Athens, Feb 12 (IANS) The Greek parliament on Friday approved a controversial bill amendment on TV licensing that has sparked fierce reactions by opposition parties, media owners and employees’ associations.
The new media legislation passed with 154 votes of the ruling coalition and the vote of an independent member of the parliament while 104 lawmakers voted against and 14 abstained, Xinhua reported.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said the government aims to put order to the media landscape, clear it from corruption, and gain revenues for the country for the first time in 25 years.
Since the end of state monopoly on TV broadcasting in 1989, owners of private media stations have been operating with temporary licenses without paying fees for the use of frequencies.
When the radical left SYRIZA party came to power a year ago, Tsipras pledged to break the so-called “triangle of corruption” between media oligarchs, corrupt politicians and bankers.
Under the bill, the government will launch an international tender on fast track procedures for four nationwide TV licenses, half of the number of the private TV channels currently on air.
The starting price in the auction will be determined by a joint decision of Greece’s finance minister and state minister, and licenses will be valid for four years.
The amendment will ensure the viability of private broadcasters by minimising their dependence on the banking system and under-the-table deals with politicians, according to the government.
It has said critics within the assembly, who may serve the interests of current media oligarches, will try to block the tender.
However, critics of the amendment have claimed that the bill is unconstitutional and will undermine press freedom, accusing the government of attempting to establish a new media landscape that will be more government friendly.
Meanwhile, journalist associations have expressed fears that the shrinking of Greece’s TV landscape will lead to further mass layoffs in a country suffering from record unemployment since the start of the debt crisis in late 2009.