Media law compromise

The European Commission and Greece have reportedly arrived at a compromise over the hotly disputed «shareholder law» which had barred media owners from bidding for public contracts. On Thursday, government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos announced that the European Commission’s «competent services» had approved, in writing, the contents of a draft bill that is to replace a previous one the government had voted in last January and which had incurred the EU’s wrath. Oliver Dewes, spokesman for Internal Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy, confirmed that the new draft bill, whose contents have not yet been made public, was compatible with EU rules and regulations. Dewes avoided any reference to specifics, saying that an official statement will be released next week. It was announced yesterday that the draft bill would be submitted to Parliament by November 15. The EU had objected to the previous law – as well as to a provision in the amended Greek Constitution, inserted in 2001, during the latest constitutional revision – which barred media owners from doing business with the state. The EU claimed that such a broad ban discriminated against these businesspeople because it assumed that, by their very nature as media owners, they would exercise undue influence on the bidding process. The previous, Socialist government had passed a law implementing the constitutional provisions in 2002 but the EU had not reacted to that because that law included loopholes that allowed the targeted businesspeople to bypass the ban. The present New Democracy government, which won the March 2004 national election on an anti-corruption platform, has made the passage of a tighter law the cornerstone of its program. Ignoring EU warnings, saying they came from lowly bureaucrats, it passed its law in January 2005. In announcing the compromise, Roussopoulos said that the new law respected «both the constitution and EU rules,» but, as he himself admitted, the draft law essentially makes the constitution’s provisions inoperative by lifting the ban and putting the onus on the National Radio and Television Council, which supervises electronic media, to prove that media owners who are also bidders for a public contract are exercising undue pressure via their media outlets. Roussopoulos added that media companies and public contract bidders remain obligated to register all their shareholders.