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The Tickle File
short takes on daily media news

Suddenly that TV channel is important
Information necessity

The Estonian government is moving forward on a plan to create a Russian-language television channel within the next year. The channel will be part of Estonian Public Broadcasting (ERR) and will operate from studios in Narva, the country’s third largest city, on the Russian border, dominated by an ethnic Russian population. More immediately, ERRs Russian language web portal and radio channel Raadio 4 will be getting additional funding.

The Culture Ministry proposed in May a television counter-weight to channels from the Russian Federation and public broadcaster ERR suggested it might cost €6.5 million a year. Enthusiasm for the project cooled until an Estonian anti-corruption investigator was snatched by Russian agents and hustled to Moscow. Russian state television channels portrayed the incident quite different from facts known in Estonia. (See more about Russian-language media in the Baltics here)

The television channel will “provide objective and diverse information about Estonia and the world and should promote common Estonian community in the sense of providing success stories of Estonian culture and approaches to common problems,” said delfi.ee (September 19).  The government noted that Russian-speaking Estonians watch a lot of TV and will be invited to participate in programming decisions. ERR executives will present budget requirements in the next few weeks.

It isn’t reality; it’s television
Just to let you know

Reality TV shows rarely draw rave reviews. Critics – highbrow and otherwise – have always been dismissive and some to a cultural absolute. Broadcasters love the format, largely for the same reasons: they’re cheap to produce and get decent ratings.

The Conference of German media regulators (GVK) and private broadcasters association VPRT reached agreement on placement of disclaimers stating “this story is fictitious” or “characters are fictitious” or something of that nature. The broadcasters wanted this “code of conduct” to be voluntary. The regulators wanted text big enough to read, like any product labeling. Both parties seem pleased with the compromise a year in the making. (See VPRT statement here - in German)

A year ago the State media regulator for Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein complained that viewers – particularly young viewers – might not appreciate the difference between a scripted reality show and, say, a documentary. “When the border is blurred the credibility of television is harmed,” said Medienanstalt Hamburg/Schleswig-Holstein chairman Lothar Hay, quoted by Horizont (August 22, 2013). And so commenced a long discussion resulting in agreement to place a disclaimer in the end credits.

Direct support for public broadcasting favored
Knock on the door

An enduring hot topic, usually around election cycles, is funding public broadcasters. The radio and television license fee, more or less the traditional funding source for European public broadcasters, has long been attacked by those in some quarters. The specter of license fee police knocking on the door, extremely rare in reality, has caused governments and public broadcasters to think hard about a fair means of funding.

A survey conducted by Swedish public TV broadcaster STV revealed that a solid majority – 60% - would prefer a direct tax to support public broadcasting, reported medievarlden.se (September 19), with only 20% preferring the current license fee mechanism. A scant 5% like the idea of funding through advertising. SVT’s audience research department surveyed 1,200 people. (See more about media in Sweden here)

Most public broadcasters consider some variation of the license fee as the “best worst” solution to funding. Direct government funding, they say, is a bad idea. “I think it is absolutely crucial that public broadcasting retains an independence from Parliament so journalists are not afraid to criticize the incumbent government, individual ministers or used as a weapon in parliamentary debate,” said SVT General Director Eva Hamilton.

Swedish public broadcasting changed rules on license fee collections in February 2013, pushing into the digital age. Householders with PCs and smartphones became subject to the device-based license fee. Alas, Sweden’s highest court ruled last June that as computers, tablets and smartphones were not designed as radio or TV receiving devices the public broadcasting license fee could not be applied to their owners.

SVT will have a new General Director around the first of the year, Ms Hamilton announced she’d be stepping down last April. The new General Director will be Hanna Stjärne, coming from the newspaper business. Ms Hamilton’s advice to Ms Stjärne is “be brave,” quoted by dagensmedia.se (September 16). Following a center-left win in recent Swedish elections Ms Hamilton has been suggested as a possible candidate for Culture Minister.

From Last Weeks ftm Tickle File

MP complains of stolen radio frequencies
Use it or lose it

When the Greek government closed public broadcaster ERT in June 2013 left abandoned were about 270 FM radio frequencies as the regional radio networks were considerably downsized. What a surprise it was, then, when Turkish broadcasters, public and public, pounced, particularly on frequencies covering the Aegean islands and Crete, as reported by Greek newspaper Real News (September 13).  (See more about media in Greece here)

After reading the news independent Greek MP Vassilis Kapernaros rose to complain about “radio frequencies belonging to the Greek people” and “Turks trying to invade the lives of Greek people.” People living on the lovely Greek island Paros complained about 22 of 28 radio stations broadcasting in Turkish. He blamed the government for “inaction and incompetence.” Another unintended consequence appears, like getting bumped from the Eurovision Song Contest.

Laws of physics understood, radio frequencies do not “belong” to any country. Every few years technical experts at the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) assign radio frequencies by service to specific geographical areas. Broadcast frequencies in border areas – such as France and Switzerland or Greece and Turkey – are subject to a special rule to maximize spectrum usage. A frequency abandoned in one country can be appropriated by a broadcaster in another country. Bi-lateral negotiations are always helpful but Greek and Turkish government leaders don’t exactly have a good working relationship.

