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Auction halves number of Greek private TV stations

Control room of Skai TV Image copyright Reuters

The number of privately owned TV networks in Greece has been halved to four after a government auction of new 10-year licences.

A public auction of just four licenses has raised €246m (£206m) for the government, led by Alexis Tsipras.

Only two existing broadcasters, Skai and Antenna, have survived, while the Star and Alpha TV stations failed in their bids.

The new licences start in 90 days following the controversial auction.

Mr Tsipras said it was the first time that the licences had been properly auctioned since privately owned stations started broadcasting in the late 1980s.

"This sends a message... a message that rules will be applied after 27 years of graft and illegality," the prime minister said.

The government has previously accused Greek media companies of being "vampires" that have lived on borrowed money and with overt links to Greek oligarchs.

The auction has faced widespread criticism and Costas Kimbouropoulos from Skai, one of the winning bidders, said: "We were not contesting a license, we came to negotiate a ransom."

Trade unions are worried that there will now be a series of closures, redundancies and wage cuts in the private TV sector.

The country's oldest private TV channel, Mega, was excluded from the auction because of its large debts and has been hovering on the edge of insolvency.

The Journalists' Union of Athens has said: "Using the rules of a badly run reality show, the government is pretending to take on corruption. It is auctioning off to the highest bidder the public's right to be properly informed."

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Evangelos Marinakis has won one of the Greek TV licences

The government has defended the auction process, arguing that industry-wide advertising revenue of just €280m could only justify four private networks in Greece.

Minister of state Nikos Pappas, who ran the auction, said: "TV channels that will inform Greek people objectively... not depending on their owners' links to the political leadership."

Mr Tsipras said the money raised by the auction would be spent on welfare policies.

The two newcomers to the industry are companies linked to the Greek shipowner Evangelos Marinakis, who is also president of the Greek football champions Olympiakos; and businessman Yannis Kalogritsas.

The auction took three days to complete, during which executives from the eight rival bidders were kept in isolation in a government building for 65 hours.

The sums paid range from €43.6m for Skai to €75.9m for Antenna.

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