Multinational trade negotiations are complex and delicate. Years are invested in ironing out differences, which often make the negotiations more salient than any end result. The European Commission and the United States government jointly declared as negotiations began in spring 2013 that the free-trade agreement known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) would be good for business and consumers on both side of the Atlantic with the dismantling of protectionism.
Now that the US and Pacific Rim nations have completed the similar Transpacific Partnership agreement (TPP) after more than five years of negotiations, TTIP is getting more attention. European critics worry that their side is at a distinct disadvantage. Virtually every area of possible trade and commerce is “on the table,” from food and agriculture products to information technology and automobiles. European dismay with US media-tech giants from Amazon and Facebook to Google will be pitted against the current little problem with German carmaker Volkswagen’s deceit on emissions testing in the US.
Cultural issues continue to irritate European critics. Even though the audiovisual sector was stripped from TTIP negotiations last year, French government insistence prevailing, the trade association of European public broadcasters European Broadcasting Union (EBU) is calling “for the protection of cultural diversity and the principle of technological neutrality to be included explicitly in the final text,” said an EBU statement (October 8). (See complete EBU statement here) The fear, of course, is that without explicit text exempting the special, often favorable, relationships between EU Member States and their public broadcasters could be dismantled as unfair competition.
"Economic constraints and increasing consolidation in our sector is placing ever greater pressure on the unique role of public service media in Europe,” said EBU President Jean-Paul Philippot in the statement. “We need to make crystal clear that securing a deal on services under TTIP cannot be at the expense of our cultural heritage and values.”
Separately, German Economic Affairs Minister Sigmar Gabriel and Culture Minister Monika Grütters reiterated the need to “continue to allow regulations that promote the diversity of culture and language as well as of the media; freedom and protection,” in a joint statement (October 8) (See statement here - in German) The greater concern is the oft mentioned provision allowing companies to demand compensation for losses through “unfair” national regulations.
“Public funding of museums, theaters or operas and for audiovisual media will still be possible,” explained Minister Gabriel. “The protection of and opportunity to promote cultural diversity are guaranteed. Fixed book prices are not affected by TTIP. The cultural and media diversity and the promotion of culture in Germany are not jeopardized by the agreement.”
Raising money has always been the special provenance of folks with a knack for raising money. As the media sector, broadly, reconstitutes after the last digital wave the world is awash with opportunities. Money, it’s said, never sleeps.
Dabbling in a variety of media investments over the recent few years, Mathieu Pigasse and Xavier Niel - vice chairman of investment bank Lazard Europe and founder/principal shareholder of French ISP and mobile operator Free - stirred the pot this week announcing a fund raising project with TV producer Pierre-Antoine Capton. The investment fund, called Media One, reported Le Figaro (October 5), is a SPAC - special purpose acquisition company - designed to allow private equity investors to raise cash effectively dedicated to a particular - and large - acquisition. JP Morgan Investment Bank has been hired to deal with the details of placing the offering, expected between €300 and €500 million, 75% of which goes to the primary acquisition. M.Capton will be running the business. (See more about media in France here)
In recent months French telecom billionaire Patrick Drahi acquired newspapers Libération and L’Express, majority holding in French broadcaster NextRadioTV and significant majority in US cable operator Suddenlink. Vincent Bolloré’s Vivendi has solidified its position in pay-TV operator Canal+ as well as taking a significant stake in Telecom Italia and buying a French TV production house. Last week Groupe Figaro, publisher of Le Figaro and a subsidiary of industrial giant Dassault, acquired online publishing specialist CCM Benchmark.
Where the will go, quite naturally, is the object of intense speculation. Pigasse and Niel - along with YSL Group founder Pierre Bergé - became majority shareholders in the Le Monde publishing house in 2010 and French daily Nouvel Observateur last year. In May M.Pigasse acquired Radio Nova. Indications are, according to Le Figaro, main interests are in publishing, radio, internet and TV production.
The first big acquisition may not be French, the ultimate break-up of Lagardére Active still widely anticipated. These media investors are “judging European groups undervalued compared with the US,” said Le Monde (October 7). Maybe in Italy, Spain or elsewhere; opportunities abound.
Complaints from supporters of fringe and, often, extremist views are part of daily life in the news media. Facts and logic, not to forget civility, can disrupt a certain worldview. Never satisfied, complaints metastasize and violence ensues.
