Saturday, 25 June 2016 / TRUTH-OUT.ORG

Greek Mainstream Media: Economic Interests Come Before the Law

Saturday, 25 October 2014 10:58 By Michael Nevradakis, Truthout | News Analysis
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This is the sixth in a series of articles that chronicle the long history of corruption, lawlessness and censorship in Greece's media and journalism landscapes. This is a situation that has worsened in recent years in the midst of the country's severe economic crisis, but which has a deeply-rooted history.

Censorship, political favoritism, violence towards journalists, and selective enforcement of the law collectively pose a tremendous threat to press freedom. One factor which connects all of the above, however, is economic influence, and in Greece, media has traditionally been dominated by a select few business tycoons, with significant investments not just in media and publishing, but in sectors such as shipping, banking, oil and gas, construction, and insurance.

In recent years, this situation has arguably worsened, as the ownership of major media outlets, including upstart internet outlets, has become increasingly concentrated in the hands of a very few major media and business moguls, who take full advantage of the power their media outlets afford them to flex their financial and political muscle, and influence both politicians and the public at large.

For decades, newspaper publishing in Greece was the realm of the few and the well-connected, who used their newspapers to support particular partisan interests or even specific individual politicians. When private broadcasting emerged in the late 1980s and early 1990s, this situation was essentially replicated, as the major radio and television stations established were backed by many of the same prominent publishing interests. Despite this, the ownership of more than one radio and one television station was not permitted, legally. This law was, however, easily and quite openly flouted. Media owners skirted the ownership limits by placing additional outlets under the ownership of holding companies, individuals from their other business interests, or even spouses and relatives.

Media owners have used this power to wield tremendous influence politically and economically, through the broadcast of outright pro-government propaganda, and through the promotion of their own interests.

With the previous ownership law having become a mockery of itself, in 2007, the Greek government dropped all remaining pretense and, as part of the wide-ranging media law 3592/2007, officially permitted ownership of multiple television and radio stations. Following the elimination of the few remaining obstacles for the concentration of ownership in broadcasting, a buying spree ensued, with major media owners buying up additional television and radio stations, in the waning high-flying pre-crisis days.

While the major media outlets and their owners have argued that media concentration would lead to economic efficiencies and the development of economies of scale, which would permit money to be reinvested into their media holdings as a whole, what has followed has been a growing trend of layoffs and firings at media outlets as entire departments have been consolidated or eliminated, while program offerings have become increasingly homogenized, reducing variety and choice for viewers and listeners.

Meanwhile, the position of media owners has been strengthened and reinforced, and they have used this power to wield tremendous influence politically and economically, through the broadcast of outright pro-government propaganda, and through the promotion of their own extensive non-media business interests. Indeed, these media outlets continue to be used as a "weapon" of choice by media moguls  to threaten the government of the day and to exert pressure, with the goal of receiving lucrative contracts for public works and major state contracts.

The tremendous degree of media and business concentration is concealed within a labyrinth of different holding companies and shell corporations, which in turn are owned, in whole or in part, by other shell corporations, holding companies, or by the media moguls in question, as well as their families and other individuals in certain cases. One prominent example is Ioannis Bobolas, a shareholder in Pegasus Publishing S.A., which in turn is a shareholder in Tiletypos S.A., which is part owner of Mega Channel and of the DIGEA terrestrial digital broadcasting network provider. Bobolas, through Pegasus Publishing S.A., also holds prominent ownership interests in the newspapers Ethnos and Imerisia, the e-go.gr web portal, magazine publishing interests (Elle, Car and Driver, TV Zapping, among others), the Aggelioforos newspaper in Thessaloniki, a share of the TVE television production company, concert promotion and nightclub interests (such as Club 22 in Athens), stakes in companies involved in the printing of newspapers and periodicals, as well as the distribution and sale of these periodicals, and until recently, radio station Sentra FM.

In addition to his media-related holdings, Bobolas is a major shareholder in Ellaktor, one of Greece's major construction firms, which was responsible for the construction of such projects as the new Acropolis Museum, the Olympic Stadium and Olympic Village in Athens, the Attiki Odos highway, and the Rio-Antirrio bridge, among many others. Indeed, Bobolas also remains a shareholder in the parent company of the Attiki Odos highway, while also possessing shares of the Parnitha Casino near Athens, as well as shares in Hellas Gold, the subsidiary company of Canada-based Eldorado Gold, which is conducting controversial gold mining operations in the economically and environmentally sensitive area of Skouries, in the Halkidiki region of Northern Greece.

The impending merger was helped along by a law passed on August 1, at the start of the summer vacation period in Greece, which loosened regulations concerning mergers, while also making it easier for media groups to fire employees.

Bobolas, as well as Pegasus Publishing and Tiletypos, are closely connected to Stavros Psiharis of the Lambrakis Journalism Group, which is a shareholder in Tiletypos, and by extension, Mega Channel and DIGEA. The Lambrakis Journalism Group also fully owns the newspapers Ta Nea and To Vima, and possesses significant ownership interests in radio station Vima FM 99.5, web portal in.gr, the Studio ATA television studios, the TVE television studios, in the Aggelioforos newspaper in Thessaloniki, the Papasotiriou bookstores and press kiosks, in the distributors for Disney and Hearst Magazines in Greece, and in other newspaper and book publishing and distribution endeavors, as well as tourism services.

Notably, the Lambrakis Journalism Group and Pegasus Publishing are, as of July 2013, in talks to proceed forward with a merger of the two entities, with possible future plans to merge the new entity with Tiletypos, owner of Mega Channel. The impending merger was helped along by a law passed on August 1, at the start of the summer vacation period in Greece, which loosened regulations concerning mergers, while also making it easier for media groups to fire employees. This law, which was included in a rider in an unrelated health bill, was said to be a longstanding demand of the major media owners and was passed hastily, without a review from the General Accounting Office of the Ministry of Finance.

Another prominent business mogul who is also connected to Pegasus Publishing and Tiletypos is Vardis Vardinogiannis and the Vardinogiannis family, which also owns a stake of Tiletypos, and by extension, Mega Channel and DIGEA. The Vardinogiannis family owns a majority stake in national television station Star Channel (which in turn holds a stake in DIGEA), as well as in Attikes Ekdoseis (Attica Media), which publishes periodicals such as PC Magazine, Esquire, Harper's Bazaar and Playboy in Greece. Attikes Ekdoseis also owns radio stations Lampsi FM 92.3, Athens Deejay 95.2, and Rock FM 96.9 in Athens, while through Star Channel and Star Investments, the Vardinogiannis family also has stakes in radio station Dromos FM 89.8 and Diesi 101.3 FM in Athens. Furthermore, the Vardinogiannis family has a minority stake in MTV Greece, stakes in production company On Productions, in movie theater chain Ster Cinemas and in the Allou Fun Park theme parks. The Vardinogiannis family is said to have stakes in 98 companies in total, in Greece and abroad, with prominent non-media interests in the Motor Oil refineries, the Avin chain of gas stations, Vegas Oil and Gas, and numerous other shipping and business interests.

A figure well-connected to Star Channel, in turn, is prominent journalist Nikos Hatzinikolaou, who is the owner of Greece's top Sunday newspaper, Real News, and part-owner of leading radio station Real FM in Athens and Thessaloniki. Hatzinikolaou is also the owner of the web portal enikos.gr, which spawned a television program, "Ston Eniko," which now airs on Star Channel, where Hatzinikolaou is also the main commentator on the station's main evening newscast. Real FM is, in turn, partially owned by Andreas Kouris of the prominent Kouris family, which has interests, directly or indirectly, in television stations Kontra Channel and Mad TV and in radio stations Mad Radio 106.2, Love Radio 97.5, 104 FM (formerly Parea FM), and Orange 93.2.

