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The Tickle File
short takes on daily media news

Censor reaches across borders
Information prohibited

Visitors to the Russian-language version of Estonian news portal Delfi may not get the news they’re expecting. Accessing some pages, not all, leads to a notice from the Russian Federation’s censor Roskomnadzor announcing that the requested page “contains information which is prohibited in the Russian Federation,” reported Estonian portal (August 19). Some pages are blocked for some visitors while others have access.

Estonia borders the Russian Federation and was once part of the Soviet Union. About a quarter of Estonia’s population are ethnic Russians, the majority living in the country’s northeast. There are several Russian-language media outlets operated by Estonian publishers and broadcasters.

In mid-August Roskomnadzor began requiring Russian bloggers with more than three thousand visitors to register or else.

Culture department to save historic radio tower
“superlative engineering feat”

The Moscow city Department of Cultural Heritage will take over the Shabolovka Radio Tower, known locally as Shukhov Tower and considered a masterpiece by the worldwide architectural community. Property developers wanted the old tower, in considerable disrepair, torn down because, under Moscow zoning rules, a pristine office or housing structure of the same height (160 meters, 525 feet) could be raised. “In rebuilding the tower, the architecture will continue stay in the same place, in the same way and from the same materials,” reported Izvestia (August 18). 

The tower was ordered built by Vladimir Lenin in 1919 and designed by engineer Vladimir Shukhov. Construction was completed in 1922 with 100 kW broadcasts from Communist International commencing. Over time about 40 radio and TV masts were attached to the structure. All but cellphone masts vacated the tower by 2002. (See more about media in Russia here)

Earlier this year the Russian Federation Ministry of Communications and the State Committee for Radio and Television Broadcasting said Shukhov Tower had to be dismantled, citing concerns it might fall down. Big name architects including Tadao Ando, Rem Koolhaas, Kengo Kuma, Thom Mayne and Elizabeth Diller appealed to President Vladimir Putin to save the tower, “one of the emblems of Moscow, and one of the superlative engineering feats of the twentieth century, still influencing and enriching technical and architectural ideas globally.”

Busting journalists conveniently creates new story
Trouble and looking for it

Continuing civil disruption in the US community of Ferguson has attracted considerable news media attention. Coverage within the US is extensive, increasing with the arrival of troops in armored vehicles. Confrontation is always a leading news story, enhanced, in this instance, by questions over a local cop shooting dead an unarmed black teenager.

Big news organizations outside the US have taken interest; explaining America to local audiences – or spinning a point of view – always worth a few more clicks, particularly in August. Three German reporters on the scene have run foul of local police, reports Handelsblatt (August 19), and found themselves accommodated, however briefly, in the county jail. Die Welt correspondent Ansgar Graw and German freelance reporter Frank Herrmann were detained for violating a civil curfew, released after three hours. Bild reporter Lukas Hermsmeier was busted Monday night (August 18), circumstances unclear. Getty Images photographer Scott Olson was detained, though not charged, for not following a police order to move along. (See more about press/media freedom here)

“We demand that journalists in Ferguson be allowed to exercise their jobs without having to be afraid of arrest or, even, being shot,” said Reporters Without Borders Berlin office spokesperson Astrid Frohloff in a statement.

Local Ferguson cops removed two US reporters from a McDonalds, roughing up one, when confusion reigned supreme a day after the tragic incident. Local cops also lobbed a couple of teargas canisters toward an Al-Jazeera America crew then removed their equipment. “Police should not be bullying or arresting journalists just trying to do their jobs,” said US President Barack Obama shortly before better-trained Missouri Highway Patrol officers took over from less media savvy locals.

