Gov’t changes tactics on TV auction after court rejection


The government on Thursday went on the defensive following the Council of State’s rejection of its flagship auction of television licenses, calling on the political opposition to participate in an attempt to convene the cross-party National Broadcasting Council (ESR), the media regulator, on Monday.

After the initial reaction by government officials, which included scathing criticism of the Greek judiciary, associates close to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras sought to scale down the tension.

The initial government proposal, made almost immediately after the court’s ruling late on Wednesday, foresaw a new bill that would provide temporary licenses to all TV channels for a transitional phase.

But the government changed tack later in the day with Tsipras asking Parliament Speaker Nikos Voutsis to assemble the House’s speakers on Monday with the aim of convening the ESR.

“It will now be clear if ND really does have objection as regards institutional issues or if it just doesn’t want the auction to happen and the current regime to be extended,” a source close to Tsipras said, referring to New Democracy.

The auction, in early September, awarded four TV licenses, refusing permits to several existing channels. The losing channels had been due to close next week.

Earlier in the day State Minister Nikos Pappas, a close aide of Tsipras who oversaw the license auction, described the court’s ruling as “binding but unjust,” noting that the same court had deemed the previous system, where no channels have licenses, as unconstitutional.

A government reshuffle expected in the coming days is expected to be put off for a while as Pappas will need to remain in his post while the TV license debacle is sorted out, sources indicated.

Government spokeswoman Olga Gerovasili was much more critical than Pappas, slamming the court for finding Greece’s first two bailout programs and a private sector debt restructuring in 2012 constitutional while deeming the government’s auction unconstitutional.

The fees the winning channels paid that the government would be obliged to return will deprive children of places at kindergartens and school meals, she said, referring to the social welfare initiatives on which the government had planned to spend the proceeds of the auction.

The government’s reaction to the court’s ruling triggered a storm of protest from opposition parties, with New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis describing it as “dangerous” while accusing it of committing a “major institutional impropriety.”

Elections, he said, are the only way to restore “political normalcy,” in the country, and he slammed Tsipras for “an abundance of authoritarianism and arrogance.”

He is expected to raise these concerns during a meeting on Monday with President Prokopis Pavlopoulos.

Gerovasili’s remarks were also denounced in the strongest of terms by the Union of Judges and Prosecutors, which said in a statement that the government was engaging in “unprovoked attacks against the justice system.”