In a government building in Athens, a group of Greece’s most powerful media executives have been sequestered for two days without mobile phones or creature comforts. They’re representing nine companies bidding for four television licenses in a secretive government auction that will fundamentally re-align Greece’s TV market.

Prime Minister Alexis Tspiras’ government is halving the number of licensed TV operators in a sweeping move that critics have described as a politically-motivated attack on privately owned media. But, what Alexis does not understand is that this media crackdown will also cause a backlash from the Greek population. Below are some reasons why Greece needs press freedom.

There is a key factor in this situation…” The fourth estate – power without responsibility”. The press is sometimes called the fourth estate. That’s probably too grandiose a concept for most journalists’ tastes – but it does suggest an important, coherent and independent force in society. That “apartness” is crucial. The press does not share the same aims as government, the legislature, the executive, religion or commerce.  It is, or should be, an outsider.

Of course, the press must be responsible for its own standards and ethics. But it’s not the job of journalists to run things: they are literally without responsibility. They don’t have to respond to a party whip, make the compromises necessary in politics or answer to shareholders. They are not bound by the confidentiality agreements that bind others. They are careless of causing inconvenience or embarrassment. They don’t have to win votes. They can write things – about the economy, say, or the environment – which may need saying but which are unsayable by politicians. They come from a different place. This freedom is a fundamental one. There are plenty of writers, jurists and political philosophers who consider it the first and foremost of our freedoms.

But it is not the first time a Greek government has been accused of trying to control the media. The Greek political class has always used the public sector for its own ends and has always had “interplay” with the private sector, as in many other European countries, said Stelios Papathanassopoulos, a professor of communication and media studies at Athens University.

Bidding for the four licenses will start at €3 million, but could rise to €10 million or more, Greek media insiders said. The outcome of the auction will be announced late Wednesday or Thursday.


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