Launching war on business interests

Inevitably, Costas Karamanlis’s deliberate choice of strong words (the prime minister vowed «not to allow five pimps and another five interest groups to control public affairs») late on Wednesday caused a stir. People felt the government leader was giving voice to their own views about who is responsible for undermining the country’s progress and blocking the creative forces which always excel when a collective effort is made. People did not see Karamanlis’s vow as a one-off statement but rather as an expression of a clear commitment to take on the forces which are currently putting the brakes on Greece’s progress – whether it’s state-dependent business interests or organized groups with strong party connections and leverage. The two cases mentioned by the prime minister are, of course, distinct. What Karamanlis referred to as «interest groups» exert influence over the apparatus of any party which happens to be in power. These interests expect to preserve their anachronistic privileges, which do not always correspond with the state of the economy. This, in a way, is also a social problem and dealing with it mandates political vigor and an effective development policy. The «pimp problem,» as it were, is more specific in nature yet much more serious. Karamanlis’s expression probably refers to the concentration of the media in the hands of a small number of businessmen that make systematic use of them to promote their (often dubious) business interests. The conservative prime minister has himself been a target of these businessmen in the past and has first-hand knowledge of the underhand means they employ in advancing their objectives. Pressured by media attacks and swayed by the temptation of personal promotion through tampering with the media, Greek politicians have avoided tackling the issue. As a result, private television channels have yet to receive broadcast permits after 15 years in operation. The prime minister’s statement signaled a will to put an end to this state of immunity. People now have every reason to expect a string of government measures, starting with the bill on media ownership, the basic shareholder clause and, in general, the relationship between media owners and public contractors. Karamanlis’s phrase inevitably takes on the color of another policy declaration.