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Audit boss says state subsidies for media defeats notion of free press

Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides suggested on Thursday that government schemes to support the media did not serve the purpose of having free press.

Speaking in parliament during discussion of the audit service’s 2018 report on the Press and Information Office (PIO), Odysseas Michaelides suggested that the current scheme, which involved criteria decided by the government, could discourage media from criticising the administration from fear of losing the subsidy.

Michaelides said there should be a three-year plan with specific criteria that would be approved by parliament in a binding way through the state budget.

This, he said, would preclude the government from amending the criteria without House approval.

PIO deputy director Elengo Frangoulidou found the recommendations positive but noted that the scheme had been drafted by the finance ministry.

House watchdog committee chairman Zaharias Koulias expressed surprise when he found out that the state had subsidised the Kronos press distribution agency with €80,000 for 2017 and 2018.

Michaelides said this did not serve press freedom and announced that his service will be probing the finance ministry’s scheme.

Disy MP Annita Demetriou said newspapers must be supported in the framework of objectivity and transparency because their role was decisive.

Her Akel counterpart Irini Charalambidou said press freedom was of utmost important in safeguarding democracy and the state should ensure the mass media did not depend on state funding.

Charalambidou said funding criteria could not be adjusted depending on how the news was presented but there should be an established procedure to ensure that each media would fulfil its role of protecting democracy and exercise control, independently and objectively.

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