By Peter Stevenson
MINISTERS GAVE the green light on Wednesday for private consortium Velister to renegotiate the terms of its contract with the government to host channels on its digital platform.
Communications Minister Tassos Mitsopoulos told the state broadcaster CyBC that negotiations would begin soon to extend the payment deadline by five years.
Velister consists of local channels Antenna, Logos which own Mega, Sigma TV, Plus TV and subscriber channels LTV, Alpha, Primetel and Cablenet. The consortium had won a tender in 2010 for the rights to form a digital platform. Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation (CyBC) had also been granted a digital platform free-of-charge by the government.
Mitsopoulos denied allegations that the owners of private TV channels had received favourable treatment by extending their payment deadlines. He pointed out that Velister had already paid €6.6 million. The remaining €3.4 million should have been paid in instalments in 2013 and 2014.
“We will not be donating money (to the consortium). What is happening is clearly one of the consequences of the financial crisis which has had a negative impact on TV channels which are struggling to meet their costs and are having to fire personnel,” the minister said.
Mitsopoulos added that due to these events the ministry was looking at ways to help the private channels stay afloat.
The cabinet decided that the head of the electronic communication’s department at the ministry will deal with the consortium and legal services to sort out the repayment method.
“The government will not lose any money in this deal but there will be a small gap in state funds until Velister manages to pay off its debt,” Mitsopoulos said.
The decision to extend the deadline for payment from the consortium was a mistake and illegal according to opposition party AKEL.
The party’s deputy parliamentary spokesman Stavros Evagorou said that despite AKEL supporting freedom of expression through the media, the government’s decision to allow Velister to pay off its debt gradually, was wrong.
“We comprehend the strain which has been put on the media due to the economic crisis and the need to support TV channels but we disagree with the illegal manner chosen by the government to support private broadcasting corporations,” Evagorou said.