The Kouris family also held a prominent interest in national television station Alter Channel, which ceased operations in November 2011 and which has since gone bankrupt. The Kouris family also has stakes in the newspaper Kontra News and the online portal filathlos.gr, operates the (nearly bankrupt) Metropolis music store, and for years published the now-defunct newspapers Avriani, Filathlos, and O Kosmos tou Ependiti.

Another prominent business and shipping magnate who is a major player in Greece's media landscape is Minos Kyriakou, owner of the Antenna Group of companies. The Antenna Group owns and operates the nationwide broadcaster ANT1 Television, the ANT1 Online news portal and web TV platform, radio stations Rythmos 94.9 and Easy 97.2 in Athens, Easy 97.5 and Rythmos 104.0 in Thessaloniki, record company Heaven Music (a strategic partner of Warner Music), the Audiotex telecommunications service, a variety of online services ranging from brandsgalaxy.gr to the perfectdate.gr matchmaking website, the ANT1 Studies Center and Fame Studio training center, television and radio stations in several Balkan and Eastern European countries (Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova), and Daphne Communications, which publishes such periodicals as OK! Magazine, House & Deco, and Astrologist.

The Antenna Group, officially based in Holland, also publishes Vice magazine for the Greek market. In addition, Kyriakou also indirectly controls another national television broadcaster, Macedonia TV, and both ANT1 and Macedonia TV are, in turn, shareholders in DIGEA. Kyriakou's non-media ventures include the ownership of oil companies Bacoil International and Athenian Oil Trading, a share in Singapore Airlines, the chairmanship of the Aegean Foundation, and, until recently, the chairmanship of the Panellinios athletic club.

Another shipping magnate with a tremendous presence in Greece's media landscape is Giannis Alafouzos from the prominent Alafouzos shipping family. Alafouzos is the owner of the Skai Group, which encompasses the national television station Skai TV, major Athens radio station Skai 100.3, radio stations Melodia 99.2 and Red 96.3, shares in DIGEA, and the skai.gr and skaikairos.gr web portals. Additionally, Alafouzos is the president of Kathimerini Publishing, which publishes the Kathimerini newspaper and the English-language e-Kathimerini and International New York Times in Greece, and which also holds stakes in Maison Publishing S.A., newspaper publishing and distribution firms Apostoli S.A. and Evropi S.A., the press kiosk at Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport in Athens, and other endeavors. Presently, he is also in talks to purchase leading sports radio station NovaSpor FM and the sports newspaper Sportday. Alafouzos has extensive shipping interests, as the president of Ermis Maritime Holdings. He is also the majority shareholder of the Panathinaikos football club, based in Athens.

Dimitris Contominas is another major name in the world of Greek media, with an extensive non-media background in insurance and banking. He is the owner of national television broadcaster Alpha TV (which, in turn, holds shares in DIGEA), television station Channel 9 in Athens and Kanali 9 in Thessaloniki, radio stations Alpha 98.9 in Athens and Alpha 96.5 in Thessaloniki, the Plus Productions television production company, the Cosmoline telecommunications company, the KB Impuls satellite distribution company, and the Village Group of film distributors and movie theaters. Outside of the realm of the mass media, Contominas holds significant interests, through the holding company Demco Group, in companies such as Prime Insurance, myDirect online insurance, the Euroclinic medical clinic of Athens, the InterJet private aviation firm, in Intertech, and in Panasonic's exclusive representative in Greece, as well as holdings in the realms of construction, gaming, multimedia, gastronomy, and winemaking.

In numerous cases in recent years, many of the aforementioned media, business and shipping barons have not been able to escape legal controversy, and in some cases, even jail time.

Other prominent business and shipping interests with major media holdings include Christos Copelouzos, the chairman of the Copelouzos Group, with major interests in energy (Prometheus Gas, Elica Group), exhibitions (Metropolitan Expo Center in Athens), a share in the Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport in Athens, as well as Prime Media, which runs news portals Newsbeast and news.gr, as well as websites such as weather.gr. The Giannakopoulos family holds major interests in pharmaceuticals (Vianex), a major share of the Panathinaikos basketball club, and the DPG media group, which publishes various print and online titles, including the Newsbomb news portal and the Panathinaikos-friendly Prasini sports newspaper.

Shipping magnate Victor Restis (Enterprises Shipping and Trading) owns shares in electronics retailer Multirama, food manufacturer Nikas, various tourism holdings, as well as majority stakes in MTV Greece and Nickelodeon Greece plus radio station Music 89.2 in Athens. He has also owned shares in Tiletypos S.A. (owner of Mega Channel) and the Lambrakis Publishing Group. Evangelos Marinakis, aside from his substantial shipping interests (Capital Maritime and Capital Product Partners), is the president of the Olympiacos football club, and a major stakeholder in the Parapolitika newspaper and the radio station Parapolitika FM. Marinakis has also recently acquired sports radio station Sentra FM and sports newspaper Goal.

Well-connected media personalities have also become media owners in their own right: Nikos Evagellatos, until recently a news presenter on Skai TV, operates news portal newsit.gr; Themis Anastasiadis, another celebrity television personality, owns a majority stake in major Sunday newspaper Proto Thema; while the notorious and well-connected television personality Makis Triantafillopoulos operates the Zougla.gr tabloid news portal and is connected to Athens-based television station AB Channel.

Lavrentis Lavrentiadis, the former major shareholder and president of Proton Bank, had been held in connection with charges of being the moral accomplice in the attempted murder of a 43-year-old businessman.

In numerous cases in recent years, many of the aforementioned media, business, and shipping barons have not been able to escape legal controversy, and in some cases, even jail time. For instance, Kyriakou, in 2007, was given a 48-month prison sentence without deferment and issued a €15,000 fine, in connection with illegal construction which had occurred at his vacation property in Porto Heli, Greece. In January, Contominas was one of 25 individuals arrested as part of a probe into €500 million worth of bad loans given by the failed Hellenic Postbank. He was released on €4 million bail and ordered to report to police twice per month. He was also barred from leaving Greece, which however has not prevented him from reportedly visiting the United States for a series of meetings with businesspeople, as well as visits to family and to medical personnel.

Andreas Kouris has been arrested repeatedly in connection with debts to the Greek state, most recently in June over a debt of over €700,000 stemming from the Metropolis chain of music stores. Similarly, his uncle Makis Kouris was arrested in January and is also facing charges over alleged debts towards the Greek state. Costas Giannikos, a former major shareholder of the now-bankrupt Alter television station and former owner of three Athens-based radio stations and several publications, was, in early July, granted release from prison and placed on probation. He was jailed in connection with alleged unpaid taxes towards the Greek state, stemming from his involvement with Alter Channel. Restis spent four months in prison in 2013, prior to being released in December pending trial in connection with loans totalling €5.8 million issued by First Business Bank, which had been under his control, to off-shore corporations said to be connected to family members of his.

