Minor changes to media law

Government officials said on Wednesday that only minor changes will be made in the draft law on media ownership and state procurement, while others expressed fears that some of the law’s provisions are incompatible with European Union regulations. The draft law prevents anyone who owns a major stake in a media company, or their relatives up to three degrees removed, from being shareholders in a company bidding for state contracts. The incompatibility of ownership was introduced in the Constitution’s latest revision, in 2001, and a law to that effect had already been voted in by the previous government in 2002. The present government has set out to tighten many of the provisions of that law, by reducing the definition of a «major» shareholder to one holding a 1 percent stake in a company, from 5 percent previously, and by extending the incompatibility to that shareholder’s relatives. It is this latter provision that has been the focus of criticism, including that of Environment and Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias, who fears that legal wrangling over the provisions could delay major public projects and, perhaps, prevent the flow of EU funds. Although sources and media close to the government were insisting yesterday that Souflias had been forced to toe the line following a Wednesday meeting with Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, it transpired that the two actually did not discuss the subject. For the present government, passing the incompatibility legislation is of enormous significance, since it considers it the lynchpin of its much-publicized campaign against vested interests. To opponents, this is merely a tactical move designed to take revenge on publishers of non-friendly media.