The TV License Tender Travesty Was All About Mass Media State Control



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Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced on Friday that the results of the television license tender put an end to 27 years of corruption and lawlessness in the media field and sends foreign investors the message that there are rules and fair competitions in Greece. Finally, he pledged that the 246 or so million euros from the license sale will go to the poor, down to the last penny. The politics of handouts, once again.

Of course in the past Tsipras has pledged that there will be no pension cuts, no tax hikes, no property tax, minimum wage will go up, there will be no home auctions, he will put an end to tax evasion, battle corruption, the Greek economy will grow after Easter, the SYRIZA government will change Europe, the state debt will be forgiven or generously slashed, and countless other promises he never fulfilled and for which there is ample audiovisual documentation.

But after the travesty of the marathon “fair competition”, as the government has called the TV license auction, to say that the government puts an end to corruption in the media field, is adding insult to injury. One of the four people who got a license is Christos Kalogritsas, a construction company owner who reportedly takes most public works since SYRIZA came to power. Kalogritsas is close to Defense Minister Panos Kammenos and Infrastructure Minister Christos Spirtzis, and in the past he had bought the construction company owned by Alexis Tsipras’ father.

When SYRIZA was the main opposition party, Tsipras and his MPs were raging against the fact that in two television stations the major shareholder was a construction company owner who was taking public works, making the station’s news content friendly to the government at the time. They called that the definition of corruption. Today, they gave a friendly constructor a television license. It’s a cause for celebration as another “battle against corruption” is won for Tsipras and State Minister Nikos Pappas, who arbitrarily assumed the role of the all-powerful mass media controller.

Another proof that the competition was not as transparent as the Greek government wants us to believe is the fact that Kalogritsas submitted the mandatory letter of credit for 3 million euros 40 minutes after the deadline given. The Secretariat General of Information and Communication responsible for the competition accepted the letter of credit, raising doubts about the transparency of the procedure. Former SYRIZA MP and now independent Stathis Panagoulis criticized the preferential treatment of Kalogritsas in parliament and so did opposition parties.

Now, if Kalogritsas was 40 minutes late in such an important auction, that can only mean two things: He either knew that he would get a license anyway so he didn’t mind showing disrespect for the rules, or he had a hard time obtaining a letter of credit for 3 million euros. Furthermore, the letter of credit comes from Attica Bank, a bank that is under the microscope of the Single Supervisory Mechanism of the European Central Bank for mysteriously “losing” 800 million euros from the engineers security fund (TSMEDE), after the loss, several state organizations and funds then were asked by the government to contribute to its recapitalization.

It is obvious that the SYRIZA-ANEL coalition staged this whole auction thing with the aim to control the news content of the private television stations. The less they are, the easier to control. Because the government’s argument that the annual “advertising pie” is 200 million euros, therefore the four stations would get 50 million each, is ridiculous. It is like saying that the recession will continue and advertising revenues would remain stagnant for the years to come. They contradict themselves by promising growth and at the same time deciding that only 200 million euros will be spent on television advertising. Where is the message to the investors in that? Or rather, what is the message to the investors?

The fact is that the only purpose of shutting down four existing TV stations and bringing two new ones of dubious intent to the fold is that the government wants to silence voices opposing its policies. No matter what justifications Pappas is using, his arguments fail to convince anyone who is not a party member.

After all SYRIZA MP Nikos Syrmalenios did what other party lawmakers had only hinted at in the past. While others had said that the government policies are continuously attacked by certain TV stations and journalists, he outright said that the government wants to have a foothold in more TV stations. Specifically, on August 17, Syrmalenios said on Skai radio that “the government needs to have more fortresses in mass media”.

To achieve its plan to control television content, long before the auction the government started a campaign demonizing television station owners. They were the evil ones who were taking loans from the banks they never paid back because in their news programs they were propagandizing government policies. They were the ones who were keeping their stations on air by practicing shady business. They were presented as being responsible for all the ills in the country. The truth is that, indeed, media owners are truly responsible for many ills of Greece. They took loans they never repaid and some of them were public contractors who undertook many public works. So if that is the case the government should have sent the police to bring them in front of a judge not hand them out TV licences. But they didn’t have the courage to do that, because the problem for the government wasn’t their dark history. It was their news content, which was nothing like the current content of the three public broadcasters (ERT1, ERT2, ERT3) that present the SYRIZA-ANEL coalition as successful leaders who make the economy skyrocket in a land of happy citizens where everything that goes wrong is a consequence of bad policies of the past 40 years.

Also, the argument that the television license tender would bring substantial revenues to the state is not convincing either. The four “winners” of the auction paid an average of about 50 million euros each. Why not ask 50 million euros from each existing station for a license and allow more in the fold. If there are investors who see television as a good investment opportunity, they could open the market and get more revenues.

Finally, the argument that some of the existing stations had left their employees unpaid for months and that the new licenses will eliminate bad employers is not convincing either. The current administration never showed the same sensitivity to other markets where there are plenty of business owners who abuse workers’ rights.

But the “Big Brother” type of the TV license auction served another purpose as well. Since the government cannot offer Greeks any bread, Tsipras and Pappas gave them circuses. They took eight media owners, or representatives, and their teams, locked them in a close-monitored environment and had them bid for 64 hours, without any contact with the outside world. Not even a shower room. One could say it was the leftists punishing the rich capitalists, the good communists giving Greek have-nots a humiliating picture of the haves. And then, Tsipras like a Greek Robin Hood, takes 246 million euros from the rich and pledges to give it to the poor. What a great story. What a great circus.