Pot calls kettle black, kettle laughs
No contest

Studies of corporate leadership have for decades identified “tunnel vision” as the disease rampant in top floor corner offices. CEO’s , of course, have one job: pleasing the shareholders. The down and dirty of pleasing customers is left to the hamsters scurrying about below.

Wholly without surprise, then, was the letter sent by News Corporation CEO Robert Thomson, to outgoing EC Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia reiterating publishers complaint about nasty Google being a “platform for piracy.” Last week Sr. Almunia punted down field the EC’s four-year investigation of Google’s alleged “abuse of dominant position” after robust lobbying from European publishers. Rupert Murdoch is the controlling shareholder of News Corporation, publisher of books and newspapers. (See more on Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation here)

“The internet should be a canvas for freedom of expression and for high quality content of enduring value,” argued Mr. Thomson, posted on the News Corporation website. “Undermining the basic business model of professional content creators will lead to a less informed, more vexatious level of dialogue in our society. There will be no shortage of opinions, in fact, opinions will proliferate, but they will be based on ever flimsier foundations. The quality of discourse will inevitably deteriorate and the intemperate trends we are already seeing in much of Europe will proliferate.”

Several studies of US news consumers, including from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, strongly suggest Fox News viewers are “less well-informed” on domestic and international issues. Fox News is owned by 21st Century Fox, the entertainment company formed by a strategic separation from News Corporation. Its tabloid tone and conspiracy theory laden presentation pre-date Russia Today, now known as RT, the veracity -challenged Russian Federation international channel.

Somebody at Google with a sense of gravity posted a reply: “Phew, what a scorcher. Murdoch accuses Google of eating his hamster.” It’s a parody of an infamous front page of UK tabloid The Sun, owned by News Corporation. The company once owned another UK tabloid but was forced to close it after a UK government inquiry and a multitude of civil and criminal proceedings into privacy invasions and disreputable relationships with authorities. The response from Google is more than dismissive humor.

That digital dividend means fewer people
“difficult priorities”

Budget cuts and redundancies continue to hit public broadcasters. Danish public broadcaster DR CEO Maria Rørbye Rønn announced another round of staff cuts in addition to reducing news output on one TV channel and ending company-paid lunch. Viewers to main TV channel DR1 will see fewer new shows with shorter seasons and lots of re-runs during summers. Disbanding the 37-member chamber orchestra was announced last week.

“It’s been a difficult day for everyone at DR,” said Ms Rørbye Rønn, who keeps her job, quoted by Politiken (September 17). As with every other part of traditional media, managers say shuffling budgets is necessary to tackle digital transition. “We are releasing funds to take us into a new media reality where people’s media consumption is moving all the time and where we must keep up if we are to complete our mission. That is why we have been forced to set difficult priorities and take a series of tough but necessary decisions.” (See more about media in Denmark here)

The announcement notes the firing of 101 employees and the voluntary redundancy of 49, spread throughout the organization. An agreement with the Danish government on DR’s digital future mandates DKK 161 million (€21.6 million) in cost savings by 2018. Previous rounds of job cuts at DR in 2007 and 2010 eliminated hundreds of jobs.

Previous weeks complete Tickle File


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week of September 22, 2014

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In All Things Digital

Just Wait – There’s More to Come
Oh, No! Anticipation is a powerful marketing motivator. Put a little wait-time ahead of a new product or service launch – even a service upgrade – and interest builds, chatter swells and customers ready their cash. Chatter, though, is unpredictable; critics and competitors have hashtags too. Clever marketing people know this and plan carefully.

Encore Une Fois - This Week Last Year in Big Business

The Audience Has Spoken: The Business Model Shudders
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Encore Une Fois - This Week Last Year in The Public Service

Politicians Plan For Public Broadcasting: Ready, Fire, Aim
duel Austerity economics and the political games related are tied to the health and well-being of public broadcasting. Politicians prefer their media compliant and will challenge all who complain. Still, public broadcasters know their strength, which confounds those forming the circular firing squad.

 

 

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Media in Greece, Cyprus and Macedonia

The Greek media world has been turned upside down in recent years. Financial constraints coupled with political confusion seem endless while digital media promises a new future. Media in Cyprus, largely tied to Greece, shows certain signs of stress while media in neighboring Macedonia remains under stress. This ftm Knowledge file explores the bright spots and all the rest. Includes updated Resources. 82 pages PDF (June 2014)

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Public Broadcasting - Arguments, Battles and Changes

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Media in Romania and Moldova

The profile of Romania's media scene is complicated. Changes take place often as multi-national media houses exit and "colorful" local owners take over. Neighboring Moldova faces its own set of challenges. This ftm Knowledge file details the rough road to sustainable media. Includes updated Resources. 60 pages PDF (February 2014)

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Friday September 19, 2014
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