ATHENS — Greece’s top administrative court on Wednesday dealt a heavy blow to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras by blocking his flagship reforms of the murky private television sector.
Fourteen of the court’s 25 judges said the controversial law passed in October 2015, limiting Greece to a maximum of four national private TV licences, was unconstitutional and should be overturned, a judicial source said.
The government had auctioned off the licences for a total of 246 million euros (US$268 million).
But a majority of the judges ruled that it should have been up to Greece’s independent broadcasting watchdog to carry out the reforms, not parliament.
The judges met behind closed doors and the details of their decision -- leaked by the Greek press -- will not be published until next Monday, the judicial source said.
The ruling is a painful blow to the far-left Syriza government which had announced the reforms to great fanfare, saying they would clean up a sector that has been dominated by powerful oligarchs and dogged by murky financing for a quarter of a century.
The government, which had made the reform a symbol of its commitment to clean up public life, reacted angrily but said it would comply with the verdict.
"This is a binding but unjust decision," state minister Nikos Pappas, architect of the reform, said on public TV Ert 1.
He recalled that the state council had in the past ruled as unconstitutional the prevailing system in the sector, but the ruling never had an effect.
"This decision will be judged by its consequences," said government spokeswoman Olga Gerovassili.
She added it would "deprive the state budget of necessary funds, which society needs, and which will be returned to four wealthy businessmen", a reference to the owners of channels that were auctioned off.
"This decision takes the country back to a previous regime that was also judged anti-constitutional," she said. "We will not allow this to happen."
The government will launch a new bill to regulate the sector from Monday, Gerovassili said.
The opposition conservative New Democracy party hailed the verdict, saying "the undemocratic machinations have not been passed" and calling for early elections.
Pappas retorted: "Those who dream of destabilising the country and the government via legal decisions need to wake up."
The government had 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.
The tender was criticised as heavy-handed for slashing the number of licences, as eight nationwide channels had been operating until now.
Greece’s oldest private channel, Mega, failed to make the cut and was eliminated before the bidding started.
Authorities have said 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 decades of chaotic licensing. — AFP