Greek Parliament Passes Contentious TV Bill

The Greek parliament voted on Saturday to pass a controversial bill regulating the awarding of TV licenses to broadcasters, just hours after the country’s largest journalist union led a nationwide strike to protest the new measures.

The bill, which will provide the first major overhaul of the industry since private broadcasters emerged in the 1980s, will require private webs to bid for 10-year licenses in an auction that is expected to take place next year.

Greece’s eight private broadcasters currently operate with what the government has classified as temporary licenses.

Addressing parliament on Saturday, Deputy Prime Minister Yannis Dragasakis called Greek broadcasters “vampire businesses” living on borrowed money.

The reforms are being pushed as part of broader efforts by the government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ Syriza party to rein in the country’s powerful business oligarchs, which are seen to have a particularly strong hand in media.

A 2006 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Athens noted that private media in Greece are “subsidized by their owners who … use the media primarily to exercise political and economic influence.” Three years ago, Tsipras accused the “corrupt mass media” of being part of a “triangle of sin” in Greece, alongside banks and corrupt politicians.

Tsipras’ Syriza party has long had a contentious relationship with the media, which has been a strident critic of its economic policies and handling of bailout talks between the Greek government and the E.U.

In July, the country’s public prosecutor, the government-appointed media watchdog, and the country’s largest journalist union each launched separate investigations into allegations of media bias ahead of that month’s referendum.

While the new law is ostensibly meant to leave less room for political meddling, critics maintain it invests too much power in the minister for media and communications, who will be in charge of setting the auction terms and deciding on the number of licenses to be issued.

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