Battle over the media moves to Parliament

Press Minister Christos Protopappas faces a week of intense debate – both public and private – over his bill to exclude basic shareholders (those with at least 5 percent of shares) in media companies from doing business with the State. Newspaper publishers and major shareholders in media companies are about to launch their final assault, and make their views known to the minister. They will be exerting as much pressure as possible in an attempt to maintain the status quo before the bill is sent to Parliament, where the final political battle will be waged and the strength of the government’s political will to bring more transparency into public life put to the final test. There are many who claim, and not without some justification, that the restrictions set out in the bill will be nothing more than a smokescreen if they do not seal off all loopholes that could be exploited by the armies of lawyers representing basic shareholders. In addition, many feel that the independent authority monitoring the media, the National Radio and Television Council, should consist of truly independent members who are answerable only to Parliament and should be given the proper authority and legal backing to carry out inspections and prevent basic shareholders from entering into business contracts with the State. These reservations are rooted in the belief that as long as these shareholders are not wholly excluded – irrespective of the size of their media holdings – from signing business contracts with the State (this is the position of the main opposition New Democracy party, a stance the government regards as extreme), the implementation of the new law will, in practice, create its own loopholes. And there are many who claim that the purpose of the legislation, as well as the substance of the law with regard to the concept of «incompatibility» for the basic shareholder (or his or her representatives or relatives up to and including those to the fourth degree, executives of media companies and shareholders in the form of offshore companies) can be circumvented through the use of various legal stratagems. The spurious response of those immediately affected by the bill is that imposing such extreme measures in a free market will only result in crippling it. They assert that in a globalized economy, no business owner can be excluded from carrying out transactions. Instead, the political leadership should create mechanisms to ensure transparency in bids for state supplies or projects, as well as a strict framework for protecting healthy competition, including heavy sanctions for violators. The parliamentary debate on the issue is expected to initiate a substantial debate on transparency, a concept that has been much discussed of late, and will be used by the opposition against the government. The prime minister, on the other hand, views the debate as casting doubt on his good intentions.

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