An amendment paving the way for mergers in the media was passed through Parliament Tuesday amid protests from journalists, who held a 24-hour strike, and opposition parties, two of which walked out of the House in anger.
The amendment, which was tagged onto a draft law concerning the state’s acceptance of a donation for the creation of a hostel for relatives of cancer sufferers, drew the ire of main opposition party SYRIZA and the Communist Party (KKE) during Tuesday’s debate.
SYRIZA MP Panayiotis Kouroublis claimed the amendment was a gift for large media groups so the government could enjoy positive press coverage in the months ahead.
“We will not sit here and be accomplices to a crime in the media sector,” he said before the leftist party’s MPs walked out. “The government knows it is heading for elections and it wants to create a new relationship with the media system.”
Earlier, SYRIZA had asked parliamentary speaker Evangelos Meimarakis to force the government to withdraw the amendment, arguing that it should not have been attached to a bill relating to a totally different issue.
KKE also walked out of the debate, prompting government spokesman Sofia Voultepsi, a New Democracy MP, to criticize the opposition parties. “When you want to discuss something, you do not get up and leave,” she said, accusing SYRIZA of having ties with the same media it is critical of.
The coalition removed a provision from the amendment that would have allowed employees from the same group of companies to be regarded as being from the same firm, thereby allowing media groups to bypass restrictions on firings.
The legislation, however, lets radio stations change their formats (e.g. from news to music) by applying to the National Council for Radio and Television rather than having to hand their license back to the state and bid for the frequency again.
It further allows broadcasters and publishers to keep applying the nuisance tax, known as “angeliosimo” in Greek, which has to be paid by anyone advertising on their media and which goes towards paying employees’ social security contributions.
Journalists’ unions declared a 24-hour strike Tuesday in protest at the new law. “The amendment allows media groups to merge with the excuse of reducing costs but in effect provides indebted businessmen a path to safety,” the unions said in statement.