Petros Kyriakidis, a former executive at the scandal-ridden and now-dissolved Proton Bank, and former owner of several radio stations and newspapers, left Greece in December 2012, one day prior to the issuance of an arrest warrant against him in connection with charges of money laundering. He remains at large, allegedly in Latin America, to this day. Lavrentis Lavrentiadis, the former major shareholder and president of Proton Bank, who had acquired a significant media portfolio of his own, was released on €500,000 bail in June after being held in custody for over two years over charges of money laundering and the embezzlement of over €700 million from Proton Bank, through unsecured loans granted to companies in which he had an ownership interest. Lavrentiadis had also been held in connection with charges of being the moral accomplice in the attempted murder of a 43-year-old businessman who was seriously injured after a bomb went off at his home in Athens in June 2012.

Greece's prominent business, financial, and shipping interests have made heavy investments in the media sector not because of its profitability, but instead for the influence that media ownership affords them within Greek society.

In other examples, Themis Anastasiadis was arrested in December 2012 following charges of tax evasion and money laundering, following the discovery of bank accounts totaling €5.5 million which he was said to possess in Switzerland. Anastasiadis was later found not guilty on these charges, though in October 2009, he received a deferred sentence of 19 months in prison stemming from his publication, in Proto Thema, of sensitive personal photographs of Christos Zahopoulos, who was embroiled in a major political and sex scandal that rocked the Kostas Karamanlis-led New Democracy government in late 2007 and early 2008. And recently, Evangelos Marinakis has faced accusations that he participates in a criminal conspiracy that has attempted to manipulate and control police officers, judges, politicians, and other public figures. Despite the severity of these charges, however, few, if any, media outlets have reported the allegations.

It should be stressed that Greece's prominent business, financial, and shipping interests have made heavy investments in the media sector not because of its profitability, but instead for the influence that media ownership affords them within Greek society. Indeed, most newspapers, television stations, and radio stations are either unprofitable or only marginally profitable. However, for their owners, they serve arguably a more important set of objectives: to promote their other business and financial interests, to influence public opinion, and to exert pressure on politicians and the government of the day.

When necessary though, these media outlets have other ways to support themselves financially, other than from their performance within the marketplace. One such method is through loans. At a time when Greece's banking sector is being recapitalized with public funds and numerous banks have been liquidated or absorbed, and at a time where bank loans to individuals and small businesses in Greece has all but ceased, several large media groups have received tremendously large loans often for the purposes of servicing previously existing debt. In early 2013, for instance, Tiletypos S.A., the owner of Mega Channel, received a €98 million loan from Alpha Bank and Piraeus Bank, allegedly to service a previous loan of €50 million granted by the two banks to Tiletypos in 2009, which the company was unable to repay.

Other formerly prominent media moguls have not escaped the loss of their media empires, even if they have avoided jail time.

Earlier this year, Pegasus Publishing S.A., a major shareholder in Tiletypos S.A., had a €20 million loan from the National Bank of Greece, which would otherwise had expired on December 31, 2013, renewed. Meanwhile, another shareholder in Pegasus Publishing, the Lambrakis Journalism Group, received a €98 million loan earlier this year, issued jointly by the National Bank of Greece, Alpha Bank, Eurobank, and Piraeus Bank. €83 of the €98 million are intended to service previously existing debt.

One further way in which the operation of Greece's major media groups is financially supported is through the rather generous distribution of state advertising funds.

Notably, Pegasus Publishing and the Lambrakis Journalism Group, through their proposed merger, are said to be aiming to have 60 percent of their outstanding debts written off. For the first three quarters of 2013, the Lambrakis Journalism Group faced €21.7 million in losses and total debts of €216 million; Pegasus faced losses of €21.8 million and €223 million in outstanding debts; Tiletypos had losses of €17.3 million and outstanding debts of €190.1 million Euros and Kathimerini S.A. faced €13.3 million in losses and total outstanding debts totaling €185.9 million.

Meanwhile, other formerly prominent media moguls have not escaped the loss of their media empires, even if they have avoided jail time. One notable example is that of Petros Kostopoulos, the former owner of radio stations Nitro Radio, Sfera 102.2 and Derti 98.6, and the IMAKO publishing group, whose titles included high-circulation magazines such as Nitro and DownTown, among others. Kostopoulos, however, remains a prominent figure on television and in Greece's celebrity culture.

Despite the many financial and legal troubles which have plagued the sector, one further way in which the operation of Greece's major media groups is financially supported is through the rather generous distribution of state advertising funds. These funds are not always distributed based on audience size or other similar criteria. For instance, in 2008, the newspaper "Hora tis Kyriakis" received over €2.6 million in state advertising, finishing in 11th place overall among all daily and Sunday newspapers in Greece, even though its circulation hovered at around 1,000 sheets nationwide.

Successive governments have also allowed media outlets, and broadcast media outlets in particular, to avoid other financial obligations toward the Greek state.

Hora was published by prominent journalist Giorgos Tragkas, who at that time was still considered to be close to the then-New Democracy government. The paper, which finished in first place that year with over €5.9 million in state advertising funds, City Press, was a free weekly newspaper published by Giorgos Kirtsos, who also maintained close ties with New Democracy and who, in the May 2014 European parliamentary elections, was elected as a representative for Greece with the New Democracy party. In yet another example, Panagiotis Mavrikos, the publisher of four newspapers with a total average nationwide circulation of approximately 1,000 sheets per day (24 Ores, Epikairotita, Acropolis, and Athlitiki Imera) received approximately €150.000 in state advertising fundsin 2008.

At the same time that successive governments have curried favor with media outlets through the generous outlay of state advertising expenditures, they have also allowed media outlets, and broadcast media outlets in particular, to avoid other financial obligations toward the Greek state. For instance, ever since 1995, when legislation was first passed which required broadcast stations to pay for the use of public over-the-air frequencies, broadcasters have often been able to avoid paying the full amount to which they would have otherwise been legally obliged.

For instance, while national television stations were once required to pay 2 percent of their annual revenues each year for the right to use public broadcast frequencies (with a 50 percent reduction during election years due to the legally mandated free airtime broadcasters are required to provide to political parties), in 2009, an election year, that fee dropped to 0.1 percent, and remained at 0.1 percent in 2010, which was not an election year.

Many major media groups also have amassed a tremendous amount of back taxes that are owed to the Greek state.

This meant that Greece's largest television station, Mega Channel, paid a total of just over €1.2 million Euros for its use of frequencies nationwide for 2009 and 2010 combined, while 902 TV, another television station which broadcast nationally, paid just €1,416 for the use of all of its frequencies nationwide for the year 2009. And as if that isn't enough, the government has delayed enforcement of law 3845/2010, which foresees a tax levy of 20 percent on television advertising revenues. Originally passed in 2010, the tax has not yet been levied, and in December 2013, the enforcement of this tax was pushed further back, to 2015.

Television, in particular, has become a visual wasteland of soap operas, low-budget reality shows, celebrity gossip programs, as well as lots of reruns.

Many major media groups also have amassed a tremendous amount of back taxes that are owed to the Greek state. Tiletypos, the parent company of Mega Channel, reportedly owes over €123 million in unpaid taxes, with Pegasus Publishing said to owe an additional €164.3 million Euros. In turn, the Lambrakis Journalism Group reportedly has an outstanding tax debt of €134 million, while the parent companies of Star Channel and Alpha TV each are said to owe approximately €58 million to the Greek State.

Finally, Forthnet, the parent company of the Nova subscription television service, reportedly owes €331 million in unpaid taxes to the Greek state. All this, at a time where the tax burden on ordinary citizens in Greece, as well as Greece's outstanding national debt, are ballooning.

