The Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, heard arguments on Monday from lawyers representing TV stations that oppose legislative changes to Greece’s telecom sector which will slash the number of private channels to four. New broadcasting licenses will be awarded in a tender in August and the current TV station owners want it canceled or changed.
Lawyers representing the private channels (including Skai, ANT1, Alpha, Star and others) along with other media experts, say that the current digital platform allows for at least 16 broadcast channels, and have lambasted the new legislation as an affront to “pluralism and objectivity.”
“Fewer TV stations mean less information,” was the mantra adopted by the lawyers.
Furthermore, opposition parties have slammed the fact that the decision to issue broadcasting licences has been taken away from the National Council for Radio and Television (ERS) and given to another body.
Media operators argue that the legislation violates the Constitution and European law, while the European Commission has also expressed concern via a letter of formal notice sent to Greece by European Digital Commissioner Gunther Oettinger in mid-June.
“The Commission fears that these changes are not in line with requirements of EU law which guarantee the independence of the national telecoms regulator, more specifically its independence from the government,” said European Commission spokesperson Nathalie Vandystadt.
The Commission, though, made it clear that its objections are not linked to the tender for TV broadcasting licenses.
The leftist-led government’s purge of private TV stations is part of its pledge to rid the media of what it says is the influence of big financial interests and influential politicians, which, it has maintained, have bred corruption and undermined the quality of the media.
However, critics link the move to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s loathing of TV barons and his bid to replace them with stations that will be more sympathetic to the leftist-led coalition.
The Council of State is expected to rule on the legality of the changes passed into law by the end of the month.
Seven established private channels have submitted application to participate in the tender – ANT1, Star, Mega, Alpha, Skai, Epsilon and Art – plus four newcomers.
According to the new rules, only “financially sustainable” ones have been allowed to take part in the August tender.