In early September the Greek government held a controversial licence fee auction for private television broadcasters, cutting the number from eight to four.

The licences are required by Greek law for private television companies to broadcast, with the auction framed by Prime Minister Tsipras’s government as a means to enable better regulation, clamp down on corruption within the media sector and raise funds to alleviate poverty, according to the Financial Times.

The auction however, raises serious concerns about media concentration, pluralism, independence and job losses in the country. With fewer licences available, the auction has left four TV stations unable to broadcast and only 90 days to cease operations.

In a warning prior to the auction by the Journalists’ Union of Athens Daily Newspapers (JUADN), this change could potentially mean the loss of “1800 journalists, technical staff and employees…and another 3000 media workers employed in the media industry would be impacted”.

Beyond job losses, this auction has been critiqued as being detrimental to media pluralism, limiting the choice of programing available to the audience. This is unlikely to sit well with the Greek public, of which only 20% tend to trust TV according to the latest Eurobarometer.

Despite claims by the Syriza government that the auction would allow it to conduct a “critical reform” of a corrupt media system in which previous governments handed out licenses to wealthy and “favoured political clients”, it also failed to see the irony that critics see in its heavy handed approach to reform.

With Tsipras having signed a third bailout agreement in July, some see the auction as an attempt to silence critics and control information. In an interview, Mujtaba Rahman, managing director at Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy, said:

“Instead of effectively regulating Greece’s broadcasters, the government has been exposed as wanting to set up their own oligarch family to get out Syriza’s message, control the narrative and shape the media to the government’s advantage.”

Greece has fallen more than 50 places in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index since 2009, with many journalists reporting that they experience pressure from politicians and businessmen as well as the threat of defamation lawsuits, according to AthensLive.

Despite the recent reopening of public broadcaster ERT, a diverse, free and independent media landscape is essential to an effective democracy. We share the concerns of the EFJ and others that this concentration of TV broadcasters is a threat to pluralism in the country.

Header image: Parliament Square, Athens. Credits: Jon Mitchell/Creative Commons