Within this framework of increasing concentration of media ownership in the hands of a few extremely wealthy individuals and corporations, the argument was often made that increased concentration would be beneficial for the media marketplace, for consumers and viewers - and for the media outlets themselves. It was said that increased economies of scale would allow media outlets to expand their operations and to eventually hire more employees, and that consumers would benefit from expanded choice and presumably by higher-quality media outlets that would be financially secure and which would have the ability to make increased investment in their content.

Instead, the opposite seems to have taken place: Television, in particular, has become a visual wasteland of soap operas, low-budget reality shows, celebrity gossip programs, as well as lots of reruns. And that just refers to the stations which remain on the air. Many other media outlets have, in recent years, gone bankrupt. The most prominent example is Alter Channel, a nationwide television station which ceased broadcasts in November 2011, leaving over 600 employees unpaid to this day.

At other prominent media outlets, successive waves of layoffs have taken place over the past few years, as well as successive staff-wide salary reductions.

Indeed, there have been numerous cases in recent years where journalists and other employees at media outlets have been fired without warning, or have been unpaid for long periods of time, while several other formerly prominent media outlets have gone bankrupt and ceased operations. Aside from Alter Channel, media outlets which have filed for bankruptcy and halted their operations include formerly high-rated radio stations VFM and Best Radio in Athens, and Star FM, Heart FM, and Aris FM in Thessaloniki; municipal radio station Xenios FM from Ano Liosia, an Athens suburb; newspapers including Adesmeftos Typos, Apogevmatini, Avriani, City Press, Derby, Filathlos, O Kosmos tou Ependiti, Paraskevi+13, the English-language Athens News, among others; magazines such as DownTown and Difono; and web portals such as sport.gr. And while some radio stations that had been on the brink of bankruptcy were permitted by the National Council for Radio-Television (ESR) to be taken over by their unpaid staffers, most of these radio stations (such as Xenios FM) remain closed, or operate without any live staffers on the air.

Fear of being laid off has also led to increased instances of self-censorship among journalists.

At other prominent media outlets, including Skai and Vima FM, successive waves of layoffs have taken place over the past few years, as well as successive staff-wide salary reductions, which have also been seen at the Antenna Media Group, Sentra FM, Music 89.2, and elsewhere. It is also common for employees at media outlets to go months (or longer) without being paid, as is the case at the municipal radio station Epikoinonia FM of Neo Iraklio, a suburb of Athens, were staffers have been unpaid for over one year.

In other cases, such as at Music 89.2, ownership has attempted to replace collective bargaining agreements with individual contracts with each staffer, firing those who refuse to comply. In other cases, companies such as the Lambrakis Publishing Group have been said to owe significant amounts of money to their employees' insurance funds.

Perhaps most tellingly though, a recent classified advertisement posted by an online news portal sought to hire an individual who would be responsible for copying and pasting 100 articles per day to the online portal, all for a monthly "salary" of €100.

At a time where the media sector as a whole in Greece is facing a tremendous crisis, as advertising revenue and circulation figures have sharply declined, while recent waves of layoffs (including the 2,690 staffers of ERT who lost their jobs) have led to a surplus of journalists and media professionals seeking jobs, employers in Greece have the luxury of sharply reducing salaries and eliminating benefits, including social security contributions, taking advantage of the dire and often desperate situation in which journalists and media professionals find themselves.

Fear of being laid off has also led to increased instances of self-censorship among journalists, fearing that any work which might be considered inexpedient by the government or by ownership interests and the country's financial elite might result in their firing and the prospect of long-term unemployment. This situation, in turn, has a dire impact on the quality of journalism being delivered to the Greek populace.

In the meantime, major media outlets in Greece continue to operate, in many cases, without a modicum of transparency. One recent example comes from the sale of 902 TV, the television station of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) which was sold, in August 2013, along with radio station 902 Aristera sta FM to a mysterious offshore holding company, based in Cyprus, and said to belong to business mogul Filippos Vryonis, owner of television station Extra Channel, based in Athens.

Uncertainty has, for years, prevented the owners of many smaller radio and television stations from making significant investments in their stations.

Notably, the identity of the new ownership of 902 TV (since renamed E Channel) remained shrouded in mystery for many weeks after the sale, but this nevertheless did not prevent the ESR from quickly approving the sale.

While the media outlets owned or associated with major media, business, and political interests have often found themselves operating above the law and outside of normal market norms, subsidized both by the state and by the other business operations of their owners, smaller media outlets that do not have such luxuries are finding it extraordinarily difficult to continue their operations in Greece's current economic environment.

The ever-rising costs of electricity and other utilities, higher taxes, and reduced advertising and circulation have backed smaller media outlets into a tight corner, and throughout the country, many such outlets have ceased operations in recent years. In addition, smaller radio and television stations are faced with disproportionately high costs for copyright and music royalties, regardless of their profitability or revenue, and are constantly operating under the threat that they may be shut down at any time, due to the fact that no formal broadcast licenses have been granted by the state.

Indeed, this uncertainty has, for years, prevented the owners of many smaller radio and television stations from making significant investments in their stations, for fear that these investments would be lost if the state decided to take their stations off the air at any point, as was the case with the 66 radio stations that were suddenly and violently taken off the air in one night by riot police in Athens, back in 2001.

In light of the growing immigrant population in the country in the past two decades, foreign-language media in Greece have become more important. While foreign-language press does operate in Greece without any particular interference, including newspapers, magazines and online outlets, foreign-language broadcasters have faced numerous challenges.

Athens International Radio, a foreign-language broadcaster operated by the municipality of Athens, which was on the air with a "temporary" license issued by Greece's Communications Ministry prior to the 2004 Summer Olympic Games, was taken off the air by the EETT in September 2010.

Perhaps not coincidentally, that same month ERT placed its newly-launched foreign-langauge service, "Filia" (Friendship) on the FM dial in Athens. When ERT was shut down in June 2013, this service ceased broadcasting, as did ERT's international service, The Voice of Greece, which also carried some foreign-language programming.These services have not been replaced by Greece's new "public" broadcaster NERIT. On the other hand, privately-owned radio stations which have aired programming in other languages have selectively been fined by the ESR for broadcasting in languages other than Greek.

Typically, stations in northern Greece broadcasting in Turkish have been fined, at the same time that ERT, Athens International Radio, and the handful of English-language radio stations throughout Greece have never faced similar sanctions. Nor have Greece's major private television broadcasters, such as ANT1 and Mega Channel, been fined for their airing of Turkish soap operas, which are broadcast without a Greek voiceover, but instead with subtitles.

Ironically, at the same time that most of Greece's major media outlets are unprofitable and are supported financially by other means, and while Greece's smaller media outlets are suffering the consequences of the country's financial crisis, the supposedly spendthrift and bloated ERT was, in fact, profitable and financially healthy prior to its sudden shutdown by the government in June 2013. It is within this broader economic and political context, examined in this section and all of the previous articles of this series, that the shutdown of ERT should be analyzed and examined.

Related Articles:

Corruption, Clientelism and Censorship in Greece's Media Landscape

Savage Deregulation: Further Censorship and Crackdowns in Greek Media 

12 Years Before ERT Shutdown, A Dark Chapter in Greece's Media History

Setting a Bad Example: Flouting Legal Requirements in Greek Broadcasting

In Greece, Media Censorship, Self-Censorship, Journalist Arrests and Murder

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Michael Nevradakis

Michael Nevradakis is a Ph.D. candidate in media studies at the University of Texas at Austin and a US Fulbright Scholar presently based in Athens, Greece. Michael is also the host of Dialogos Radio, a weekly radio program featuring interviews and coverage of current events in Greece.

