The Council of State, Greece’s supreme Administrative Court, ruled on Wednesday 26 Oct an auction of TV licenses held by the government in early September was unconstitutional. Council of State decision, taken by a majority (14 vs. 11), said the auction process was flawed from the outset because it sidestepped the relevant independent authority, i.e. the National Council for Radio and Television (ESR). ESR members are appointed by the parliament that until now had failed to agree on its composition. According to some observers an agreement has been blocked by the New Democracy main opposition party since early 2015.

In October 2015, the parliament approved a new media bill, in line with the Syriza pre-election promise to reform the media sector and to redistribute licenses to private TV channels according to fair criteria. Council of State deemed unconstitutional the regulation of the bill (i.e. Article 2A) to transfer the right of launching the TV licenses auction from the ESR to the Ministry of State’s General Secretariat of Information. The Court in its ruling did not contest the bill itself and left untouched all major regulations, including the number of licenses that will be provided, all legal and labour aspects, as well as the period during which all four licenses will be valid (i.e. renewable after 10 years).

What comes next?

The Supreme Court’s ruling has sparked a tense debate between Government and the Opposition, regarding the next steps that should be taken. The government has repeatedly attemptedto find a compromise with ND party on the ESR’s composition, but in the end no solution was reached. On Oct 29 the Government proposed former ND minister Vyron Polydoras as head of ESR but failed to sway ND opposition. In an announcement the main opposition party was quick to make clear that Polydoras ‘does not meet requirements’ and that it has no intention of consenting to the government’s proposals. New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis wants the bill to be withdrawn, Minister of State Nikos Pappas to resign, and start the entire process from scratch, while media commentators accuse the government for incompetence and/or attempting to control the media and the judiciary.

On Tuesday Nov 1 Minister of State Nikos Pappas welcomed New Democracy’s initiative to propose a candidate for the new board of the ESR, saying it shows there’s room for consensus. “We are on a path of convergence in setting up the ESR and that is very positive for the issue and for the country’s political life,” Pappas said during an interview with channel “E”. 

pappaskefalaIn an another interview with  Le Figaro (Nov 1), Nikos Pappas characterized the Court’s decision “unfair”, but noted that he does not regard it as a defeat, but rather a temporary setback. “When we entered this battle, no one wanted to hear about licensing, let alone pay for it”, he underlined. “Nowadays, even New Democracy, the main opposition party, which was against us from the beginning, will not question this” he added, while expressing his optimism that an agreement will be reached on the issue.

In other occasions Nikos Pappas has insisted that the law on television licensing will not be abolished, but rather suspended, with the new ESR implementing itas soon as it is formed. “Greece is the only EU country that has never launched any licensing process for private TV channels for 27 years, maintaining the lawless regime of temporary licenses,” Pappas has stated.

Parliament approved on Thursday Nov 3 a series of amendments which concern the formation of a new board of the National Council for Radio and Television (ESR). The first amendment, concerning suspension of article 2A, was approved with the votes of Syriza, Anel and the Democratic Coalition. The second set, which refers to including ESR in the decision on the number of licenses that should be issued and their starting price during the auction, was also voted by Potami.

The agreement between the Government Coalition and the Democratic Coalition and Potami inspires optimism that there will be a consensus on the formulation of a new ESR in the new meeting of Presidents of the Parliament scheduled for Monday, Nov 7, despite New Democracy’ s negative stance, according to Vima newspaper. There are no more excuses for refusing to agree to the formation of the new board of the country’s TV regulator, government spokeswoman Olga Gerovasili said in a tweet on Thursday.

Parliament presidents meeting with aim the establishment of the board of the Greek National Council for Radio and Television (NCRTV) initially scheduled to take place on Monday was postponed to Thursday, Nov 10, due to the necessary changes in the parliament committees after the Greek government’s reshuffle on Friday, Nov 4.

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