ATHENS, Greece – A high court has canceled a television license auction in Greece, dealing a blow to the country's left-wing government which carried out the sale as part of an anti-corruption drive.
Judges from the Council of State court ruled 14-11 late Wednesday that the auction in September was unconstitutional because the process bypassed an independent media regulator.
The ruling means the government will have to pay back money it has received from the 246 million euro ($275 million) sale. And its plans to reduce the number of national private broadcasters from seven to four will be canceled.
The auction triggered a major political spat over corruption and control of the news media.
Opposition parties accused Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras — whose left-wing Syriza party is a relative newcomer to mainstream politics — of trying to gain influence over the news media.
Tsipras had made the auction the centerpiece of his reforms. He argued it would sever a corrupt relationship between traditionally powerful political parties and industrialists who used media ownership to seek lucrative state contracts — a relationship the government said created decades of financial mismanagement and was a cause of Greece's crippling financial crisis.
In weekend speech to party members, Tsipras had promised to defend the license overhaul.
"This is not just one front in the war in the war on corruption. It is a fight to defend democracy and the rule of law in this country," he said.
Late on Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the government, Olga Gerovasili, said the government would respect the court decision but submit new draft legislation to parliament Monday on TV licensing regulations. She gave no further details.
New Democracy, the conservative main opposition party, described the auction and its fate in court as a "failed media coup." It renewed a call for Tsipras to step down and call early elections.
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