Gov’t on defensive in wake of TV law rebuff from judiciary


Government officials on Wednesday sought to play down the repercussions of Tuesday’s decision by the Council of State to accept appeals lodged by television channels against a recent government auction of TV licenses, indicating that the decision did not mean that a final ruling would deem the process as unconstitutional.

In line with the government’s attempt to deflect attention from the issue, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras did not address Parliament during a debate in the House on social welfare.

The premier had been expected to speak in the House and lash out at the opposition, particularly in view of the fact that their representatives in a meeting of parliamentary speakers and deputy speakers failed to agree on Wednesday on the appointment of a board to the National Council for Radio and Television (ESR).

According to sources, the opposition parties’ speakers and deputy speakers in the House refused to discuss the appointment of a council for the media watchdog before a final decision by the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, regarding the constitutionality of a recent controversial auction for TV licenses.

A decision by the court on Tuesday to uphold appeals lodged by six television channels against the auction, which left some channels without permits, came as tensions mount between the government and the judiciary.

The unexpected move paved the way for the judges to discuss whether a law drafted by State Minister Nikos Pappas, which allowed the auction to reduce the number of nationwide TV licenses to four, is in line with the Constitution.

If the judges take issue with the law, the government will probably be forced to reverse the competition and return fees paid to the state by winners of the auction.

The Council of State’s president Nikos Sakellariou on Wednesday decided that the court will convene again next Monday and Wednesday to discuss the constitutionality, or not, of Pappas’s law.

According to sources, the judges attending Tuesday’s session were very angry about media reports, including a front-page story in Avgi, a daily newspaper aligned with SYRIZA, that cast aspersions about the private life of a top judge.

Pappas sought to strike a conciliatory tone on Wednesday. “It is unethical for any developments to be linked with the private moments of any individuals,” Pappas said in comments to state broadcaster ERT.

“It’s not anyone’s business and should be left out of the [political] discourse,” he said.

In comments later in the day to Skai Television, Pappas defended his law, saying that it would “cure the ills” of the Greek media sector, and saying the revocation of the auction would be a “big problem.”

Earlier in the day, the conservative opposition accused the government of resorting to dubious tactics in a bid to influence the judicial process.

“The country is witnessing an unprecedented institutional degeneration. Democratic standards are being undermined,” New Democracy chief Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in Parliament.

The justice system is the last institutional barrier against authoritarianism,” Mitsotakis said.