Cyprus Mail

Thoc funding freeze of private theatres raises concerns

The state-funded Thoc theatre in Nicosia

AKEL on Thursday expressed concerns over the order issued by the Commission for the Protection of Competition (EPA) to the Cyprus Theatre Organisation (Thoc) to immediately stop funding private threatrical groups, citing unhealthy competition.

The party’s parliamentary spokesman Giorgos Loukaides wrote to Education and Culture minister Costas Hambiaouris calling on him to step in as regards the freezing by Thoc of the Thymeli theatrical sponsorship scheme for next year following the EPA’s decision.

The regulatory authority also slapped Thoc with a fine of €342,220. Thoc announced on Wednesday that it would freeze funding for the scheme for the first half of 2020 pending a court appeal it filed against the EPA ruling.

EPA’s decision follows a complaint filed some three years ago by a private theatre company accusing Thoc of taking advantage of its dominant position and for unilaterally deciding on the amount of sponsorship for each theatre, regardless of criteria set by the market, but with criteria it sets on its own and without any oversight.

Thoc said on Wednesday that since 1971, it has been sponsoring plays staged by third parties as part of its mandate. The EPA’s decision for the termination of funding or production of private theatres, Thoc said, basically forces the state theatre organisation to break the law that provides that its mandate is the promotion of theatre art and organisation of plays.

Compliance with the EPA’s decision, “either by the termination of its own production (which did not stop even after the 1974 events) or by the termination of private theatre sponsorships […] would lead to a shrinking and incalculable damage to the Cyprus theatre scene in general,” Thoc said.

It also said that applicants to the Thymeli scheme had been expecting to hear from Thoc in November whether they would get funding in order to be able to plan ahead for next year.

EPA said in its ruling that Thoc is responsible for approving and distributing sponsorships to the free theatres with which it is a competitor in the market for the production and staging of plays.

“Through its dual capacity as a sponsor and distributor of grants, and at the same time its activity in the market for the production and staging of theatre plays, it distorts competition by abusing its dominant position,” it said. It explained that this was due to the fact that it was in a position to decide the extent of the economic power of its competitors, without having any effective control over its own plays.

EPA also said that while Thoc distributes grants to private theatres and groups on a performance basis, subject to the specific criteria stipulated by the Thymeli project, it receives funding without any corresponding control. In fact, the funding that Thoc receives, is not per-show, but, for its entire operation, EPA said.

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