Commission complaint from spurned promotional ad
Don’t touch that dial

Irish broadcaster Communicorp has formally complained to the European Commission DG Competition about public broadcaster RTÉ. State aid, abuse of dominant position, the license fee and advertising are all wrapped together. The company “intends to fight this abuse of a dominant position and will ensure that the European Commission is aware of RTÉ’s activities,” said Newstalk chief executive Gerard Whelan, quoted by (August 13)

The Communicorp complaint appears instigated by RTÉ’s refusal in April to broadcast a TV ad tagged “Move the dial” promoting a show host who had joined Newstalk from RTÉ Radio 1. The ad would have violated RTÉ’s advertising code as call-to-action spots are not allowed, said an RTÉ spokesperson at the time. Communicorp is Ireland’s biggest private sector radio broadcaster, owning national channel Today FM, Dublin stations Newstalk, 98FM, Spin and TXFM.

Since the European Commission (EC) enshrined the dual public-private broadcasting system in Europe with the Amsterdam Protocol in 2001, private sector broadcasters and publishers have sought – with some success – to put legal limits on what national public service broadcasters (PSB) can do and how much money they can raise. In a 2008 decision DG Competition remanded the Irish government to tighten up legal language on RTÉ’s public service mandate. Lawyers for public broadcasters have taken particular note over the last decade of DG Competition rulings on State aid, service mandate and digital expansion.

Complaints to DG Competition typically follow action – or lack thereof – from national competition authorities or courts. Communicorp currently has a complaint against RTÉ pending at the Irish Competition Authority. This summer DG Competition staff are hard at work, reconsidering the settlement with Google, avoiding a ruling against Gazprom, rescuing Greek banks and auditing several airlines.

From Last Weeks ftm Tickle File

Money available for digital start-ups, none for digital DJs
Kick-start this

As the media world continues to find its way to that digital dividend, companies with cash on hand see opportunity as investors. Gambling on start-ups and other entrepreneurial genius, once the exclusive domain of VCs and investment banks, appeals to shareholders as growth rates for traditional media operations disappoint. Everybody, it seems, wants a place at the table.

A venture fund of €100 million has been set up by Bauer Media Group, based in Germany with a global publishing and broadcasting footprint. Bauer Venture Partners will “make stage agnostic equity investments in highly scalable digital business models in Europe,” said the announcing presser.(August 4). Thomas Preuss was hired away from German VC Neuhaus Partners as managing partner.

Bauer’s venture fund will be “results-oriented,” said Bauer Media Group managing director Andreas Schoo, with a focus on software start-ups in German-speaking countries. The side benefit, said Herr Schoo, is “allowing us access to new digital technologies and innovations.” The fund has a ten-year horizon.

In addition to publishing operations – print and digital – around the world, Bauer Media is a significant radio broadcaster in the UK and Poland. The company is currently bidding on the second national digital radio multiplex with broadcaster UTV and telecom Arqiva. Several show hosts at Bauer Media’s digital channels in the UK have been found to be working without pay, reported the Guardian (August 5). The company was only slightly embarrassed as those “volunteers” need to “kick-start their careers,” said a spokesperson.

Those two won’t make a company, and a crowd lurks
Shareholder engagement

It’s been an interesting week for Clan Murdoch and not all that happy. First there was the withdrawal, such as it was, from the billion billion billion bid for Time Warner. Then a group in the UK announced a crowd sourcing initiative to buy the Times and Sunday Times. In the midst stock traders worked that arbitrage magic to make money, lose money and make more money.

A UK group called Let’s Own The News wants to crowd-fund a bid to offer News UK, owned by News Corporation, principally owned and controlled by Rupert Murdoch and his family, a pile of money for the Times and Sunday Times, reports Roy Greenslade in The Guardian (August 7). (See here) The idea is to raise GBP100 million, half going to Clan Murdoch and the other half to keep the newspapers afloat. Folks are asked only to pledge right now, paying up when the bid is accepted.

“A crowd acquisition of the Times and The Sunday Times would be an important and achievable step in reducing the power of the press barons,” wrote the group’s organizer Laurie Fitzjohn in an email to Mr. Greenslade.

