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A court has struck down, for now, a plan by the Greek government to limit the number of television licenses from 8 to 4. From The Financial Times:
The Syriza-led government’s plan to exert greater control over local media by limiting the number of nationwide television licences suffered a setback when Greece’s highest court upheld an appeal by six private channels facing imminent closure.
The decision by the 25-member Council of State, made up of the country’s leading judges, came five days before the six channels were due to shut down with the loss of more than 2,000 jobs. […]
The court’s ruling has now opened the way for the council to hold a full discussion on whether a new media law allowing only four nationwide channels to operate in Greece is at odds with the country’s constitution.
There’s no mistake that Greece’s media industry needs reform and accountability. As Niki Kitsantonis has reported at The New York Times, “Since Greece opened its media to private broadcasting in the 1980s, the market has been an almost unregulated scrum. Licenses are given out on an ad hoc basis. Media outlets have proliferated. The chaos ushered in hundreds of millions of dollars of debt and invited the undue influence of banks, media barons and successive governments.” There is too much influence, too many crackdowns on what should be protected speech, and too little vision of what a media landscape in a strong democracy should look like.
But that reform shouldn’t be in the form of limiting the number of channels available to the public. As the lawyers for the channels stressed in court, the Greek media landscape needs “pluralism and objectivity…fewer TV stations mean less information.”
The European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society issues Günther H. Oettinger has expressed concern about how Greece has handled the process.
Greece already suffered a black eye in 2014 when Reporters Without Borders dropped Greece 14 spots in one year and 50 spots in five years its Press Freedom Index, finding that there was a “dizzying fall for the world’s oldest democracy,” largely as a result of the economic and social crisis. Greece ranked at an embarrassing 99th in the world. The country has climbed back up since then, now ranking 89 in press freedom globally, but it still lags behind countries like Kyrgyzstan, Italy, Japan, Croatia and Haiti.
The court’s decision to review the government’s actions is the first step on Greece’s long road back to being a democracy which truly values freedom of speech and freedom of the press.