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Populists Gleeful With Public Broadcaster Cuts

Another public broadcaster is headed for major budget cuts mandated by politicians. Itís about more than economics, trimming the fat. Itís, again, about shortening that arms-length independence between public broadcasters and politicians to the thumb.

ham and beansDenmark’s conservative coalition government, with votes from the right-wing/populist Danish People’s Party (Dansk Folkeparti - DF), agreed last week to terms eliminating the public broadcasting license fee and reducing public broadcaster DR’s budget by 20% over the next five years. Financing DRs radio, TV and online services will come from income tax revenues. The measure will become effective at the first of next year.

“DR will still be able to produce a really good amount,” said Finance Minister Kristian Jensen, quoted by the Copenhagen Post (March 16). “They ought to focus on their primary area which is news, culture and disseminating history.” Details of the political agreement will be made public in April.

"We have the ambition to create a more focused DR,” said Culture Minister Mette Bock, quoted by (March 16). “DR must reconsider itself as a cultural institution. At the same time, we will create better balance between the state-owned media and the private Danish media market.” In addition to DR, the public broadcasting license fee finances national radio channel Radio24syv, operated by publisher Berlingske Media. Commercial satellite television channel TV2 is owned by the Danish government, which intends to divest, reported (March 20), if a state-aid reimbursement question can be resolved with the European Commission.

"It is with great pleasure that we can say that the project was successful,” said DF chairperson Peter Skaarup, quoted by Jyllands-Posten (March 16). "It's fair that DR, like other state institutions, needs to be more efficient. To abolish the license has been a big wish for the Dansk Folkeparti.” The DF had asked for a 25% budget reduction for DR and is seeking its own national radio channel.

Losing this battle, DR executives put on a brave face. “It is so much money that it will have consequences for new DR productions,” said Director-General Maria Rørbye Rønn, quoted by (March 16). “It will be felt by listeners, readers and viewers. We are still awaiting the final media settlement before we can concretize the final savings. But we will try to implement the savings in the best and smart way.”

"People are not smiling around today,” said DR journalists union steward Henrik Wilmar, quoted by (March 16). "For DR and our users, it's a terrible situation. It has major consequences for my members and our users. There are a lot of people who will lose their jobs.”

“It's astonishing that they start economics instead of what they want DR to do,” he continued. “It seems a little backward. It will hit the programs that Danes are really happy about.”

Earlier this month Swiss voters overwhelmingly rejected an initiative put forward by populist political parties to end funding for public broadcaster SSR-SRG through the household license fee or any other public means. However, the Swiss Federal Council is putting on the pressure for major fiscal reforms.

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