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article imageGreece raises 246 million in grueling TV tender

By AFP     Sep 2, 2016 in Business

Greece raised 246 million euros ($274 million) on Friday by auctioning four private TV licenses in a marathon bid dominated by shipowners, including the boss of the country's top football club.

"For the first time in the history of the land... rules are applied in the use of broadcasting frequencies," said government spokeswoman Olga Gerovassili.

State minister Nikos Pappas said the nearly three-day auction -- the first in 27 years -- would set a milestone "in attracting funds to maximise each price in favour of the Greek taxpayer."

The four 10-year licenses were won by three shipowners and a constructor, the latter considered close to the leftist government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

The notable newcomer is 47-year-old shipping magnate Evangelos Marinakis, owner of Greek football champions Olympiakos Piraeus.

The tender was criticised as heavy-handed for slashing the number of licenses, as eight nationwide channels had been operating until now.

But the government insisted that Greece's media and advertising market, depleted by the country's six-year debt crisis, is limited and only viable TV stations should be allowed to continue broadcasting.

As proof of their financial worth, each station had to stump up three million euros ($3.4 million) just to be allowed to join the tender.

Greece's oldest private channel, Mega, failed to make the cut and was eliminated before the bidding even started.

Leading channels Alpha and Star were also knocked out in the process.

Authorities say they want to clean up an industry known for workforce exploitation and rumoured under-the-table deals between media moguls, bankers and influential politicians, while bringing an end to 25 years of chaotic licensing.

Government officials have noted that ever since private TV broadcasts began in Greece, channels have been allowed to operate on provisional licenses renewed 15 times since 1995.

And a contract for Greece's digital TV provider was concluded two years ago with just one contestant, they stress.

But critics say the overhaul is merely a ploy by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to replace established TV barons -- who have opposed his leftist Syriza party in the past -- with others more to his liking.

The unprecedented auction saw TV managers and prospective owners locked up in a ministry building for three nights, a process some described as humiliating.

Greece's top journalist union has also criticised the tender which could bring hundreds of layoffs.

Greece's top administrative court later this month will examine requests by several of the channels to annul the process.

The government has said stations that broadcast nationwide without a license will be blocked three months after the auction is concluded.

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