In a joint statement, public broadcaster Mitteldeutsche Rundfunk (MDR), German Journalists Association (DJV) and Saxony Federation of Newspaper Publishers urged authorities in three eastern States - Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia - to “finally decide to confront the specter,” reported Die Zeit (October 6). Last week, reporters for MDR and newspaper Dresdner Neueste Nachrichten were physically attacked by followers of the xenophobic Pegida movement at a rally in Dresden. The recent influx of refugees arriving in Germany has fueled new demonstrations by Dresden-based Pegida and Leipzig-based Legida, almost entirely in eastern Germany. With little sympathy in the rest of Germany, Pegida followers continue to refer to news media as “Lügenpresse" - lying press. (See more about press/media freedom here)
“In spite of verbal attacks, the media are always ready to report factually and objectively,” said the statement. “The ongoing ‘Lügenpresse’ calls make for a poisoned climate, which is no longer acceptable. We expect the Ministries of Interior and police prevent attacks on journalists.”
There’s a certain magic to brand strength. Having it attracts the pixie dust of consumer love and adoration. Losing it, well, means other dust is soon to follow. Interbrand released this week its assessment of the world’s most valuable brands. Without surprise, technology brands are on top, fast rising and almost every one attached in some way to media.
The Apple brand is, for the third year, the world’s most valuable, estimated by Interbrand at US$170.276 billion, a year to year increase of 43%. Its smartphones and tablets are everywhere, still very cool and through the miracle of mobile technology deliver all kinds of media content. The Apple Music streaming service is among several changing the way people listen to their favorite tunes, to the growing anguish of radio broadcasters. Apple recently upgraded the iPhone operating system facilitating ad blocking applications, to the groans of online publishers and ad buyers.
Holding steady at number two is Google, valued at US$ 120.314 billion, up 12%. The company known as Google isn’t quite the same this week, restructured as Alphabet, a holding company containing Google - the search engine and advertising medium - as a subsidiary. Robots, drones and other high-tech investments are, in a way, separate platforms, freed from the old “don’t be evil” motto. (See more about Google here)
Facebook’s brand value grew most among Interbrand’s list of 100, 54% one year on to US$22.03 billion and 23rd ranking. The social media and ad selling platform began hosting “native” content from publishers, users now skipping the branded online portals of others. The European Court of Justice (CoJ) invalidated “safe harbor” agreements allowing Facebook and other US tech companies from transferring data from Europe to the US for processing or, so its believed, evil. Brand value will quite likely be unaffected.
Pure (nearly) media brands are few and far between on Interbrand’s hot 100. Disney ranks 13th at US$ 36.514 billion, up 13%. Thomson-Reuters fell 12% to US$6.583 billion, ranking 63rd. “We recognize that technology companies and news organizations are part of the same information ecosystem,” said Google chief legal officer Dave Drummond at the June Global Editor’s Forum in Barcelona.
For commercial broadcasters rules establishing quotas for music performed in the national language and produced locally always raise a certain level of discomfort. With streaming services offering music fans an alternative to traditional broadcast radio music quotas are seen as audience threatening. But in many national markets music quotas find support from local artists and producers who fear threats to their livelihoods. Cultural agencies and government ministries tend to dismiss the former and support the latter.
After many months of debate the Slovak parliament settled on changes to broadcasting rules establishing music quotas. Beginning in 2016 private-sector radio stations will be required to broadcast music at least 20% performed, written or produced by a Slovak national, reported radiotv.cz (October 1). The quota rises to 25% in 2017. Oh, Slovak content is calculated from 6 in the morning through midnight to prevent dumping during the all-night show.
As the Slovak parliament began its debate earlier this year, pop/dance music channel Europa 2 attempted to raise outrage among its listeners. "We do not want to play what someone else commands,” said the promo, reported by Stratégie (April 17). “We want to play maximum music that appeals to us and you.” Politicians were not fazed.
Public broadcaster RTVS, operating five national radio channels, will be complying with a greater music content quota, 35%. The new rule does not differentiate radio music formats.
There’s nothing like reorganizing. French public broadcasters, the politicians who love them and those who don’t are, again, wrestling with plans to overhaul the respectfully described unwieldy array of media services all or part funded by French taxpayers. Last week two members of the French Senate presented a plan to combine all of it into a single entity by 2020 because “their economic model is going through a serious crisis.”
