Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Judges decry manipulation by government, media

Greece's top court on administrative matters, the Council of State, says it is being manipulated as it considers the constitutionality of the Syriza-led government's laws licensing national broadcasters. 

Justice minister Nikos Paraskevopoulos said yesterday he will look into "possible illegal acts" by one of the judges considering the case, following media revelations that he was involved in a sex scandal. 

Media over the weekend claimed the judge had a "special relationship" with a woman who was applying to the National College of Judges, and was subsequently admitted to the Council of State. Sunday newspaper To Vima and news website Zougla on Friday leaked erotic emails and telephone conversations suggesting the two were having an affair. 

But it was the revelation of the name and face of the judge in question by Avgi, the official Syriza party newspaper, that especially irked the judiciary, given Greece's strict privacy laws in the absence of a conviction. 

"We are observing with horror and extreme concern the level to which public morals are sliding," said the Union of Judges and Prosecutors in a statement yesterday, implying that the government was behind the leak. "The private life of a man, a judge of recognised reputation, is intercepted, distorted, and fed to the lurking yellow press and that part of public opinion it moulds, a sick phenomenon connected to the methods of fascist regimes."

Avgi responded with a front page statement today: "Predators are feigning prey. Representatives of the bankrupt system of corruption attack the government and Avgi, but their ulterior motive is to manipulate the Council of State and the law licensing television networks." 

The ruling Syriza party caused enormous controversy in September when it auctioned just four national television licenses that will operate on the country's new, digital broadcast technology. It awarded two of the licenses to new entrants into the media landscape. Just two licenses went to existing analogue nationwide broadcasters (Skai, Antenna), while six (Mega, Alpha, Epsilon, Star, Makedonia, Art) were eliminated. 

The European Commission threatened to sue Greece in the European Court because the government did not conduct this auction through the Radio and Television Council, the competent oversight body. The RTC and some non-licensees challenged the auction but the Council of State initially upheld it. 

This week Syriza caused further controversy by presenting a bill that would have essentially eliminated the role of the Radio and Television Council in overseeing broadcasters, and obliged non-licensees to shut down. That bill was withdrawn after the parliament Speaker said the government failed to follow proper legislative procedure, by refusing to discuss the RTC's objections in committee, and by failing to post the bill online for public consultation first. 

The government's efforts to ram the bill through parliament, and its apparent indifference to the taunting of a senior judge, have backfired. 

"In their efforts to influence the outcome of the case, they are attacking judges and cheapening justice in general," said the opposition New Democracy party in a statement yesterday. 

The government points out that it is the first to charge broadcasters a fee for the public airwaves. It also claims to be cleaning up cozy relationships between the media and politicians. 

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