Illegitimate power

When the media sector was deregulated amid political turmoil in 1989, few objected to the unchecked growth of this new and politically sensitive market. Even fewer noticed the power shift from politics to the business sector. The assent to this change by all parties, including those on the Left, altered the politico-economic system dramatically over the next decade. Private television was gradually able to impose its own rules on politics. Before they knew it, politicians found themselves hostage to the TV screen. Only a few strong spirits managed to remain unfettered. Most had to bargain, take sides, or even enter a master-and-servant relationship with the media. During the 1990s, the power of media moguls took on massive proportions. A small group of four or five media organizations shared the pie, holding politics to ransom. The Simitis government accepted these recast roles, encouraged horse trading between various business interests, and channeled state funds accordingly. All deals and purchases were conducted according to script. Construction projects, telecoms, IT and the arms trade became the object of political and business entanglement. Greed was what pushed this unprincipled system to the 1999 stock market crisis. The bursting of the stock market bubble caused the first cracks in the system’s foundations. In 2000, right after the elections, Simitis tried to regain control of the situation. It was a short-lived campaign, as his efforts were crushed under the weight of conflicting interests. Costas Karamanlis, himself a target of these interests in the past, now appears determined to thwart them and restore free market principles. He has the will, the power and, above all, the public mandate. Entanglement may have many backers but its power is illegitimate. It stands no chance in the face of a determined leadership.