Cultural Quandary In Media Law Lapse
A country's media landscape – strength to weakness - is determined by factors both internal and external. External influences on local media have been questioned, often as potential, and sometimes real, threats to national cohesion and solidarity. Rules have been adopted, particularly for broadcasters, to stipulate language and cultural usage. With the digital pandora’s box wide open and flowing viewers and listeners have their interests known. This poses a conundrum for those who make the rules.
Slovenia’s Culture Minister Anton (Tone) Persak has been tasked with drafting new revisions to the country’s Media Act and the law governing public broadcaster Radiotelevizija Slovenija (Radio Television Slovenia – RTVS). It has not gone well. Broadcaster and journalist associations have called for him to be fired, citing “inactivity.” The Slovenian National Assembly (parliament) last passed revisions to the Media Act in 2016, which have been under enduring criticism.
Prime Minister Miro Cerar has made known his views about RTVS governance, from changes to the household license fee and greater emphasis on cultural offerings. As revisions to both respective media laws meandered through the Culture Ministry, he voiced support for retaining music and language quotas for broadcasters. To “depoliticze” the governing RTVS Program Council he reduced membership from 29 to 17, with fewer named from political parties. A former academic turned center-left politician, PM Cerar was became prime minister in 2014 after his newly created political party won a plurality in parliamentary elections. He appointed Minister Persak in 2016.
As the media legislation languished, the Slovenian Association of Journalists (DNS) complained “bitterly,” in a statement, quoted by news portal vecer.com (December 21, 2017). “You have allowed the appointment of an incompetent person as Culture Minister,” the statement continued, “and the Culture Ministry, with its low budget, is obviously collateral damage for the (ruling) coalition (government). The Media Directorate, which should be the main actor for the promotion and development of media policy, have remained under-staffed…, which could have disastrous consequences for the stability of the already maimed Slovenian media market and the diversity of journalistic content.”
Government coalition partner Democratic Party of Pensioners of Slovenia (DeSus) president Karl Erjavec announced in December that neither the new media law nor the RTVS law would be rolled out during the current parliamentary term. “Since some of the responses (to a public consultation) are a little too sensitive, we agreed, at the coalition, to wait for the moment,” he said, quoted by Zurnal24 (December 13, 2017). Exactly what was “too sensitive” was not disclosed.
The criticism continued: “Minister Persak has showed, through his attitude towards the profession and the media, complete and elemental ignorance of the role of the media in a democratic society,” said a statement from the Association of Broadcast Media (Zdruzenje radiodifuznih medijev), quoted by vecer.com (January 22). “Through (the Ministry’s) inactivity, long-term irreparable damage has been made to Slovenian media. Slovenia needs media legislation that will take into account the role of the media and journalists in a democratic society as one of the key bearers of public oversight of power.” The Association of Broadcast Media is part of the Slovenian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Minister Persak refuted the claims, specifically that the media strategy proposal “does not talk about the media in general, but only about RTVS,” reported news agency STA (January 22). Noting that the parliament deferred action on the media law revisions until after the next election, he said, “Obviously, the (broadcasting) lobbies worked.”
At the final meeting of its current term, the Program Council of Slovenian public broadcaster RTVS accepted the resignation of Televiziji Slovenija (TVS) director Ljerka Bizilj, reported news portal siol.net (January 23). She will leave in April, six months ahead of her term expiry. Program Council president Ciril Baskovic; noted that her term had been marred by “a lot of slips, mistakes, even financial.”
A week earlier (January 11) TVS chief news editor Jadranka Rebernik was dismissed, a decision supported by the Program Council, Ms Bizilj and RTVS director general Igor Kadunc. She had made a run at Ms Bizilj’s job last April, when Mr. Kadunc was appointed director general. It failed. Through an attorney, quoted by Dnvenik (January 11), she called the dismissal “unfounded” and “constitutes interference with editorial autonomy and is completely political due to the forthcoming elections.”
The National Council for Culture (NSK - Nacionalni svet za kulturo) offered a view on the RTVS contribution to Slovenian culture at its recent public meeting (January 26). At issue was the prime-time schedule change on TVS main TV channel, moving a sports program to an earlier slot, displacing a cultural awards program. Shifting the time slot "is not important at the statistical level, but at the symbolic level,” said NSK president Ursula Cetinski, quoted by Dnevnik (January 26).
Mr. Kadunc attended and observed that television is changing, new technologies affect viewing habits and, eventually, financing. “It’s a reminder that we are in trouble,” he observed
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The health of a media market can be measured by one particular vital sign, the radio sector. Listeners are engaged by stories and songs, dialects and sounds making radio stations part of the local conversation. Reliable and accessible yet always changing radio is the perfect bridge to the new media environment. Advertisers benefit from this and, in turn, make radio broadcasting a good business. That is, in theory, the way it’s supposed to work.
Major media companies invest where opportunity exceeds cost. Patience, say the sages, is a virtue. But these are special times and “you’ve got to know when to fold ‘em.”
As governments swing from right to left and back again, rules governing media are targets of opportunity. Every politician, it seems, has an opinion on media, public and private, old and new. Voters, though, are hard to impress.
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