Media law sparks gov’t dissent

The first serious rift within the government’s ranks appeared to widen yesterday as aides to Environment and Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias amplified his concerns over whether a draft law banning media owners from being involved in state procurements may fall afoul of European Union regulations. Privately, government members were furious with Souflias yesterday, hinting that he ought to lose his portfolio. The few members of the New Democracy party who spoke openly yesterday defended the provisions of the proposed legislation. «I cannot imagine that the draft law is not compatible with European legislation,» said Vangelis Meimarakis, the New Democracy secretary-general. «But if it is not, it is up to us to make it (compatible).» The draft law, submitted to Parliament on December 20, bans anyone owning a media company from being a major shareholder of a company bidding for state contracts. The ban extends to relatives up to three times removed. The law tightens the provisions of a previous law and defines a major shareholder as one who owns 1 percent of a company instead of 5 percent, as the earlier law stated. The incompatibility of media ownership and involvement with public contracts was introduced at the latest revision of the Constitution, in 2001, when the previous, Socialist government was in power. The New Democracy party, then in opposition, had said the law voted in soon after was insufficient and its pledge to toughen its provisions was a central part of its election platform. A letter from a European Commission official contesting the legality of the basic provisions of the law was leaked on Tuesday, 12 days after it was sent. In response, government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos said the Greek Constitution overrides EU laws.