Curbing the media

Articles 14 and 15 of the Greek Constitution acknowledge the special and growing role of the mass media in contemporary society and treat the massive accumulation and use of power the media have currently secured as a threat. For this reason, following lengthy political dialogue, limits were set on the extent of media activity. Foreseeing dangers from the abuse of media power, the Constitution clearly stipulates in Article 14 that «the status of owner, partner, main shareholder or manager of a media enterprise is incompatible with the status of owner, partner, main shareholder or manager of an enterprise that undertakes to carry out projects or procurements or supply services to the state or the legal representative of the state sector. «This prohibition in the previous paragraph extends to related persons such as spouses, relatives, economically dependent individuals and companies. The law determines special provisions and sanctions, from the revocation of a permit for a radio or television station or the revocation of the relevant contract as well as means of control and guarantees to prevent the infringement of the above paragraph.» Moreover, Article 15 of the Constitution states that «the imposition of administrative sanctions is the exclusive province of the National Radio and Television Council (ESR), which is an independent agency, as the law states.» This explicit prohibition, which had not been questioned by anyone, was violated by a law introduced by former Justice Minister Evangelos Venizelos, which invented the false term «economic independence» for family and other related persons so as to create a large loophole for entangled interests. On the basis of that legal invention, ESR generously handed out transparency certificates and provocatively allowed certain entrepreneurs who had the dual status of media owner and state constructor or supplier to deal in public procurements and services. The day before yesterday, ESR rejected an application for a certificate to a construction company owned by the Bobolas family, acknowledging what everyone knows and noting the identity of interests shared by the supposed builder son and his publisher father. Though delayed, this action is a first step toward implementation of the law and an indication that ESR can play its part, acting as a genuinely independent body as the Constitution prescribes – as long as it is not a flash in the pan, a one-off action imposed by circumstances. The entire political leadership should see to that. It is an economic issue, but above all a question of democracy, which nobody is permitted to sidestep.