The “surprise announcement” from 21st Century Fox (Reuters - August 5) that its US$80 billion unsolicited bid for Time Warner had ended surprised almost nobody except die-hard fans of the Old Fox and, of course, financial geniuses who had already pounced on both company’s shares. Time Warner executives “refused to engage,” said the 21st Century Fox statement. Shareholders have been offered, instead, a US$6 billion share buy-back plan. (See more about Rupert Murdoch, News Corporation, 21st Century Fox here)

Every Chairman or CEO worth their salt (and pepper and bacon) knows the importance of “engaging” with the shareholders. For Rupert Murdoch, chairman of both 21st Century Fox – the fun company – and News Corporation – the newspaper company – that’s just a conference call with the children. And that is exactly what Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes gently reminded his shareholders. A deal using those special non-voting shares meant a Murdoch would be in every meeting, figuratively of course, from now until the end of time.

As everybody in big business and big media watches Rupert Murdoch like a hawk (actually like a pigeon watching a hawk) Bloomberg Businessweek (August 6) offered three scenarios. First – and favorite among Murdoch watchers – says the Old Fox will make another bid for Time Warner, the withdrawal only a ploy to pressure Mr. Bewkes with the shareholders. Second – and a favorite among gravity-inspired financial kings – says buying Time Warner is too expensive and the Old Fox will be buying something else very soon. The third – and favorite of Prince Machiavelli – says the Old Fox will send the hounds after Mr. Bewkes, possibly bidding a fortune for rights to US basketball league NBA currently held by Time Warner.

State censor threatens BBC over interview
“serious issues”

An interview on the BBC Russian service website with Siberian “artist and activist” Artem Loskutov has drawn a threat from the Russian Federation’s media censor Roskomnadzor to block the site ( “from the territory of our country,” reported Russian daily Izvestia (August 5).  The audio interview appeared last week and, according to State-approved Russian media, contained “extremist views and calls for mass riots.” Correspondence from Roskomnadzor to the BBC World Service demanded the interview be removed from the website, according to the agency’s deputy director Maxim Ksenzov, who moaned that the BBC hadn’t bothered to reply or comply.

“We can fully block the BBC Russian service website on the territory of our country. In fact, not only we can, but we have to do it, because the Prosecutor General’s Office has assigned Roskomnadzor to block the access to the sites and resources, publishing information of that kind,” said a Roskomnadzor spokesperson to Izvestia. From August 1st Roskomnadzor is empowered by a new law to require Russian bloggers with more than three thousand readers to register with the agency and social media portals to retain user data on Russian territory. The agency has blacklisted several Russian websites for “calls for illegal activity and participation in mass events conducted in violation of the established order.” (See more about media in Russia here)

Well, the BBC has responded. “We have no plans to remove this interview from our website,” said a BBC WS statement (See in full here). “Mr Loskutov is an artist and activist known for organizing events which are, at first sight, parodies of political activity, but which also bring out serious issues about life in Russia.”

Previous weeks complete Tickle File

week of August 18, 2014

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In The Public Service

Reform Bogged Down, Experts Called
limp Forming a new public broadcasting system from old State institutions is never as simple as passing a law and changing the letterhead. All European public broadcasters have, in their own way, made that transition. But time entrenches all institutions and change is never easy.

In The Numbers

Audience Demanding More, Gets Less, Turns Off
so confused Audience acquisition means everything to a broadcaster. There’s content to be created, talent to be managed, marketing to be devised, promotions to be organized, distribution to be acquired. Hitting all the posts is difficult, costly and absolutely essential. Then there’s the market leader effect. When top brands falter, the entire category feels pain.

In Spots & Space

Ads Off, Except For Beer; Reality Conditional
beer ad More often than not regulations affecting the media sector are put in place to either adjust behavior or raise revenues for state coffers and, maybe, both. Sometimes rule makers find it necessary to make changes when a large ox is about to be gored. We’d all enjoy a good debate if we could find one.



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Public Broadcasting - Arguments, Battles and Changes

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Media in Romania and Moldova

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