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Politicians, again, threaten news coverage
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Iceland’s Parliament approved a controversial austerity budget for 2015 this week. While direct government contributions to public broadcaster RUV were unchanged, the household license fee contribution will fall about 13% over the next two years. RUV’s executive board met to discuss “the need for extensive action,” reported RUV TV (December 18).

RUV operates two radio channels and one TV channel, quite significant for a small media market. Possible service cuts, yet undecided, seem centered on news content, both radio and TV, and sports broadcasting. Pension costs and debt service make up a large part of RUV’s budget. Iceland’s politicians have learned, noted independent newspaper DV (December 16), “political campaigns against RUK never have political costs.”

Governing right-wing politicians, struggling to contain Iceland’s fiscal malaise, have been unhappy with RUV’s news coverage. “I thing an unnatural amount of money goes to RUV,” said parliamentary budget committee chairperson Vigdís Hauksdóttir, quoted by Danish news portal (December 17), “especially when they do not have better news coverage. They (RUV) have a specific direction and it is leftist.” In October MP Hauksdottir called for selling one of RUV’s radio channels to benefit the state budget.

Iceland’s fabled status as a paragon of press freedom, noted Reporters sans Frontieres (RSF) (November 19), is now challenged by an onslaught of legal actions against reporters by politicians, cuts to RUV’s budget over the last two years and legislation restricting advertising. Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson’s press spokesperson recently advised journalists at news portal Reykjavik Grapevine to “reconsider” reporting on the PM’s large number of assistants and unannounced holiday as well as referring to Tweets from journalists about that story as “hostile.” (See more about press/media freedom here)

Despite money rattling from politicians RUV is moving forward on selecting Iceland’s entry for the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest. Icelandic singers have had respectable showings in recent years but, alas, never claiming the top prize.

Local TV channel supporters endure bitter cold, raise temperature
“At least respect us”

The struggles of local media, certainly if distant from major capitals, rarely attracts great attention. Russian and international media watchers regularly report and comment on the trials and tribulations of Moscow-based Ekho Moscvy and TV Dozhd. But in the heart of Siberia, nearly three thousand kilometers from the big city, only the rugged come out in support of the local TV station under pressure.

Several hundred people turned out in seriously cold weather last Sunday (December 14) for a rally in support of local Tomsk television channel TV2. The State provider of radio and television transmission systems abruptly cancelled the contract with TV2, one of the oldest privately owned television channels in the Russian Federation. Local authorities had denied a permit for a “protest,” therefore this particular gathering was called a rally, reported Interfax Siberia (December 14). Hot soup was served.

“We have generations of people who were toddlers when we began broadcasting,” said general manager Arkadiy Mayofis to Ekho Moscvy (December 14). “It is not about crushing a company, is it about destroying a part of the city. We therefore don't beg the Governor for help. We think that he must help us. He and the businessmen we helped, thousands of people of Tomsk whose stories we showed.” (See more about media in Russia here)

“When the company had problems the first time, six months ago, there were three events in support,” said rally organizer Ivan Shevelev, quoted by local Tomsk news portal (December 15). “If TV2 closes they can close any business.”

TV2’s other run-in with the Tomsk Regional Transmitting Center this year perhaps precipitated ill feelings. Repairs to exciter equipment at the TV2 site forced the station off the air for a month, illuminated by the station’s newscasts. “This is what media is all about,” said Mr. Mayofis. “And if you don't like us for that, at least respect us.”

“About a month after we had been switched off the air, because of the long repairs, we started to actively speak out in the press,” noted TV2 editor-in chief Viktor Muchnik. “There were rallies in support of us. Maybe, RTRS (Regional Transmitting Center) perceived that as political pressure and got offended.” (See TV2 statement via MDIF here)

Media regulator Roskomnadzor renewed the TV2 broadcast license through 2024 earlier this year then suggested that was a mistake. “A decision has not yet been taken on renewing the TV company TV2's license,” said spokesperson Vadim Ampelonskiy, quoted by Siberian Times (December 15). “The issue will be decided at the end of January or the beginning of February.”

A Moscow rally supporting TV2’s situation is planned for Sunday, December 21, organized by Russian media freedom advocate Glasnost Defense Foundation and Moscow Union of Journalists.

Far-right editor rattles newspaper staff
No “black sheep”

There was but a small rumble through the mountains last week as the board of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) and editor-in-chief Markus Spillmann reached an agreement on his departure from the newspaper. Beneath the ever-calm surface, like everything else in Switzerland, was intrigue. The – allegedly – hand-picked candidate to replace Mr. Spillmann set off earthquake alarms within the newspaper staff.

NZZ Media Group board president Etienne Jornod wanted a change at the newspaper, considered Switzerland’s newspaper-of-record, certainly in the Swiss-German speaking region. Though Mr. Spillmann had led the NZZ, its Sunday paper and online editions into the digital age with new designs and paywalls Mr. Jornod wanted to change the “fuzzy image,” reported Schweiz am Sonntag (December 14). For that mission he wanted Basler Zeitung publisher and editor-in-chief Markus Somm. That possibility, apparently, was a step too far for the NZZ editorial staff.

Mr. Somm was the hand-picked leader for the rather sleepy Basler Zeitung when a controlling stake was acquired by billionaire industrialist and politician Christoph Blocher, known outside Switzerland for the infamous “black sheep” anti-immigrant campaign. Under Mr. Somm the editorial tone of Basler Zeitung turned decidedly toward the far-right. Mr. Somm has referred to himself as “Blocher’s governor,” noted (December 15).

But Mr. Somm removed himself from consideration, reported the NZZ (December 15), “after careful consideration.” Until a successor for Mr. Spillmann is recruited, three NZZ deputy editors are holding down the fort… so to speak.

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