State tender bill passes with some alterations

With partial backing from the two smaller left-wing parties in Parliament, the house’s conservative majority passed a new law yesterday banning media barons from access to lucrative state contracts. A series of last-minute tweaking to the bill by Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos ensured the backing of the Communist Party and Synaspismos Left Coalition for eight out of the 14 articles during yesterday’s debate, in which the draft law was voted on article by article. PASOK main opposition party MPs voted against all the articles, accusing the government of drafting the law with the express purpose of forcing construction magnate Giorgos Bobolas – whom ruling New Democracy sees as having been awarded favorable contracts by the previous, Socialist government – out of the media sector. One of the amendments passed yesterday would seem to bolster that charge – which the government fiercely denied – as it will now be impossible for media owners to circumvent the law by turning their businesses into non-profit foundations. This is an option Bobolas is understood to be considering for his Pegasus media group – which counts the Ethnos and Imerissia dailies among its stable, and holds a 23 percent stake in Mega TV – after talks, prompted by the new bill, to sell Pegasus to shipping magnate Theodoros Angelopoulos broke down on Tuesday. The law, which is meant to prevent contractors from using their media clout to bludgeon governments into awarding them lucrative deals, forbids anyone holding 1 percent or more of a media company’s share capital to bid for state contracts worth over a million euros. This will also apply to the close relatives of such «major» shareholders. The law will also make it much harder for businessmen to hide behind offshore companies in order to maintain control of media firms. Another amendment, proposed by Synaspismos, will prevent media owners from engaging in bogus asset transfers to bring their holdings under the 1 percent ceiling. One more limits the holdings mutual funds can own in media firms, or companies doing business with the state, to 10 percent. And media owned by the state, local authorities or the Church will be exempt from the ban. Meanwhile yesterday, two senior Ethnos editors resigned after what sources described as a disagreement with the daily’s owners over the newspaper’s recent coverage of the bill.