Commentary of the Week: March 3-9, 2016

commentaryoftheweekBy Michael Nevradakis

The “first time leftist” government in Greece did it again! Having promised prior to its initial election last year that it would “go after” Greece’s oligarch media owners, the government recently passed a law which, it claims, will put an end to 26 years of anarchy in Greece’s television landscape.

There is, however, a problem. This new law and the television licensing bid that the Greek government has recently announced and made such a big deal of, will not put an end to this so-called anarchy. It will not go after the oligarchs and media mavens. It will not restore order in the television landscape. Instead, what this new law will do is concentrate even more media power in the hands of the few, while giving the government a tremendous amount of power and control over the media landscape. This is a law that will also set a dangerous precedent which could then be expanded to Greece’s local television stations, to the radio landscape, and to the internet.

The Greek government bases its claims regarding the number of national television stations that can be licensed on an anonymous, made-to-order study produced by the European University of Florence, Italy. This study supposedly finds that there is room for only four privately-owned television stations to be licensed, while two additional national television frequencies are reserved for the state broadcasting company. Supposedly only two frequencies can be allocated to national privately-owned television stations, with two HD stations broadcasting per frequency. This despite the fact that in Greece and most countries around the world, most stations continue to broadcast over-the-air in standard definition, which also would allow many more stations to fit on each digital frequency. There is a claim that this study foresees the future reduction of the number of available television frequencies which will be reallocated for the use of 5G mobile telephony, while the government also claims that this small number of national licenses will ensure that the television stations that will be licensed will be economically viable.

Many questions arise based on this study and the government’s claims, as well as some conclusions:

– The small number of national television licenses which will be auctioned off in Greece will push the price of each of those licenses upwards. Who has the deep pockets that will be needed in order to purchase these licenses? Might it perhaps be the same oligarchs which the government claims it is going after?

– Supposedly, digital broadcasting technology permits more television stations to broadcast, utilizing fewer frequencies. And indeed, in practically every other country in the world where digital broadcasting has been introduced, the number of free, over-the-air television stations has increased. In London, five analogue television stations became over 40 digital television stations. In New York City, approximately 15 analogue television stations have become over 50 digital television stations, despite the fact that in the United States, the television spectrum has already been reduced to make room for future mobile telephony needs.

But the best example of all comes from Italy, where in every city, every television frequency on both the UHF and VHF bands has been licensed to a digital service provider, leading to a situation where hundreds of television stations are available freely and over-the-air in cities such as Rome and Milan. How is it possible for so many frequencies to be in use and for so many stations to “fit” on the airwaves in these countries, but in Greece there is a question of interference and a supposed lack of available frequencies

Why is it that the study completed by the European University of Florence just so happens to make the same claim that SYRIZA was making almost a year ago, last spring, that only four national television stations can be licensed? Where were the government’s claims previously coming from, if this study didn’t exist at the time? Might it be that this study was tailored to the government’s wishes and not the other way around?

And is it also true that the frequency plan that was prepared by the European University in Florence further reduced the available number of television frequencies by allocating to Greece’s neighbors all potential frequencies which would be disputed between Greece and its neighboring countries? In other words, is the Greek government preparing to do to the television landscape what it has already done to the Aegean Sea by bringing in NATO forces?

The government claims that the small number of national television stations that would be licensed will ensure the economic viability of these stations, during a time of economic difficulty and crisis. This, of course, ignores the example of many other, supposedly wealthier European countries, such as Germany and Switzerland, where even with a limited number of privately-owned television stations, there have been high-profile television bankruptcies in recent years. Furthermore, this claim seems to serve as a tacit admission on the part of the SYRIZA-led government that the Greek economy has no chance of improving under its governance, despite their big words about bringing growth to Greece, growth which however never materializes.

Of course, there is not one word about declaring a new licensing bid for new digital network broadcast providers that would end the current monopoly of DIGEA, the digital network provider which is jointly owned by the same owners of Greece’s largest private broadcasters which the government claims it is going after.

And isn’t it true that the auctioning off of Greece’s television licenses is an obligation that the SYRIZA-led Greek government agreed to as part of the third memorandum agreement with the so-called troika this past summer? Is it not also true that the 47 page austerity proposal which SYRIZA, under the watch of then-finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, had indeed proposed auctioning off the licenses?

As if all of this was not enough, this licensing bid does not foresee any criteria regarding the quality of the programming the licensed broadcasters will provide, and this licensing bid will be directly overseen by the Greek government, completely bypassing Greece’s independent regulatory agencies for the licensing of broadcasters and the management of the radio spectrum. This is not only unconstitutional and in violation of Greek law and recent decisions of the Council of State, Greece’s highest court, but it is also in violation of European Union broadcasting law, which requires that the licensing of radio and television broadcasters be performed by an independent public body. As we will see though, SYRIZA has no problem with lawbreaking, as long as it is the one that is breaking the law.