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Greek Mainstream Media: Economic Interests Come Before the Law

Saturday, 25 October 2014 10:58 By Michael Nevradakis, Truthout | News Analysis
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This is the sixth in a series of articles that chronicle the long history of corruption, lawlessness and censorship in Greece's media and journalism landscapes. This is a situation that has worsened in recent years in the midst of the country's severe economic crisis, but which has a deeply-rooted history.

Censorship, political favoritism, violence towards journalists, and selective enforcement of the law collectively pose a tremendous threat to press freedom. One factor which connects all of the above, however, is economic influence, and in Greece, media has traditionally been dominated by a select few business tycoons, with significant investments not just in media and publishing, but in sectors such as shipping, banking, oil and gas, construction, and insurance.

In recent years, this situation has arguably worsened, as the ownership of major media outlets, including upstart internet outlets, has become increasingly concentrated in the hands of a very few major media and business moguls, who take full advantage of the power their media outlets afford them to flex their financial and political muscle, and influence both politicians and the public at large.

For decades, newspaper publishing in Greece was the realm of the few and the well-connected, who used their newspapers to support particular partisan interests or even specific individual politicians. When private broadcasting emerged in the late 1980s and early 1990s, this situation was essentially replicated, as the major radio and television stations established were backed by many of the same prominent publishing interests. Despite this, the ownership of more than one radio and one television station was not permitted, legally. This law was, however, easily and quite openly flouted. Media owners skirted the ownership limits by placing additional outlets under the ownership of holding companies, individuals from their other business interests, or even spouses and relatives.

Media owners have used this power to wield tremendous influence politically and economically, through the broadcast of outright pro-government propaganda, and through the promotion of their own interests.

With the previous ownership law having become a mockery of itself, in 2007, the Greek government dropped all remaining pretense and, as part of the wide-ranging media law 3592/2007, officially permitted ownership of multiple television and radio stations. Following the elimination of the few remaining obstacles for the concentration of ownership in broadcasting, a buying spree ensued, with major media owners buying up additional television and radio stations, in the waning high-flying pre-crisis days.

While the major media outlets and their owners have argued that media concentration would lead to economic efficiencies and the development of economies of scale, which would permit money to be reinvested into their media holdings as a whole, what has followed has been a growing trend of layoffs and firings at media outlets as entire departments have been consolidated or eliminated, while program offerings have become increasingly homogenized, reducing variety and choice for viewers and listeners.

Meanwhile, the position of media owners has been strengthened and reinforced, and they have used this power to wield tremendous influence politically and economically, through the broadcast of outright pro-government propaganda, and through the promotion of their own extensive non-media business interests. Indeed, these media outlets continue to be used as a "weapon" of choice by media moguls  to threaten the government of the day and to exert pressure, with the goal of receiving lucrative contracts for public works and major state contracts.

The tremendous degree of media and business concentration is concealed within a labyrinth of different holding companies and shell corporations, which in turn are owned, in whole or in part, by other shell corporations, holding companies, or by the media moguls in question, as well as their families and other individuals in certain cases. One prominent example is Ioannis Bobolas, a shareholder in Pegasus Publishing S.A., which in turn is a shareholder in Tiletypos S.A., which is part owner of Mega Channel and of the DIGEA terrestrial digital broadcasting network provider. Bobolas, through Pegasus Publishing S.A., also holds prominent ownership interests in the newspapers Ethnos and Imerisia, the e-go.gr web portal, magazine publishing interests (Elle, Car and Driver, TV Zapping, among others), the Aggelioforos newspaper in Thessaloniki, a share of the TVE television production company, concert promotion and nightclub interests (such as Club 22 in Athens), stakes in companies involved in the printing of newspapers and periodicals, as well as the distribution and sale of these periodicals, and until recently, radio station Sentra FM.

In addition to his media-related holdings, Bobolas is a major shareholder in Ellaktor, one of Greece's major construction firms, which was responsible for the construction of such projects as the new Acropolis Museum, the Olympic Stadium and Olympic Village in Athens, the Attiki Odos highway, and the Rio-Antirrio bridge, among many others. Indeed, Bobolas also remains a shareholder in the parent company of the Attiki Odos highway, while also possessing shares of the Parnitha Casino near Athens, as well as shares in Hellas Gold, the subsidiary company of Canada-based Eldorado Gold, which is conducting controversial gold mining operations in the economically and environmentally sensitive area of Skouries, in the Halkidiki region of Northern Greece.

The impending merger was helped along by a law passed on August 1, at the start of the summer vacation period in Greece, which loosened regulations concerning mergers, while also making it easier for media groups to fire employees.

Bobolas, as well as Pegasus Publishing and Tiletypos, are closely connected to Stavros Psiharis of the Lambrakis Journalism Group, which is a shareholder in Tiletypos, and by extension, Mega Channel and DIGEA. The Lambrakis Journalism Group also fully owns the newspapers Ta Nea and To Vima, and possesses significant ownership interests in radio station Vima FM 99.5, web portal in.gr, the Studio ATA television studios, the TVE television studios, in the Aggelioforos newspaper in Thessaloniki, the Papasotiriou bookstores and press kiosks, in the distributors for Disney and Hearst Magazines in Greece, and in other newspaper and book publishing and distribution endeavors, as well as tourism services.

Notably, the Lambrakis Journalism Group and Pegasus Publishing are, as of July 2013, in talks to proceed forward with a merger of the two entities, with possible future plans to merge the new entity with Tiletypos, owner of Mega Channel. The impending merger was helped along by a law passed on August 1, at the start of the summer vacation period in Greece, which loosened regulations concerning mergers, while also making it easier for media groups to fire employees. This law, which was included in a rider in an unrelated health bill, was said to be a longstanding demand of the major media owners and was passed hastily, without a review from the General Accounting Office of the Ministry of Finance.

Another prominent business mogul who is also connected to Pegasus Publishing and Tiletypos is Vardis Vardinogiannis and the Vardinogiannis family, which also owns a stake of Tiletypos, and by extension, Mega Channel and DIGEA. The Vardinogiannis family owns a majority stake in national television station Star Channel (which in turn holds a stake in DIGEA), as well as in Attikes Ekdoseis (Attica Media), which publishes periodicals such as PC Magazine, Esquire, Harper's Bazaar and Playboy in Greece. Attikes Ekdoseis also owns radio stations Lampsi FM 92.3, Athens Deejay 95.2, and Rock FM 96.9 in Athens, while through Star Channel and Star Investments, the Vardinogiannis family also has stakes in radio station Dromos FM 89.8 and Diesi 101.3 FM in Athens. Furthermore, the Vardinogiannis family has a minority stake in MTV Greece, stakes in production company On Productions, in movie theater chain Ster Cinemas and in the Allou Fun Park theme parks. The Vardinogiannis family is said to have stakes in 98 companies in total, in Greece and abroad, with prominent non-media interests in the Motor Oil refineries, the Avin chain of gas stations, Vegas Oil and Gas, and numerous other shipping and business interests.

A figure well-connected to Star Channel, in turn, is prominent journalist Nikos Hatzinikolaou, who is the owner of Greece's top Sunday newspaper, Real News, and part-owner of leading radio station Real FM in Athens and Thessaloniki. Hatzinikolaou is also the owner of the web portal enikos.gr, which spawned a television program, "Ston Eniko," which now airs on Star Channel, where Hatzinikolaou is also the main commentator on the station's main evening newscast. Real FM is, in turn, partially owned by Andreas Kouris of the prominent Kouris family, which has interests, directly or indirectly, in television stations Kontra Channel and Mad TV and in radio stations Mad Radio 106.2, Love Radio 97.5, 104 FM (formerly Parea FM), and Orange 93.2.

