Professor Michael Spourladakis of the University of Athens discusses Syriza’s unfulfilled promise to ‘crack down’ on Greece’s oligarchy
The title of this report was edited on October 12, 2018 to remove references to criminal “charges” as we have been advised that Mr Marinakis has not, in fact, been charged. Under Greek criminal procedure, for serious offences, before a case can be referred to trial, a preliminary investigation is followed by a main investigation, conducted by an investigating judge. After that investigation has concluded, the judge reports their conclusion to the public prosecutor, who recommends either referral to trial or acquittal to a separate judicial body (the Judicial Council). The Judicial Council makes the final decision as to whether to refer a case for trial or acquit. In addition, Mr. Marinakis has not been banned or suspended from football activities.
Dimitri Lascaris: This is Dimitri Lascaris reporting for the Real News from Athens, Greece. I’m at the University of Athens today for part two of our interview with Michaelis Spourdalakis. Michaelis is the professor of political sociology, and the dean of the school of economic and politics at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. He’s also a member of the executive at the Nicos Poulantzas Institute, and of the collective of the social register, and importantly the chair of the hearing committee for the revision of the Greek constitution. Thank you for joining us Michaelis. Spourdalakis: Thank Dimitri, good to have you back. Lascaris: So, when the Syriza government was first elected in January of 2015, there was a lot of discussion, and understandably so, about the overwhelming power of the Greek oligarchy in Greek politics and economics, and in particular in the media, and the nefarious influence that this was having upon the state of Greek democracy. What, broadly speaking, do you feel the government has been able to accomplish since January 2015 in terms of containing the power of the oligarchy? Spourdalakis: Only partially, I must be honest about that. But the forces of this oligarchy are amazing. First of all, the Greek channels never paid a penny, and they operate for over … Lascaris: You’re talking about the TV channels. Spourdalakis: TV channels, right. They operate, and some radio stations as well, they operate with no licenses. They don’t pay a penny to the government. Now there is a national regulatory committee, which is appointed through a very complicated, if you like, process, by the Greek parliament. Overseas, these things. And somehow the government had a lot of problems to appoint a new committee, since its mandate had expired long time before Syriza took power. So it took some time until Syriza government, with all this other stuff, to tackle this issue. And this has hurt Syriza a lot. In nowadays, there are things that this government is doing positive for the people, along with the things which might be hurtful for the economy, with imposition of austerity [inaudible 00:32:46], and these are never provided. It is one-sided 100%, with almost all them. Behind this media, there are strong economic and political power of the old regime. At some point last year, the minister responsible that used a law, and, through an also very complicated process, decided that they should get licenses, and they should pay for that. They were forced to participate in this procedure, but the Supreme Court, at some point, questioned a small part of the respective law, and the whole process was nullified. We said that eventually, the licenses are gonna be given, finally, by this new regulatory agency. And when this was decided, a new study came out, and they said they were gonna have seven channels, which are gonna broadcast nationally, and they have to pay this amount of money. Just two or three weeks ago, again, some of them appeal for the new [inaudible 00:34:23]. It seems to me that they don’t want to settle this. But in the field of the media, Syriza managed to reopen the public, or national TV and radio … Lascaris: Which had been shut down by the predecessor conservative … Spourdalakis: [crosstalk 00:34:41] In 2013, by the right-wing, or the coalition right-wing government. Lascaris: And this is ERT, E-R-T? Spourdalakis: This is ERT, this is ERT, right. And they provide to the people a bit more balanced information of what’s going on. Syriza, which doesn’t display … Has been accused with a vindictiveness attitude, administering their government. They rehired both the people who resisted the closure, the shutting down of the old ERT, because your audience should know that for 5-6 months, there were a self-management by the strikers. Lascaris: They basically continued to broadcast … Spourdalakis: They continued to broadcast despite all the restrictions of the previous government. So they rehired these people, and also they rehired for those who had found employment in the new public TV and occupy … So the two cultures, somehow, all this time they try to find a new convivial arrangement, and be creative. I think it’s doing well, and if one would like to have more balanced information, this is the TVs, three channels, and this is the radio stations that one can follow. In the area of media, Syriza’s government is extremely weak. It’s one thing that … And in overall communication, because for the, I don’t know, maybe 15 dailies in the countries, maybe more or less, I can’t remember, it’s only one center-left daily, which actually is part of a corp with respectful circulation, actually, second or third in the country. Or maybe two of them now. And the parties daily, which sort of tried to counterbalance polemic articles and information and the fake news that they’re provided by other newspapers. The other outlet that Syriza government has is Sto Kokkino, which is a radio station, and another weekly [inaudible 00:37:51], that they have very little, very limited audience, so it is bit of a difficult around this. Lascaris: So one particular development, clearly this has been a problem bedeviling the party, the dominance of the media by the wealthiest class in the country, and very right-leaning perspective being constantly foisted upon the Greek public, but after the government of Alexis Tsipras began to address this problem, last year there was an auction under the media law that was struck down, and one of the winners of the auction, if the auction had actually been upheld, was a person by the name of Evangelos Marinakis. And he’s, I understand, a wealthy shipowner, his father was also a wealthy shipowner. He is the owner of the Greek football club Olympiacos … Spourdalakis: Most popular team. Lascaris: Yes. And in fact he’s become embroiled in a match fixing scandal and there have been allegations of … Spourdalakis: Many allegations. The list is long [inaudible 00:39:02], you know. Lascaris: Correct. And that may or may not … He’s not been convicted, I understand, but that may or may not result in some type of conviction being entered against him. But the thing that was striking to me was that, first, if the law had been upheld and the auction had been validated, he would have been one of the four winners of a TV license. And then in this past July, a company controlled by Marinakis acquired an organization called Lambrakis, which is a major media empire. Spourdalakis: The major. The major. Lascaris: And it owns the two oldest dailies in the country, a popular news portal, magazines, and a radio station, and it also has a 22% stake in, I think it’s Mega, a TV station. And is strikes me that … Spourdalakis: Impressively informed. Impressively informed, yeah, that is exactly that. Lascaris: It’s odd that … Now, I must say that what steps the government could’ve taken to prevent this from happening I don’t know, and I’d be interested in hearing from you about that, but it strikes me that this is the exact opposite of what Syriza would want. A shipowner with this concentration of wealth acquiring this control over these important media assets, how did that happen, and how is this consistent with the government’s effort to reign in oligarchic dominance of the media? Spourdalakis: You know, I don’t think the government could do anything in that … To my knowledge, someone who is more informed than me knows, you cannot do. And there’s always ways, as you are a law person, you know, there is always a way of bypassing the restrictions of law, either making a new company, or giving it to somebody else so own mixed media and business. So there’s all sorts of things. And at the same time the pressure was because the unemployment in the area of media, it’s maybe over 80%. And if this conglomerate of Lambrakis had fallen, it would have been more accusations against the government. So the government didn’t interfere much in this process, and this is why we have this kind of arrangement. Lascaris: Right, right. Well, I want to thank you very much Michaelis, again, for joining us. It’s been wonderful to talk to you, and I will be inviting you back, I’m sure, onto the Real News to continue to monitor the progress of the crisis in Greece. Spourdalakis: Thank you very much for being here, and also I hope next time we’ll meet, and that would be soon, the country will have more oxygen to find its own way out of this plight we’re in, and the signs are on the wall, but we have a long way to go, and we have to be patient. It’s a huge painful marathon race that we have to go through, in dealing with major issues we have. Lascaris: Right. Thank you very much again. And this has been Dimitri Lascaris for the Real News Network, reporting from the University of Athens in Athens, Greece.