September 2nd saw four highly controversial TV broadcast licences awarded in Greece. The licences were granted following a State-organised auction process.
The first licence was granted to Skai, for €43m, from a starting bid price of €3 million. The others went to the Toxotis construction group, owned by Yiannis Kalogritsas, for €52 million; Alter Ego, owned by Vangelis Marinakis, for €73 million; and Antenna TV, for €95 million. Mega, one of the longest established commercial broadcasters in Greece, was excluded from the contest.
The decisions led to bitter arguments in the Greek parliament, and September 20th saw a debate express serious concerns. One cabinet member expressed serious concerns about one of the victors, the son of a construction magnate with leftist links who is already under investigation for alleged tax evasion. A New Democracy member of parliament accused the government of covering up “leftist corruption”.
Opposition members forced parliament to use a special provision to summon State Minister Nikos Pappas to answer questions relating to the procedure of the competition, which itself fuelled controversy. The decisions extend up to and including the Bank of Greece about a major loan given by one of Greece’s state-backed banks and allegations that millions of euros in tax have been evaded.
Perhaps bizarrely, the post-auction squabble runs contrary to that which the ruling party Syriza wanted to achieve. The auction was designed with tough rules designed to ensure fairness and thus comply with the government’s ‘war against corruption’.
However, critics are arguing that the government should have established an OFCOM-type National Broadcasting Council, which could have been wholly independent and – as far as critics are concerned – transparent.
Syriza ended up having to say that any license-holder found to be in violation of the country’s laws would be stripped of its licence.