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In shakeup, most Greek TV stations set to lose licenses

Associated Press Associated Press 2/09/2016 By DEREK GATOPOULOS, Associated Press
ERT state television reporter Giorgos Sideris speaks on a live broadcast outside the Greek Secretariat General for Media and Communication in Athens on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016 where eight bidders are taking part for second day in the process that would see eliminated TV stations close by the end of the year. Greece's left-wing government launched an auction Tuesday for four private national television licenses, reducing the number from seven after a heated public debate on corruption in the financially troubled country. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis) © The Associated Press ERT state television reporter Giorgos Sideris speaks on a live broadcast outside the Greek Secretariat General for Media and Communication in Athens on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016 where eight bidders are taking part for second day in the process that would see eliminated TV stations close by the end of the year. Greece's left-wing government launched an auction Tuesday for four private national television licenses, reducing the number from seven after a heated public debate on corruption in the financially troubled country. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

ATHENS, Greece — In a major shakeup for Greek broadcasting, only two of the country's seven private TV stations have survived a landmark license auction that raised 246 million euros ($275 million) for the cash strapped left-wing government.

The results were announced Friday after TV executives from eight rival candidate companies were kept in isolation at a government building for some 65 hours during the sequential bidding.

Broadcasters Skai and Antenna won two of the four licenses, the others going to two newcomers — including a company linked to Vangelis Marinakis, a prominent ship owner and chairman of Greek soccer champion Olympiakos.

TV stations Star and Alpha were eliminated during the bidding, while three other channels did not enter or were excluded due to financial trouble.

The new licenses will take effect in 90 days, but the government faces multiple legal challenges.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras hailed the auction as an end to backroom deals between governments and business interests seeking public influence. He argued that licensing regulations were being applied properly for the first time since private TV started in the late 1980s.

"This sends a message ... A message that rules will be applied after 27 years of graft and illegality," Tsipras said, speaking in the southern Greek town of Kiato.

He promised to use the money raised from the license sale on state welfare programs.

The TV auction was condemned by opposition parties in the latest major broadcasting overhaul to affect Greece.

In 2013, the previous conservative-led government shut down public broadcaster ERT — pulling the plug on TV and radio stations and Internet sites a few hours after making the announcement — and later replaced it with a scaled-down channel.

ERT and laid-off workers were reinstated by the Tsipras government last year, after many unpaid staff stayed at their desks and kept unlicensed programming running online.

Unions have warned that the sale of private licenses after years of financial crisis and recession would allow TV station owners to walk away from their debts and lead to a wave of lay-offs and pay cuts in an industry that is already in serious difficulty.

"Using the rules of a badly-run reality show, the government is pretending to take on corruption," the Journalists' Union of Athens said in a statement at the start of the bidding.

"It is auctioning off to the highest bidder the public's right to be properly informed."

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