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Greek TV shake-up casts shadow over Cyprus (Updated)  

Antenna TV, one of the four stations that was granted a license

News on Friday that Greece cut the number of its TV stations to four has cast a shadow over Cypriot TV channels, who cooperate extensively with their Greek counterparts, broadcasting a large number of programmes – talk shows, morning shows and series – but is unlikely to involve corresponding closures.

Greece awarded new broadcasting licences on Friday in a politically controversial step to cull the number of television channels operating in an industry that authorities say is mired in mismanagement and corruption.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s left-led government has said the move will help regulate the sector, but the media says it will curb free speech and shut down stations, putting thousands of people out of work.

Only four licences were offered, meaning some of the eight channels now broadcasting nationwide will have to close within 90 days.  Skai TV won the first licence, allowing it to stay on air.

“We were not contesting a licence, we came to negotiate ransom,” Costas Kimbouropoulos, Skai’s representative, said. Antenna TV and two new entrants also won a licence. Skai called the auction “a bad reality show” aimed at distracting the public from economic hardship.

Authorities said four channels was an appropriate number of broadcasters which could stay viable, based on advertising industry estimates of the television commercial market worth €280 million annually.

Broadcasters, who have mounted a legal challenge to the process, say the auction was little more than an attempt to gag critics, but they still took part in the process.

Cyprus Radiotelevision Authority (CRA) chief Neophytos Epaminondas said it was too early to estimate the exact effects but added that it was possible there might be a knock-on effect.

Among those that will have to close down in Greece are Mega TV and Alpha TV, both of which cooperate heavily with the Cyprus based channels bearing the same name, albeit registered as different companies.

According to local media speculations, Mega TV Cyprus is not affected by the closing down of the channel bearing the same name in Greece – which did not qualify to participate in the licensing round because of outstanding debts – as the local channel is managed solely by the Archbishopric. As regards the new kid on the local media block, Alpha TV, it too is a different company than that in Greece, and it is continuing operations regardless.

Neither of the two Cypriot based channels has so far addressed publicly the fact that a big chunk of both their programmes they air come from Greece. More speculation has arisen as to whether Greek channels that have not obtained a licence will set up operations in Cyprus.

“It is possible that some TV stations in Cyprus that had a more direct relation with non-licenced organisations, might be affected by this,” Epaminondas said.   He added though that he could not say for sure whether Greek channels would “descend en masse” on the island.  “It is too early to discuss this,” Epaminondas added.

Among concerns voiced in Cyprus he said, in the case Greek channels set up operations here, is that they would take a large chunk of advertisements now going to local television stations.

“That might never happen. It is very early to discuss such a thing,” he said. He added that “we just have to wait for developments as they evolve”.

Tsipras’ left-led Greek government, which came to power promising to take on “the oligarchs”, has said the move will help regulate the sector, discredited because of its political links.

Tsipras signed up to a new bailout in July last year, the country’s third since 2010. Keen to convince its lenders that it qualifies for more cash and debt relief, Athens has agreed to a wave of unpopular measures including pension cuts and tax hikes.

The starting price of the licences was set at €3 million and the final price ranged between €43.6m and €75.9m, a lot higher than the bidders initially expected. The state secured a total of €246m.

The bidders were either powerful Greek families or shipping magnates. Three of them, including a Russian-Greek businessman, also owned Greek premier league soccer clubs.

The government has called the country’s media “vampires” living on borrowed funds that they cannot repay.

In a country where up to a fourth of its national output has been wiped out, media, along with a business and a political elite are frequently cited by ruling politicians as being part of an establishment responsible for Greece’s current woes.

State Minister Nikos Pappas, who oversaw the auction and is one of Tsipras’ closest aides said on Friday that Greece now has “TV channels which will inform Greek people objectively … not depending on their owners’ links to the political leadership.”

Opposition parties have accused the government of launching the auction to bring in new business players, more friendly to a party that swept to power for the first time last year and may have less influence over the state mechanism and private sector.

(Includes Reuters content)

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