The Kouris family also held a prominent interest in national television station Alter Channel, which ceased operations in November 2011 and which has since gone bankrupt. The Kouris family also has stakes in the newspaper Kontra News and the online portal filathlos.gr, operates the (nearly bankrupt) Metropolis music store, and for years published the now-defunct newspapers Avriani, Filathlos, and O Kosmos tou Ependiti.

Another prominent business and shipping magnate who is a major player in Greece's media landscape is Minos Kyriakou, owner of the Antenna Group of companies. The Antenna Group owns and operates the nationwide broadcaster ANT1 Television, the ANT1 Online news portal and web TV platform, radio stations Rythmos 94.9 and Easy 97.2 in Athens, Easy 97.5 and Rythmos 104.0 in Thessaloniki, record company Heaven Music (a strategic partner of Warner Music), the Audiotex telecommunications service, a variety of online services ranging from brandsgalaxy.gr to the perfectdate.gr matchmaking website, the ANT1 Studies Center and Fame Studio training center, television and radio stations in several Balkan and Eastern European countries (Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova), and Daphne Communications, which publishes such periodicals as OK! Magazine, House & Deco, and Astrologist.

The Antenna Group, officially based in Holland, also publishes Vice magazine for the Greek market. In addition, Kyriakou also indirectly controls another national television broadcaster, Macedonia TV, and both ANT1 and Macedonia TV are, in turn, shareholders in DIGEA. Kyriakou's non-media ventures include the ownership of oil companies Bacoil International and Athenian Oil Trading, a share in Singapore Airlines, the chairmanship of the Aegean Foundation, and, until recently, the chairmanship of the Panellinios athletic club.

Another shipping magnate with a tremendous presence in Greece's media landscape is Giannis Alafouzos from the prominent Alafouzos shipping family. Alafouzos is the owner of the Skai Group, which encompasses the national television station Skai TV, major Athens radio station Skai 100.3, radio stations Melodia 99.2 and Red 96.3, shares in DIGEA, and the skai.gr and skaikairos.gr web portals. Additionally, Alafouzos is the president of Kathimerini Publishing, which publishes the Kathimerini newspaper and the English-language e-Kathimerini and International New York Times in Greece, and which also holds stakes in Maison Publishing S.A., newspaper publishing and distribution firms Apostoli S.A. and Evropi S.A., the press kiosk at Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport in Athens, and other endeavors. Presently, he is also in talks to purchase leading sports radio station NovaSpor FM and the sports newspaper Sportday. Alafouzos has extensive shipping interests, as the president of Ermis Maritime Holdings. He is also the majority shareholder of the Panathinaikos football club, based in Athens.

Dimitris Contominas is another major name in the world of Greek media, with an extensive non-media background in insurance and banking. He is the owner of national television broadcaster Alpha TV (which, in turn, holds shares in DIGEA), television station Channel 9 in Athens and Kanali 9 in Thessaloniki, radio stations Alpha 98.9 in Athens and Alpha 96.5 in Thessaloniki, the Plus Productions television production company, the Cosmoline telecommunications company, the KB Impuls satellite distribution company, and the Village Group of film distributors and movie theaters. Outside of the realm of the mass media, Contominas holds significant interests, through the holding company Demco Group, in companies such as Prime Insurance, myDirect online insurance, the Euroclinic medical clinic of Athens, the InterJet private aviation firm, in Intertech, and in Panasonic's exclusive representative in Greece, as well as holdings in the realms of construction, gaming, multimedia, gastronomy, and winemaking.

In numerous cases in recent years, many of the aforementioned media, business and shipping barons have not been able to escape legal controversy, and in some cases, even jail time.

Other prominent business and shipping interests with major media holdings include Christos Copelouzos, the chairman of the Copelouzos Group, with major interests in energy (Prometheus Gas, Elica Group), exhibitions (Metropolitan Expo Center in Athens), a share in the Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport in Athens, as well as Prime Media, which runs news portals Newsbeast and news.gr, as well as websites such as weather.gr. The Giannakopoulos family holds major interests in pharmaceuticals (Vianex), a major share of the Panathinaikos basketball club, and the DPG media group, which publishes various print and online titles, including the Newsbomb news portal and the Panathinaikos-friendly Prasini sports newspaper.

Shipping magnate Victor Restis (Enterprises Shipping and Trading) owns shares in electronics retailer Multirama, food manufacturer Nikas, various tourism holdings, as well as majority stakes in MTV Greece and Nickelodeon Greece plus radio station Music 89.2 in Athens. He has also owned shares in Tiletypos S.A. (owner of Mega Channel) and the Lambrakis Publishing Group. Evangelos Marinakis, aside from his substantial shipping interests (Capital Maritime and Capital Product Partners), is the president of the Olympiacos football club, and a major stakeholder in the Parapolitika newspaper and the radio station Parapolitika FM. Marinakis has also recently acquired sports radio station Sentra FM and sports newspaper Goal.

Well-connected media personalities have also become media owners in their own right: Nikos Evagellatos, until recently a news presenter on Skai TV, operates news portal newsit.gr; Themis Anastasiadis, another celebrity television personality, owns a majority stake in major Sunday newspaper Proto Thema; while the notorious and well-connected television personality Makis Triantafillopoulos operates the Zougla.gr tabloid news portal and is connected to Athens-based television station AB Channel.

Lavrentis Lavrentiadis, the former major shareholder and president of Proton Bank, had been held in connection with charges of being the moral accomplice in the attempted murder of a 43-year-old businessman.

In numerous cases in recent years, many of the aforementioned media, business, and shipping barons have not been able to escape legal controversy, and in some cases, even jail time. For instance, Kyriakou, in 2007, was given a 48-month prison sentence without deferment and issued a €15,000 fine, in connection with illegal construction which had occurred at his vacation property in Porto Heli, Greece. In January, Contominas was one of 25 individuals arrested as part of a probe into €500 million worth of bad loans given by the failed Hellenic Postbank. He was released on €4 million bail and ordered to report to police twice per month. He was also barred from leaving Greece, which however has not prevented him from reportedly visiting the United States for a series of meetings with businesspeople, as well as visits to family and to medical personnel.

Andreas Kouris has been arrested repeatedly in connection with debts to the Greek state, most recently in June over a debt of over €700,000 stemming from the Metropolis chain of music stores. Similarly, his uncle Makis Kouris was arrested in January and is also facing charges over alleged debts towards the Greek state. Costas Giannikos, a former major shareholder of the now-bankrupt Alter television station and former owner of three Athens-based radio stations and several publications, was, in early July, granted release from prison and placed on probation. He was jailed in connection with alleged unpaid taxes towards the Greek state, stemming from his involvement with Alter Channel. Restis spent four months in prison in 2013, prior to being released in December pending trial in connection with loans totalling €5.8 million issued by First Business Bank, which had been under his control, to off-shore corporations said to be connected to family members of his.

