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Broadcast television license furor erupts into allegations of blackmail, hacking of judge’s emails

A raging political furor involving broadcast licensing dramatically intensified this week with opposition allegations of blackmail and illegal eavesdropping of high court justices ruling on whether a controversial law giving the government the right to auction off TV licenses is constitutional.

The latest chapter in the months-long broadcast licensing controversy came with the publication of private one-on-one emails dating to 2014, between a current Council of State (Cos) vice-president and a former post-grad student enrolled at a judicial academy.The latter is a mandatory post-degree school for law graduates who want to become judges and prosecutors.

The leaked emails prompted the alternate justice minister Dimitris Papangelopoulos, who holds the anti-corruption portfolio in the current leftist government, to commence a disciplinary probe into the high court justice, one of nearly 30 judges assigned the case on the constitutionality of the law.

The emails were first published in a new website owned by a controversial Greek investigative journalist, Makis Triantafyllopoulos, without however listing the judge’s name. Subsequently, a low-circulation pro-government broadsheet reprinted the emails and gave the man’s name. The pro-government and SYRIZA-affiliated daily “Avgi” followed a day later, generating a firestorm of criticism that was extremely high-pitched, even by Greek political standards.   

The high court a day earlier, on Tuesday, voted by 16 to 9 to accept the case, meaning that the law will come under judicial and legal scrutiny.

The emails were private and described as friendly and cordial, ostensibly prompting the alternate minister’s order for a probe, given the fact that the woman, who was a post-graduate law student in 2014, was subsequently appointed to the Council of State as a junior justice.
Papangelopoulos, a well-known attorney, was head of the Greek Intelligence Service (EYP), in the center-right Karamanlis government up to 2009.

At the center of the opposition and press criticism is the identity of the third party who hacked or came into possession of the emails, as well as the reason and timing behind the leak to specific pro-government media outlets. The opposition charged that the hacking and timing of publication was meant to blackmail the specific justice or lead to a disciplinary action against him. The latter, coupled with two recent absences of other justices due to health reasons, could invalidate the current plenum. The high court would have to reconvene, possibly next year.

The delay, however, means that the so-called “Pappas law”, named for the minister whose portfolio includes broadcast licensing under the recently passed legislation and who spearheaded the move to regulate the television sector, would be promptly implemented. That would leave at least three current nationwide television broadcasters with no legal standing to continue operation.

The entire affair cast a major shadow on Wednesday’s debate in Parliament on re-appointing members to the independent regulatory authority which, until the Pappas law came into effect, was responsible for broadcast licensing. The regulatory body is called the Greek National Council for Radio and Television (NCRTV) and was established in 1989.

The acrimonious debate nevertheless failed to reach any consensus, with the main opposition party, New Democracy, demanding that the law first be repealed before any discussions on possible appointees and a subsequent approval by four-fifths of Parliament — the constitutionally mandated number needed to ratify board members for such independent watchdog authorities in Greece.

The Tsipras government was on the “receiving end” of criticism and derision  from practically all of the other Parliament-represented parties, sans its junior coalition partner, the rightist-populist Independent Greeks’ (AN.EL) party. Earlier, a council of party representatives convened to discuss the issue also failed to reach a compromise.

Speaking from Parliament’s podium later in the day, ND leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis referred to an “unprecedented institutional degradation, with extreme employed means by the government, ones that insult the rule of law … with the intent to pressure judges ahead of the CoS meeting over the television license … these machinations remind us of a state of lawlessness, not a rule of law.”