New stab at tender ban

Hoping to slash through the Gordian knot of legislation designed to prevent powerful media owners from securing lucrative state contracts through political clout, the government is due to table a tougher bill on the politically explosive matter in a fortnight’s time. Government sources told Kathimerini yesterday that the draft law will call for stricter monitoring of who owns shares in media firms, while at the same time banning offshore companies – whose ownership is almost impossible to trace – from holding such shares. More crucially, the government is understood to be planning a major cut in the minimum percentage of share capital whose ownership legally precludes businesspeople from winning state contracts. The current floor is at 5 percent, and the government proposes to reduce this to 1 percent – or just above that. Furthermore, «major» shareholders will be unable to get around the law by transferring shares to family members, or placing close relatives on boards of media firms. And holders will be bound to reveal their sources of wealth. A final version of the bill has already been drafted, and is expected to be tabled in Parliament by December 10, at the latest. A parliamentary committee on transparency has prepared a report on the matter. Sources say it calls for «substantial and effective control of incidents of illegal and abusive use of media companies to exercise pressure – regarding business or other matters – on politicians, as well as members of the judiciary.» The conservative government has accused its Socialist predecessors of allowing friendly – or simply powerful – media owners undue access to public tenders, particularly in the lead-up to the Athens Olympics. Ten days ago, the Council of State found unconstitutional a law passed by the PASOK government that allowed relatives and spouses of major media shareholders to avoid the ban on state contracts. But a day later, a department of the State Audit Council found it legal.