In essence, the Greek government, just as it has done before, is turning one of its obligations, under the memorandum agreements, into a tool for political gain. Taking advantage of the ever-increasing dissatisfaction of the Greek populace with the country’s major media owners, the government is taking advantage of their unpopularity to claim to the public that it is doing something about them, when in fact this new law will ensure that only the wealthy oligarchs will be able to receive licenses, while this law is based on a technical study that has been proven to be bogus. We are talking about a law which Greek constitutional scholar Giorgos Kasimatis has stated is unconstitutional due to its bypassing of Greece’s independent regulatory authorities, with the goal of consolidating control over the television industry.

Perhaps most dangerously, if this television licensing process goes forward, it will set a precedent which could then be drawn upon to license, or rather to shut down, most of Greece’s local television stations, most of its radio stations, and even for the government to exert control over the Internet. The government could claim, in the case of radio and TV, a supposedly “limited” number of available frequencies and auction off the few remaining frequencies. Indeed, Greece’s communications minister has already announced a forthcoming radio licensing bid, so if our listeners in Greece soon lose our broadcasts, this will be the reason why.

But that’s not all! The government, through its official spokeswoman Olga Gerovasili, has announced the forthcoming drafting of legislation which has, as its goal, the, quote, “restoration of order” on the internet. You might be aware of how some other countries, such as China and Turkey, have also “restored order” on the internet, by banning thousands of websites on a national level.

And while the Greek government is issuing lessons in “law and order,” it chooses to ignore, selectively, its own illegalities in the media landscape.

One such example is that of SYRIZA’s own radio station, Sto Kokkino 105.5 FM in Athens. This radio station first went on the air in December of 2005, without any license or legal standing. It broadcast in place of a station by the name of NRG which had been on the air on that frequency until 2001, had been shut down by force along with 65 other radio stations in one night by Greece’s then-government after more bogus claims that these stations were causing interference to frequencies used for aviation, while in 2004 this station returned to the airwaves illegally.

Sto Kokkino took over NRG’s frequency and continued to operate illegally, and was even shut down by Greece’s regulatory authorities on at least one occasion, in 2006, for broadcasting illegally. However, a law passed by the conservative New Democracy government in 2007 legalized all radio stations which were operated by a political party which was represented in parliament, and exempted these stations from licensing. As a result, a ridiculous law passed by a corrupt, conservative government legalized the previously illegal SYRIZA-owned radio station. Claims that more radio stations would create harmful and dangerous interference were, apparently, forgotten.

And while everyone has been talking about this new television licensing law in Greece and how the government is supposedly going after the media mavens, what seemed to go unnoticed was a paragraph that was inserted in another law that was recently passed, which allowed Greece’s local radio stations to broadcast on a regional level. This might sound good, until we consider that due to the economic crisis, most of Greece’s radio stations are not in a position at this time to invest in new equipment and expand their network, especially if they do not know if they will even be licensed! Who benefits from this new law then? Perhaps it’s SYRIZA’s radio station, which is buying up local stations across the country—nobody knows with what money—and which will likely take advantage of the new law to set up a nationwide network of transmitters. Legally, of course.

These regional stations are not innocent by any means either. In the island of Rhodes, for instance, SYRIZA’s local radio station is broadcasting on the frequency of a radio station which has been classified as a music station. There is an absurd law in Greece which does not allow music stations to air news or informational programming, or to change their programming classification in order to become news stations. Rather than change this absurd, undemocratic law, which would also allow new players into the news marketplace in Greece, the oh-so-leftist SYRIZA prefers to keep this law as is, and to simply violate it at will.

In the meantime, SYRIZA has opened a second radio station in the island of Rhodes, one which rebroadcasts one of its online music stations. This radio station in Rhodes is operating without a license or without any legal paperwork, yet this lawlessness does not seem to bother SYRIZA, which is apparently above the law.

It is clear that Greece’s version of “hope and change,” the SYRIZA-led government, is not interested in democracy, in pluralism, in going after the oligarchs, or restoring any order to the broadcast landscape. It is simply interested in consolidating its power over Greece’s media, to reduce public dialogue and debate, and to serve the whims of its masters in Brussels, Berlin, and Washington. And regardless of the opinion one might have about Greece’s major media outlets or their owners, or the propaganda they spew in favor of austerity, the issue here is that this new licensing law will do absolutely nothing to change this situation. It will turn over the broadcasting landscape to a small group of wealthy players, eliminate competition, and beyond that, it is a law that is based, quite simply, on lies.

But what do you expect from the same government and from the same communications and transport minister which has, in the midst of a crisis, raised the cost of traveling with public transportation and which has eliminated most funding for Greece’s subsidized rural air routes, to islands which rely upon these routes for their livelihood and their local tourist industries? Indeed, we’ve already seen the cancellation of the air route between Athens and Zakynthos, a popular tourist destination.

Regardless though of what the blatantly fascist Greek government in leftist clothing will do, regardless of how many television or radio stations or websites they attempt to shut down, we here at Dialogos Radio will be here and we will continue doing what we are doing, with respectability, with honor, and in pursuit of the truth above all. The current Greek government has an expiration date, one which has already passed. They will go away one day, but we will still be here.

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