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State aid cases involving public media are fairly rare these days. Most legal questions about what can and cannot take place between governments and public broadcasters are settled law. A decision rendered this week by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) could just stir-up a bit of dust.
The ECJ overruled a Court of First Instance (CFI) decision two years ago that overturned the European Commission’s determination nearly a decade ago that the Danish government’s gift of “advertising revenue” to State-owned commercial TV broadcaster TV 2 was state aid but allowable because it was in the public interest. TV 2 appealed the CFI decision and competitor Viasat, owned by Swedish media house MTG, filed a separate appeal. Other related cases are pending. (See more about State Aid Rules here)
Earlier this year Danish political parties agreed to an ultimate privatization of TV 2. Danske Bank was “engaged” to evaluate potential bidders, reported Bloomberg (May 12). Several were identified; publisher Egmont, Berlingske Media and, more recently FinTech firm Nets chief executive Bo Nilsson. Viasat/MTG is considered a front-runner.
None of that matters, immediately, because the ECJ’s decision means TV 2 will need to return the funds in question to the Danish state, plus interest. That has been estimated at DKK 1.8 billion, about €240 million. The ECJ is the European Union’s court of last resort; no further appeals. The ECJ also also condemned TV 2 to pay “most” court costs of the appellants. The ECJ decision sends the case back to a Danish court.
"The verdict means nothing for the plans (to privatize TV2), said Culture Minister Mette Bock, quoted by TV 2 (November 9), hopeful the Danish court will allow a barrier - “fence” - between the rather substantial amount and any potential buyer. “If it turns out that it cannot be fenced, then we have nothing more to discuss because we cannot put TV 2 up for sale. If the litigation can be fenced, we will proceed as planned.” (See more about media in Denmark here)
“What the time perspective is, I don’t know,” said MTG/Denmark chief executive Kim Poder, quoted by mediawatch.dk (November 10). “Maybe we will have a decision by the end of next year… but at worst it will be 2020 or 2021.”
The tragic decline in media freedom worldwide under authoritarian and repressive regimes is most often noted in statistics. Cold, stark accounting of media workers jailed, attacked and murdered is one. Counting news outlets closed, expropriated or threatened is another.
It is fitting that reporting from Poland, Iran and Turkey, authorities hostile to independent journalism, would be recognized by this year’s Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) TV5Monde prize, announced at the World Forum for Democracy in Strasbourg (November 7). Honored in the journalist category was Gazeta Wyborcza investigative reporter Tomasz Piatek, Iranian photo-journalist Soheil Arabi and Turkish online news outlet Medyascope.tv. RSF is an internationally recognized press freedom advocate. TV5Monde is an international French-language news network supported by French, Belgian, Swiss and Canadian public broadcasters.
Polish authorities have been threatening Tomasz Piatek since publication of the book Macierewicz and his Secrets, serialized in Gazeta Wyborcza, which detailed arms trade activities of Polish Minister of Defense Antoni Macierewicz and his relations with the Russian Federation. It was not welcomed by Poland’s right-wing nationalist government. A military tribunal recommended prosecution and civil suits have been filed by associates of Mr. Macierewicz named in the reporting. Amnesty International asked for the threats to be lifted. (See more about press/media freedom here)
Soheil Arabi is in jail in Iran, the notorious Evin Prison. He was originally sentenced to death for insulting the Prophet Mohammad in a Facebook post. Under international pressure, the sentence was commuted in 2015 to “studying theology for two years.” He has been on hunger strike. In late September Amnesty International and RSF raised concerns about his deteriorating health.
Medyascope.tv was launched in 2015 by daily newspaper Habertürk journalist Rusen Cakir using the Periscope mobile app to bring new technologies to Turkish journalism and “seek independence.” He was fired by the newspaper shortly thereafter. "You all know very well the situation of Turkey,” he said accepting the award, quoted by Deutsche Welle (November 7). “You are also aware that journalism in Turkey is becoming more and more difficult every day. With Medyascope, our aim is to remain journalists regardless of the conditions and do good journalism.”
We have a new document leak. A big leak. Very big leak. The biggest leak. Everything else has been wiped from the headlines and news shows. Ratings, circulations and web traffic will rise. This is fun stuff, except to those unfortunate enough to be outted.
The Paradise Papers, so named for originating, mostly, at a law firm on the Caribbean paradise of Bermuda, started hitting the airwaves Sunday night (November 5), all tightly coordinated by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). The multi-million page trove - 13.4 million or 1.4 terabytes, to be exact - from the Appleby law firm and other related sources came into the possession of the investigative team at German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ). As it happened with the Panama Papers document leak 19 months ago, the SZ leaks no details about where this leak came from other than to say it “just landed in the mail box.” There was, it seems, a dark-web leak that the leak was coming: teaser alert.
For a year, 382 investigative journalists from 96 news organizations in 67 countries have been pouring over the documents. The ICIJ has a release schedule; Sunday the basics (politicians, billionaires, royalty, Russians), Monday the yachts and private jets, Tuesday trust funds of the rich and powerful along with secrets of political donors. More secrets will follow as individual news organizations tip their favorite scandal. (See more about investigative journalism here)
The biggest names in media news are all in, from the BBC, New York Times, the Guardian and La Monde to SZ (obviously), German public broadcasters NDR and WDR, Austrian public broadcaster ORF and Swiss publishing group Tamedia (Tages-Anzeiger). Also with their hands on the Paradise Papers are The Indian Express, The Irish Times, Swedish public broadcaster SVT and Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta. Last May the ICIJ received the Pulitzer Prize for explanatory journalism for the Panama Papers investigation.