Petros Kyriakidis, a former executive at the scandal-ridden and now-dissolved Proton Bank, and former owner of several radio stations and newspapers, left Greece in December 2012, one day prior to the issuance of an arrest warrant against him in connection with charges of money laundering. He remains at large, allegedly in Latin America, to this day. Lavrentis Lavrentiadis, the former major shareholder and president of Proton Bank, who had acquired a significant media portfolio of his own, was released on €500,000 bail in June after being held in custody for over two years over charges of money laundering and the embezzlement of over €700 million from Proton Bank, through unsecured loans granted to companies in which he had an ownership interest. Lavrentiadis had also been held in connection with charges of being the moral accomplice in the attempted murder of a 43-year-old businessman who was seriously injured after a bomb went off at his home in Athens in June 2012.

Greece's prominent business, financial, and shipping interests have made heavy investments in the media sector not because of its profitability, but instead for the influence that media ownership affords them within Greek society.

In other examples, Themis Anastasiadis was arrested in December 2012 following charges of tax evasion and money laundering, following the discovery of bank accounts totaling €5.5 million which he was said to possess in Switzerland. Anastasiadis was later found not guilty on these charges, though in October 2009, he received a deferred sentence of 19 months in prison stemming from his publication, in Proto Thema, of sensitive personal photographs of Christos Zahopoulos, who was embroiled in a major political and sex scandal that rocked the Kostas Karamanlis-led New Democracy government in late 2007 and early 2008. And recently, Evangelos Marinakis has faced accusations that he participates in a criminal conspiracy that has attempted to manipulate and control police officers, judges, politicians, and other public figures. Despite the severity of these charges, however, few, if any, media outlets have reported the allegations.

It should be stressed that Greece's prominent business, financial, and shipping interests have made heavy investments in the media sector not because of its profitability, but instead for the influence that media ownership affords them within Greek society. Indeed, most newspapers, television stations, and radio stations are either unprofitable or only marginally profitable. However, for their owners, they serve arguably a more important set of objectives: to promote their other business and financial interests, to influence public opinion, and to exert pressure on politicians and the government of the day.

When necessary though, these media outlets have other ways to support themselves financially, other than from their performance within the marketplace. One such method is through loans. At a time when Greece's banking sector is being recapitalized with public funds and numerous banks have been liquidated or absorbed, and at a time where bank loans to individuals and small businesses in Greece has all but ceased, several large media groups have received tremendously large loans often for the purposes of servicing previously existing debt. In early 2013, for instance, Tiletypos S.A., the owner of Mega Channel, received a €98 million loan from Alpha Bank and Piraeus Bank, allegedly to service a previous loan of €50 million granted by the two banks to Tiletypos in 2009, which the company was unable to repay.

Other formerly prominent media moguls have not escaped the loss of their media empires, even if they have avoided jail time.

Earlier this year, Pegasus Publishing S.A., a major shareholder in Tiletypos S.A., had a €20 million loan from the National Bank of Greece, which would otherwise had expired on December 31, 2013, renewed. Meanwhile, another shareholder in Pegasus Publishing, the Lambrakis Journalism Group, received a €98 million loan earlier this year, issued jointly by the National Bank of Greece, Alpha Bank, Eurobank, and Piraeus Bank. €83 of the €98 million are intended to service previously existing debt.

One further way in which the operation of Greece's major media groups is financially supported is through the rather generous distribution of state advertising funds.

Notably, Pegasus Publishing and the Lambrakis Journalism Group, through their proposed merger, are said to be aiming to have 60 percent of their outstanding debts written off. For the first three quarters of 2013, the Lambrakis Journalism Group faced €21.7 million in losses and total debts of €216 million; Pegasus faced losses of €21.8 million and €223 million in outstanding debts; Tiletypos had losses of €17.3 million and outstanding debts of €190.1 million Euros and Kathimerini S.A. faced €13.3 million in losses and total outstanding debts totaling €185.9 million.

Meanwhile, other formerly prominent media moguls have not escaped the loss of their media empires, even if they have avoided jail time. One notable example is that of Petros Kostopoulos, the former owner of radio stations Nitro Radio, Sfera 102.2 and Derti 98.6, and the IMAKO publishing group, whose titles included high-circulation magazines such as Nitro and DownTown, among others. Kostopoulos, however, remains a prominent figure on television and in Greece's celebrity culture.

Despite the many financial and legal troubles which have plagued the sector, one further way in which the operation of Greece's major media groups is financially supported is through the rather generous distribution of state advertising funds. These funds are not always distributed based on audience size or other similar criteria. For instance, in 2008, the newspaper "Hora tis Kyriakis" received over €2.6 million in state advertising, finishing in 11th place overall among all daily and Sunday newspapers in Greece, even though its circulation hovered at around 1,000 sheets nationwide.

Successive governments have also allowed media outlets, and broadcast media outlets in particular, to avoid other financial obligations toward the Greek state.

Hora was published by prominent journalist Giorgos Tragkas, who at that time was still considered to be close to the then-New Democracy government. The paper, which finished in first place that year with over €5.9 million in state advertising funds, City Press, was a free weekly newspaper published by Giorgos Kirtsos, who also maintained close ties with New Democracy and who, in the May 2014 European parliamentary elections, was elected as a representative for Greece with the New Democracy party. In yet another example, Panagiotis Mavrikos, the publisher of four newspapers with a total average nationwide circulation of approximately 1,000 sheets per day (24 Ores, Epikairotita, Acropolis, and Athlitiki Imera) received approximately €150.000 in state advertising fundsin 2008.

At the same time that successive governments have curried favor with media outlets through the generous outlay of state advertising expenditures, they have also allowed media outlets, and broadcast media outlets in particular, to avoid other financial obligations toward the Greek state. For instance, ever since 1995, when legislation was first passed which required broadcast stations to pay for the use of public over-the-air frequencies, broadcasters have often been able to avoid paying the full amount to which they would have otherwise been legally obliged.

For instance, while national television stations were once required to pay 2 percent of their annual revenues each year for the right to use public broadcast frequencies (with a 50 percent reduction during election years due to the legally mandated free airtime broadcasters are required to provide to political parties), in 2009, an election year, that fee dropped to 0.1 percent, and remained at 0.1 percent in 2010, which was not an election year.

Many major media groups also have amassed a tremendous amount of back taxes that are owed to the Greek state.

This meant that Greece's largest television station, Mega Channel, paid a total of just over €1.2 million Euros for its use of frequencies nationwide for 2009 and 2010 combined, while 902 TV, another television station which broadcast nationally, paid just €1,416 for the use of all of its frequencies nationwide for the year 2009. And as if that isn't enough, the government has delayed enforcement of law 3845/2010, which foresees a tax levy of 20 percent on television advertising revenues. Originally passed in 2010, the tax has not yet been levied, and in December 2013, the enforcement of this tax was pushed further back, to 2015.

Television, in particular, has become a visual wasteland of soap operas, low-budget reality shows, celebrity gossip programs, as well as lots of reruns.

Many major media groups also have amassed a tremendous amount of back taxes that are owed to the Greek state. Tiletypos, the parent company of Mega Channel, reportedly owes over €123 million in unpaid taxes, with Pegasus Publishing said to owe an additional €164.3 million Euros. In turn, the Lambrakis Journalism Group reportedly has an outstanding tax debt of €134 million, while the parent companies of Star Channel and Alpha TV each are said to owe approximately €58 million to the Greek State.

Finally, Forthnet, the parent company of the Nova subscription television service, reportedly owes €331 million in unpaid taxes to the Greek state. All this, at a time where the tax burden on ordinary citizens in Greece, as well as Greece's outstanding national debt, are ballooning.

