Limit on news owners

In an effort to curb the power of media owners who use their influence with politicians to do business with the State on favorable terms, the Cabinet yesterday approved a series of legislative measures, including placing a 5-percent limit on the number of shares anyone involved in deals with the State can hold in a media company. The government’s initiative is aimed at filling in blanks in the law and creating greater transparency, but it is expected to fuel new political tensions. This is because the opposition New Democracy party demands even stricter measures while at the same time some media owners have been pressing for looser measures. In his opening remarks, Prime Minister Costas Simitis appeared to realize that a clash was coming with media owners, noting many reports of difficulties being experienced by the government – some of which, he said, «do not correspond with reality.» Simitis spoke of his government’s policy with regard to the news media, which, he said, constitutes a cornerstone of democracy. The news media, he said, have a role to play in terms of criticism, but, he added, «the role of critics that they have the right to play is connected also with the obligation to be responsible, and with (the need) for a framework that should ensure transparency so that there cannot be exploitation and abuse of economic power.» Simitis called for a broad dialogue to be held with interested parties but said that the legislation must be presented in its final form in a month so that it can go to Parliament. All the ministers who spoke during the meeting were in favor of the basic principles of the legislation, though most of them stressed that it was not the 5-percent ownership limit on the «basic shareholder» that counted but the manner in which the law would be applied, so that it would not be made void by various tricks. Public Works Minister Vasso Papandreou and Labor Minister Dimitris Reppas indicated that the «basic shareholder» could be allowed to hold more than 5 percent. Papandreou said that owners of even 2 percent could control companies, while Reppas said that the Competition Committee could help ensure transparency. Aegean Minister Nikos Sifounakis called for guidelines for what he described as «Third World» news broadcasts.

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