| ATHENS, Sept 2
ATHENS, Sept 2 Greece awarded new broadcasting
licences on Friday in a politically controversial step to cull
the number of television channels operating in an industry that
authorities say is mired in mismanagement and corruption.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras's left-led government has said
the move will help regulate the sector, but the media says it
will curb free speech and shut down stations, putting thousands
of people out of work.
Only four licenses were offer, meaning some of the eight
channels now broadcasting nationwide will have to close.
Skai TV won the first license, allowing it to stay on air.
"We were not contesting a license, we came to negotiate
ransom," Costas Kimbouropoulos, Skai's representative, said.
Authorities said four channels was an appropriate number of
broadcasters which could stay viable, based on advertising
industry estimates of the television commercial market worth 280
million euros ($311.70 million) annually.
The government, which came to power promising to take on
"the oligarchs", has said the move will help bring order to a
sector mired in debt and discredited because of its political
Broadcasters, who have mounted a legal challenge to the
process, say the auction was little more than an attempt to gag
critics, but they still took part in the process.
Antenna TV and two new entrants also won a license. The
bidders were on lockdown at the Press Ministry for more than
three days, mobiles phones were banned to ensure no leaks.
Skai had called the auction "a bad reality show" aimed at
distracting the public from economic hardship.
Tsipras signed up to a new bailout in July last year, the
country's third since 2010. Keen to convince its lenders that it
qualifies for more cash and debt relief, Athens has agreed to a
wave of unpopular measures including pension cuts and tax hikes.
Existing operators who failed to secure a licence, among
them Star channel and Alpha TV, will have 90 days before going
off air, the government said. Mega TV, the first private station
which aired in Greece in 1989, did not qualify to participate in
the licensing round because of outstanding debts.
The starting price of the licenses was set at 3 million
euros and the final price ranged between 43.6 and 75.9 million
euros, a lot higher than the bidders initially expected. The
state secured a total of 246 million euros.
The bidders were either powerful Greek families or shipping
magnates. Three of them, including a Russian-Greek businessman,
also owned Greek premier league soccer clubs.
The government has called the country's media "vampires"
living on borrowed funds that they cannot repay.
In a country where up to a fourth of its national output has
been wiped out, media, along with a business and a political
elite are frequently cited by ruling politicians as being part
of an establishment responsible for Greece's current woes.
State Minister Nikos Pappas, who oversaw the auction and is
one of Tsipras' closest aides said on Friday that Greece now has
"TV channels which will inform Greek people objectively ... not
depending on their owners' links to the political leadership."
Opposition parties have accused the government of launching
the auction to bring in new business players, more friendly to a
party that swept to power for the first time last year and may
have less influence over the state mechanism and private sector.
"This auction is a parody," said Anna-Michele Asimakopoulou,
a lawmaker with the conservative New Democracy party on Tuesday.
"The government wants to control information ... and secondly it
wants to create a system of corruption that can be controlled."
(Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)