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TV Politics - By George Courmouzis

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Some applauded the initiative, many questioned the intent and most doubted the outcome of SYRIZA's effort to put order in the Greek TV environment. The so-called "4th power", that of the mass media, is considered the backbone of "diaploki", in other words, the web of intertwined special interests which form the root of clientelism and the medium of broadcast populism.

By George Courmouzis

The unlicensed environment of the TV business in Greece since the 1989 entry of private ownership, prompted whoever could put a broadcasting platform together, to take over a frequency and fill it with meaningful content or meaningless blabber. They operated under "temporary licenses" and paid no fees for arbitrarily occupying a frequency, clearly a State asset. Unlike the internet, which does not use limited state-owned frequencies, broadcasting does! The Greek syndrome of, "nothing is more permanent than what is temporary" governed their existence. The TV and Radio business was ultimately regulated, this responsibility befalling on the National Radio and TV Council (NRTC aka FCC), whose authority was entrenched in the Constitution. But, the NRTC always fell short from issuing "permanent licenses" against a usage fee of the frequencies by the private operators, settling for the role of policing the ethos of the broadcast content.

Just like the owners of Greece's top football clubs have been using their armies of voter fans (and hooligans) to leverage their business agendas, so did the owners of popular TV channels, newspapers and news websites. The new media moguls, plus a slew of would be regional or national players, jumped to the fray to further their causes. What is News and how it is presented, remained subject to the business and political aspirations of the channel owners. Journalism ceased to be independent; it carried a job description. A politician, who, as a current or future member of the Government, would not consent to furthering the channel owner's causes, was stripped of media exposure or blackballed. "If you play ball you stay in the game; if you don't you are benched". In the process their owners earned fortunes from advertizing while Greece was on an upswing for 20 solid years, while wielding unusual power by building the webs of "diaploki" that led Greece to the corruption it is now famous for. On the other hand, the State TV network of ERT's three national channels, sadly amounting to around 10% of viewership, followed the line of the political party in Government, hardly setting the standard of broadcasting. ERT executives and news editors not aligning themselves with the ruling party's commands were sidelined. Samaras went as far as shutting down ERT after failing to control it.

Like SYRIZA's war against Greece's "insatiable" creditors and the EU establishment, led by the infamous Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, fighting the well entrenched Media Moguls led by Minister Nicos Pappas, failed as well. With the NRTC out of commission since the terms of the appointed members had been purposely expired, SYRIZA passed a Law enabling the Government to auction off four frequencies (why not five or ten remains unanswered) in an open bidding process. Despite the TV owners objections to the unconstitutional process, the dominant ones participated, along with three newcomers (7 in total), afraid they would be left out of the new web SYRIZA was mapping out, albeit with a high entry fee. The bidding raised a theoretical $270 million destined which, according to the populist narrative, was earmarked to relieve some of the social pain of the disenfranchised population.

It came as no surprise that three out of the four winners are also owners of Greece's most popular football clubs: Panathinaicos (Athens), Olympiacos (Piraeus) and PAOK (Thessaloniki). The double whammy of football club and TV channel ownership is a very strong hand. A fourth winner was expelled after it became known that his construction company had been favored in recent State construction contracts and his bank collateral for the license fee was a sham.

If SYRIZA sought to put whatever order in the broadcasting environment, it achieved exactly the opposite. The prevailing bidders, two of which have no broadcasting structures in place, want their first installments back. The channels in operation have neither planned nor invested into their programming in anticipation of developments, some with no news services. Greek viewers, NGTV and other "diaspora" populations included, are reduced to watching reruns.

"It's politics, stupid!" The business of it, that is.