Conflicting interests

The immunity that characterizes the ownership status of television channels and the media in general is threatening to become a scourge of the smooth functioning of our democracy. The danger was once again exposed yesterday as the Parliament’s Institutional Transparency Committee warned that the National Radio and Television Council (ESR) has met with «failure in establishing the actual owners of shares, particularly when shareholders include offshore companies or when close relatives are listed as shareholders in two or more media companies.» The statement was made by ESR President Ioannis Laskaridis and ESR member Rodolfos Moronis. This is not a purely formal question. In fact, most people are aware that contractors and suppliers for public projects also hold stakes in media companies – yet still do not suffer any legal penalties. The sleaze-ridden system remains intact. The wrongdoers have managed to exploit all the legal loopholes left by the previous administrations, thus making it difficult, or even impossible, to sustain allegations of corruption against them. That was to be expected as the laws introduced by the now-departed Socialist administration of Costas Simitis – which was itself hostage to entangled interests – did not really aim at cleaning up the system. It is indicative that a national channel submitted a 7,800-page list of its registered share holders. This situation cannot go on. The newly installed government has pledged to bring to Parliament a new legal framework with the goal of thwarting entangled interests and monitoring the status of media ownership. These new regulations must put an end to the current game of hide-and-seek that is an offense to the intelligence of the public and state officials. The New Democracy party promised to do away with vested interests – which responded by doing everything to perpetuate the previous administration’s grip on power. The electorate resisted the attempts to pull the wool over its eyes and voted New Democracy into government. New Democracy’s mandate is strong enough to ensure that the party keeps a safe distance from the various power centers. The citizens have every right to expect the government to eradicate this disease, especially in the media, stamping out those circles that threaten to rob our democracy of all substance.