That proposal would create France Médias, which media watchers dubbed “BBC à la française” - French BBC, referring to UK public broadcaster BBC. A few weeks ago new France Télévisions CEO Delphine Ernotte made a more modest proposal to create with Radio France a combined news operation. French public broadcasting currently includes France Télévisions, Radio France, a share in culture channel Arte, international TV broadcaster France 24 and international radio broadcaster Radio France International (RFI). (See more about media in France here)
“This idea of a French BBC is a recurring suggestion,” huffed Culture and Communication Minister Fleur Pellerin to Le Figaro (October 2). “This model undoubtedly is a source of inspiration for French public broadcasting. It would perhaps enable savings in the long term but this type of reform, which would ultimately recreate the ORTF, is extremely expensive in the short term.”
ORTF - Office de Radiodiffusion Télévision Française - was the government agency formed in 1964 to organize French state radio and TV broadcasting into a single entity largely to fight off early private sector intrusion. ORTF was reorganized out of business in 1974.
Minister Pellerin has a forceful voice in French media policy. On the proposal to consolidate all French public media, she offered a succinct verdict: “I think not.”
From Last Weeks ftm Tickle File
EU quandary affects press freedom
Dissing the European Union and its institutions is surfeit from some quarters and increasingly so. There are calls for it or them or somebody to do something about, well, anything. And others want same to do less. It must be painful paddling around the Berlaymont these days wearing those targets.
This week the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) fired its volley at the EU and many of its Member States. The report - Balancing Act (September 29) - authored by the organizations EU correspondent Jean-Paul Marthoz recommended holding Member States to established law; Treaty on European Union Article 2 and 11, Charter of Fundamental Rights. Freedom of expression, freedom of the press and tenets of media pluralism are all included in the founding documents and European Union institutions could do more, said the report’s recommendations, to “hold Member States” responsible for keeping to their commitments. (See more about press/media freedom here).
Also recommended is the hammer: “Utilize Article 7 and the suspension of voting rights against Member States that break press freedom commitments…”. The report itself faults EU institutions for “high-minded” ignorance of breaches in press freedom. Mexico and Syria are worse, no? The EU sat on its institutional hands during the Berlusconi years. Now there are worries about the UK with leading politicians, encouraged by certain media proprietors, embracing withdrawal from the EU altogether.
Now, nothing is done about the Hungarian government under Prime Minister Viktor Orban. “The EU presumed that once admitted, Member States would never backtrack,” said the CPJ report. “So the Commission, as guardian of the treaties, found itself under-equipped in dealing with Hungary.” The demise of media freedom in PM Orban’s Hungary has been well-documented by international media, prompting authorities to react in not-so-subtle ways. The report recalled the AP cameraman filming refugees crossing into Hungary being set upon by police dogs and forced to delete the video. (See more about media in Hungary here)
The five countries formally in the EU accession framework - Albania, FYR Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey - were also called out. “None has a respectable press freedom record,” said the CPJ report. After the admission of Bulgaria and Romania - both notable backsliders - the EU pushed for legislative reform in Croatia on issues involving media freedom. The next new EU Member States - if any - will also need to adjust.
“The history of European integration, however, taught them that political or economic expediency may trump values.”
No cartoons todaybr>
It was an experiment to demonstrate the negative effects of self-censorship, explained the editor in charge. Ten years ago - September 30, 2005 - a dozen cartoons, some depicting the Prophet Muhammad, were published by Danish newspaper Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten (JP). And so began, arguably, a grand and yet contentious debate within the media community, cultural leaders, politicians and the public at large pitting religious sensitivity affront freedom of expression.
“Modern, secular society is rejected by some Muslims,” wrote culture editor Flemming Rose to accompany the cartoons. “They demand a special position, insisting on special consideration of their own religious feelings. It is incompatible with contemporary democracy and freedom of speech, where one must be ready to put up with insults, mockery and ridicule. It is certainly not always attractive and nice to look at, and it does not mean that religious feelings should be made fun of at any price, but that is of minor importance in the present context. We are on our way to a slippery slope where no-one can tell how the self-censorship will end.” (See more about press/media freedom here)
Media outlets in Denmark, noting the anniversary, are not republishing those cartoons. “We see no reason for it,” said Ekstra Bladet chief editor Poul Madsen, quoted by Danish public broadcaster DR (September 30). “Everybody knows them and it would just be an empty provocation.” (See more about media in Denmark here)
“They are iconic and symbolic,” said Berlingske Tidende chief editor Lisbeth Knudsen. “It could have incalculable consequences if we showed them.”
Jyllands-Posten republished the original page without illustration or comment. Flemming Rose, now JP foreign editor, revisited the debate recently saying, “No drawing is worth a human life.”
Much has changed in the last decade.