The goings on at the Radio-Television Authority (RTA) came under renewed scrutiny on Thursday, amid allegations of bribes and general disregard for procedures.
It was the second week in a row that the House watchdog committee discussed the findings of the auditor-general’s special report on the RTA.
Among other things, the auditor-general flagged the RTA’s use of buildings without the proper permits, business trips whose costs exceed the set threshold, and the entity’s failure on several occasions to issue invoices for fines slapped on media organisations.
The latter issue drew the most attention, as it follows on from earlier allegations – dating from 2018 – that persons working for the RTA were ‘shaking down’ media executives for money in return for sparing their organisation from fines.
At the time, the audit office had forwarded these allegations along with documentation to then attorney-general Costas Clerides, who opened a file on the case. However, Clerides did not find hard evidence proving the alleged blackmail.
In parliament on Thursday, RTA head Rona Kasapi said that it is an independent entity that receives no state grants and therefore does not burden the public purse.
On the issue of pay increments given to RTA staff, which the auditor-general deemed as arbitrary, Kasapi said the entity would take corrective action on its own.
Regarding the 2018 allegations, Kasapi told MPs that, following an investigation by the police, they were notified that no offence was found and that the case was closed by the attorney-general.
MPs again brought up the matter of how the entity earns income when apparently there is no accounting for the fines it issues to media organisations – the RTA does not issue invoices for these fines.
On a related issue – the RTA’s failure to collect on fines – Kasapi said they were doing all they can, including suing media companies who don’t pay up.
The RTA is the competent authority regulating private broadcasting and media organisations in Cyprus. It was established by the Radio and Television Stations Law of 1998, yet it is an independent body whose decisions are directly enforceable without the need for approval by any other body or the state.
According to its website, “The Authority has its own services and it is self-funded through income derived from licence fees and advertising revenues. The decisions of the Authority take effect without any other approval and are subject only to judicial review.”