gone against its previous rulings, but also against the public sense of justice. During these turbulent times of austerity with Greece having received three bailout packages and implementing consecutive wage and pension cuts since 2010, the Court never deemed unconstitutional the violations of social and human rights caused by the extreme fiscal discipline of the adjustment programs.
Similar was the stance of the Court in two other major cases: the shutting down of the Public TV Broadcaster (ΕΡΤ) by Samaras government in 2013 and the PSI in 2012 that caused to the social security funds a damage of tens of billions of euros, putting additional burden in the shoulders of Greek taxpayers. In both cases, the Court decided to remain silent.
ND and PASOK clearly to seek for the collapse of the auction and the return of the media landscape in its previous, unlawful state. The reason is that for almost 30 years a complicated and illicit triangle between the biggest political parties, media tycoons, and high-ranked banking officials has been built with all sides sucking public money and EU funds, leaving behind a failed state. Many of the media owners that were vying these couple of months to secure a TV license had developed strong ties with the previous political establishment, receiving loans worth billions of euro without providing any guarantees. These media outlets alongside ND and PASOK parties have gone bankrupt and it would only take a decision of a Court to shut them down.
Corruption is so deep that any government that attempts to change the status quo can face a huge wave of reaction and powerful blasts of propaganda and hatred speech. Eradicating this deep-rooted anomaly is what is necessary for the economy and the society to breath, even if this can cause severe political damage to the government.
Follow Dimitris on Twitter: @rapidisAuthor : Dimitris Rapidis