Illicit billboards make profits for many

With the collusion of municipalities, prefectures and even of the Public Power Corporation, illegally erected billboards are back in force on main roads and highways following the mandatory truce declared for the Olympic Games. Four years since Law 2946 was passed and 18 months since then-Public Works Minister Vasso Papandreou decreed that prefectures were to remove billboards, the situation looks to be out of control. In contravention of the law, new billboards keep appearing. They bring in considerable profits to advertisers, advertising companies and municipal authorities but represent a serious hazard to motorists. A Kathimerini investigation found that advertising companies pay the municipalities where they erect their billboards from 5,000 to 15,000 euros a year, a sum not to be scorned. The companies themselves make far more than that, given that they can rent out the space for 700-3,000 euros for two weeks. Lips sealed The sums involved are obviously high, which helps explain the reluctance of municipalities to comply with the law and remove illegally erected billboards. Despite our efforts to learn more about this informal market, most lips remain firmly sealed. That applies both to the elected municipal authorities of Attica and to the representatives of the two large advertising groups which dominate outdoor advertising. Those who do speak out reveal the weakness of the state and the lack of funds (and possibly the lack of will) of local authorities to implement the law. Haralambos Maniatis from the general secretariat of Attica regional administration explained that for want of staff and technical equipment, the administration is still in the process of reaching agreements with Attica municipalities to come up with a way of removing the billboards. Astonishingly, the municipalities deny any involvement and responsibility, despite that fact that in compliance with the law, each billboard bears the number of the permit it has from the municipality. Either these numbers are fake or the municipalities are denying having issued them. As Gavriil Kalogeropoulos from the Municipality of Vyronas told Kathimerini, «the billboards on the Kareas ring road are illegal, the municipality has never issued a permit and has never received money for them.» Asked why they have not been taken down, since they are known to be illegal, Kalogeropoulos said, «The cost of removal and storage is very high and we hope that by the end of May they will have been dismantled by the services that we have reached agreement with.» He explained that the procedure for removing an illegal billboard is time-consuming, entails a great deal of red tape because offices from the municipality, prefecture and police are involved, and is often ineffective. Sources informed Kathimerini that the Municipality of Vyronas, like many others in Athens that border main roads, has illicitly signed long-term contracts with companies that install billboards and lease space on them. Petros Mouchlidis, of Media Promotion, a company that deals in billboards, is in favor of imposing order on the chaotic outdoor advertising scene that obstructs vehicles and pedestrians. He acknowledges that the law is not being complied with but says its strictness leads to infringements. He also claims that rigorous enforcement of the existing law would put out of business many companies «that employ more than 10,000 workers who produce and distribute advertising.» Outdoor advertisers have contacted the Ministry of the Environment, Planning and Public Works, said Mouchlidis, in an attempt to clarify matters «so that the law can be implemented but the companies involved don’t find themselves out of work.»