Within this framework of increasing concentration of media ownership in the hands of a few extremely wealthy individuals and corporations, the argument was often made that increased concentration would be beneficial for the media marketplace, for consumers and viewers - and for the media outlets themselves. It was said that increased economies of scale would allow media outlets to expand their operations and to eventually hire more employees, and that consumers would benefit from expanded choice and presumably by higher-quality media outlets that would be financially secure and which would have the ability to make increased investment in their content.

Instead, the opposite seems to have taken place: Television, in particular, has become a visual wasteland of soap operas, low-budget reality shows, celebrity gossip programs, as well as lots of reruns. And that just refers to the stations which remain on the air. Many other media outlets have, in recent years, gone bankrupt. The most prominent example is Alter Channel, a nationwide television station which ceased broadcasts in November 2011, leaving over 600 employees unpaid to this day.

At other prominent media outlets, successive waves of layoffs have taken place over the past few years, as well as successive staff-wide salary reductions.

Indeed, there have been numerous cases in recent years where journalists and other employees at media outlets have been fired without warning, or have been unpaid for long periods of time, while several other formerly prominent media outlets have gone bankrupt and ceased operations. Aside from Alter Channel, media outlets which have filed for bankruptcy and halted their operations include formerly high-rated radio stations VFM and Best Radio in Athens, and Star FM, Heart FM, and Aris FM in Thessaloniki; municipal radio station Xenios FM from Ano Liosia, an Athens suburb; newspapers including Adesmeftos Typos, Apogevmatini, Avriani, City Press, Derby, Filathlos, O Kosmos tou Ependiti, Paraskevi+13, the English-language Athens News, among others; magazines such as DownTown and Difono; and web portals such as sport.gr. And while some radio stations that had been on the brink of bankruptcy were permitted by the National Council for Radio-Television (ESR) to be taken over by their unpaid staffers, most of these radio stations (such as Xenios FM) remain closed, or operate without any live staffers on the air.

Fear of being laid off has also led to increased instances of self-censorship among journalists.

At other prominent media outlets, including Skai and Vima FM, successive waves of layoffs have taken place over the past few years, as well as successive staff-wide salary reductions, which have also been seen at the Antenna Media Group, Sentra FM, Music 89.2, and elsewhere. It is also common for employees at media outlets to go months (or longer) without being paid, as is the case at the municipal radio station Epikoinonia FM of Neo Iraklio, a suburb of Athens, were staffers have been unpaid for over one year.

In other cases, such as at Music 89.2, ownership has attempted to replace collective bargaining agreements with individual contracts with each staffer, firing those who refuse to comply. In other cases, companies such as the Lambrakis Publishing Group have been said to owe significant amounts of money to their employees' insurance funds.

Perhaps most tellingly though, a recent classified advertisement posted by an online news portal sought to hire an individual who would be responsible for copying and pasting 100 articles per day to the online portal, all for a monthly "salary" of €100.

At a time where the media sector as a whole in Greece is facing a tremendous crisis, as advertising revenue and circulation figures have sharply declined, while recent waves of layoffs (including the 2,690 staffers of ERT who lost their jobs) have led to a surplus of journalists and media professionals seeking jobs, employers in Greece have the luxury of sharply reducing salaries and eliminating benefits, including social security contributions, taking advantage of the dire and often desperate situation in which journalists and media professionals find themselves.

Fear of being laid off has also led to increased instances of self-censorship among journalists, fearing that any work which might be considered inexpedient by the government or by ownership interests and the country's financial elite might result in their firing and the prospect of long-term unemployment. This situation, in turn, has a dire impact on the quality of journalism being delivered to the Greek populace.

In the meantime, major media outlets in Greece continue to operate, in many cases, without a modicum of transparency. One recent example comes from the sale of 902 TV, the television station of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) which was sold, in August 2013, along with radio station 902 Aristera sta FM to a mysterious offshore holding company, based in Cyprus, and said to belong to business mogul Filippos Vryonis, owner of television station Extra Channel, based in Athens.

Uncertainty has, for years, prevented the owners of many smaller radio and television stations from making significant investments in their stations.

Notably, the identity of the new ownership of 902 TV (since renamed E Channel) remained shrouded in mystery for many weeks after the sale, but this nevertheless did not prevent the ESR from quickly approving the sale.

While the media outlets owned or associated with major media, business, and political interests have often found themselves operating above the law and outside of normal market norms, subsidized both by the state and by the other business operations of their owners, smaller media outlets that do not have such luxuries are finding it extraordinarily difficult to continue their operations in Greece's current economic environment.

The ever-rising costs of electricity and other utilities, higher taxes, and reduced advertising and circulation have backed smaller media outlets into a tight corner, and throughout the country, many such outlets have ceased operations in recent years. In addition, smaller radio and television stations are faced with disproportionately high costs for copyright and music royalties, regardless of their profitability or revenue, and are constantly operating under the threat that they may be shut down at any time, due to the fact that no formal broadcast licenses have been granted by the state.

Indeed, this uncertainty has, for years, prevented the owners of many smaller radio and television stations from making significant investments in their stations, for fear that these investments would be lost if the state decided to take their stations off the air at any point, as was the case with the 66 radio stations that were suddenly and violently taken off the air in one night by riot police in Athens, back in 2001.

In light of the growing immigrant population in the country in the past two decades, foreign-language media in Greece have become more important. While foreign-language press does operate in Greece without any particular interference, including newspapers, magazines and online outlets, foreign-language broadcasters have faced numerous challenges.

Athens International Radio, a foreign-language broadcaster operated by the municipality of Athens, which was on the air with a "temporary" license issued by Greece's Communications Ministry prior to the 2004 Summer Olympic Games, was taken off the air by the EETT in September 2010.

Perhaps not coincidentally, that same month ERT placed its newly-launched foreign-langauge service, "Filia" (Friendship) on the FM dial in Athens. When ERT was shut down in June 2013, this service ceased broadcasting, as did ERT's international service, The Voice of Greece, which also carried some foreign-language programming.These services have not been replaced by Greece's new "public" broadcaster NERIT. On the other hand, privately-owned radio stations which have aired programming in other languages have selectively been fined by the ESR for broadcasting in languages other than Greek.

Typically, stations in northern Greece broadcasting in Turkish have been fined, at the same time that ERT, Athens International Radio, and the handful of English-language radio stations throughout Greece have never faced similar sanctions. Nor have Greece's major private television broadcasters, such as ANT1 and Mega Channel, been fined for their airing of Turkish soap operas, which are broadcast without a Greek voiceover, but instead with subtitles.

Ironically, at the same time that most of Greece's major media outlets are unprofitable and are supported financially by other means, and while Greece's smaller media outlets are suffering the consequences of the country's financial crisis, the supposedly spendthrift and bloated ERT was, in fact, profitable and financially healthy prior to its sudden shutdown by the government in June 2013. It is within this broader economic and political context, examined in this section and all of the previous articles of this series, that the shutdown of ERT should be analyzed and examined.

Related Articles:

Corruption, Clientelism and Censorship in Greece's Media Landscape

Savage Deregulation: Further Censorship and Crackdowns in Greek Media 

12 Years Before ERT Shutdown, A Dark Chapter in Greece's Media History

Setting a Bad Example: Flouting Legal Requirements in Greek Broadcasting

In Greece, Media Censorship, Self-Censorship, Journalist Arrests and Murder

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Michael Nevradakis

Michael Nevradakis is a Ph.D. candidate in media studies at the University of Texas at Austin and a US Fulbright Scholar presently based in Athens, Greece. Michael is also the host of Dialogos Radio, a weekly radio program featuring interviews and coverage of current events in Greece.

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