Six media groups have applied to get TV licenses in Greece in the latest effort by government to shake up what it sees as a debt-ridden, unregulated broadcasting sector.
If all are successful, it would be mean a reduction from eight, with one more licence up for grabs, but still a larger number than the four, that the government originally wanted.
Licensing Greece‘s television broadcasters has been an major objective of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s government, which has called them “vampires” living on borrowed bank loans that they cannot repay.
In 2016 a humiliating licence auction process held by the government amid protests, cut the number of nationwide broadcasters to four. But it was ruled unconstitutional by Greece‘s top administrative court, the Council of State.
It was annulled mainly because it was not overseen by the independent regulator, the National Council for Radio and Television (NCRT).
Last year, the NCRT invited media groups to express again their interest for seven 10-year licenses, at a starting price of 35 million euros. “Six applications were submitted to the NCRT,” the council said on its website.
According to the tender announcement, if the final bidders were fewer than seven then each would be automatically granted a license – provided they qualify. Any non allocated licenses would be re-tendered at a later time.
The six tenderers were SKAI TV, STAR channel, Alpha, Antenna, E TV (all operating with a temporary licence) and the newly-founded Tileoptiki Elliniki. They have already submitted a bid bond of 3.5 million euros.
As speculated, Mega Channel, the first and once most popular private TV station now under control of its lenders, did not apply for a licence, since its owners decided against it. With the existing terms of the bidding rules the channel, carrying more than 400 employees, has to terminate its transmission by the end of February 2018.
The applications will be unsealed on Monday and reviewed by the NCRTV which will then announce a list of which tenderers qualify. Bidders have the right to file an objection against NRCTV’s list. The process could take months to be concluded.
In March 2018, the Council of State has scheduled a final ruling over the constitutionality of the bidding process, challenged by four of the six bidders. On Wednesday the CoS ruled against a temporary juncture against the bidding from the four channels.
Private radio stations and TV channels emerged in Greece only in the late 1980s, after decades of state media control. But in the post-crisis TV landscape, they have been struggling financially.
Two of the six licence bidders are newcomers to the Greek media landscape. One of them, E TV’s new owner, Greek-Russian entrepreneur Ivan Savvidis, has been openly supportive of Alexis Tsipras and his government, comparing the PM’s leadership qualities to those of Russian president Vladimir Putin.
The previous auction, Greece‘s first ever, was overseen by Tsipras’s closest aide State and Digital Policy Minister Nikos Pappas, and its annulment was seen as a blow to the government.
“If there is political will and readiness by the institutions and the regulatory authorities everything is possible,” Pappas told reporters on Thursday.