High court justice defends unprecedented postponement of broadcast TV license appeal

The president of Greece’s highest administrative court, the Council of State (CoS), on Thursday defended his recent controversial decision to suspend a session of the court’s justices, which convened to rule on the constitutionality of a law transferring the licensing of television broadcast licenses to the government.

Jurisdiction for broadcast licenses was previously held by an independent watchdog authority, a framework overturned in Parliament with a 153-vote majority by MPs backing the government coalition.

Chief CoS justice Nikos Sakellariou defended his action against high-pitched charges of manipulation of the process, speaking immediately after a meeting with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. Sakellariou joined other top judicial officials in the meeting, held ostensibly to discuss the salary scales of judges, prosecutors and magistrates in the country.

Sakellariou’s decision indefinitely postponed the highest judicial review of the controversial law, which led to the auction of only four national television broadcast licenses by the government, although the digital terrestrial spectrum can field dozens of television signals and even though eight broadcasters already transmit on a nationwide basis.

The leftist Greek government has dismissed charges of trying to censure critical broadcast media and in attempting to reduce pluralism, saying that it was merely establishing a legal framework in the sector after nearly 30 years of operation in a temporary and nebulous legal context.
In exiting Tsipras’ office and in answer to press questions, Sakellariou said “we (justices) are trying to fulfill our duty within a climate of unity and calmness.

In describing how he views the purpose of Greece’s independent judiciary, Sakellariou pointed to the high court’s “battle”, as he said, to prevent cuts in pensions.

“Judges’ duty is to feel the pulse of Greek society, so that we can give a push forward,” he said.

Asked when the high court will reconvene over the case, he did not provide a specific date.

“… the specific issue is a very serious case, but not the only serious case that is before the court.”

Sakellariou said he took the unprecedented decision so that “my justices would not be manipulated ahead of a (judicial) conference; so that they could sit down calmly around the table to take a decision … These honest things I know, and I go home and sleep peacefully.”

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