August 30: The Greek government has auctioned TV licenses in order to cut TV channels from eight to four. It says the move was meant to restore order to the chaotic media sector, but critics say it will lead to job losses and limits on freedom of speech.
The auction belongs to the past, but the hot political debate on the new media landscape is ongoing.
Private channels had to pay for their right to stay on air. The auction was a political move to ensure that the government is handing licences to economically viable channels.
Two former players in the field (SKAI and ANTENNA) and two new entrants (channels of a shipowner E. Marinakis and a contractor Y. Kalogritsas) raised €250 million for the state from the auction. The government will spend this amount investing in welfare policies.
Since 1989, when private broadcasting was first allowed in Greece, TV stations have been operating on an illegal basis. The licences were tendered provisionally (or even not tendered) and media businesses have not paid their share to the state. The media sector in Greece was mired in debt and mistrust because of its dependence on political parties.
‘’The political elite in Greece has always had an influence on private channels. Financially unstable TV stations were backed up by politicians to get soft bank loans. In return, these politicians asked for a friendly coverage’’, says Ioannis Konstantinidis, a political behaviour analyst.
Greek Media has never served its main role as an independent watchdog.
The opposition has accused the government of undermining the independence of Greek media, with the freedom of speech in danger. The problem is, no one is focusing on the content of media. The debate is fully politicized.
‘’I’m not sure that their actual concern is the freedom of speech. Media was always a puppet in the hands of politicians. It’s the political power that is shifting, not the media landscape’’, says Aleksandros Valsamidis from The Bangladesh News.
The opposition says that the most powerful private stations were excluded from the media arena, but SKAI and ANTENNA, popular channels with a strong anti-governmental agenda secured their licences during the auction.
Responding to the concerns of the employees that are going to lose their jobs, the government says that the two new TV stations will create more job opportunities. The government reserves the right to revoke licences if this provision is not met.
‘’The most likely scenario is that new TV stations will hire recent journalism graduates so that they will not have to pay them too much’’, says Periklis Stellas from MEGA channel.
Private TV stations that were unable to secure licences still have some options. They will be able to bid for new licenses for local transmission or specific content. Moreover, they will be able to broadcast through different satellite platforms.
‘’The biggest challenge is to create order in the broadcasting sphere with good working conditions for the journalists and objective reporting. I believe this will not be achieved in the near future. Everyone, media and politicians just seek to safeguard their own interests’’, says Panagiotis Krinis, journalist for TV100.