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The Tickle File is ftm's daily column of media news, complimenting the feature articles on major media issues. Tickle File items point out media happenings, from the oh-so serious to the not-so serious, that should not escape notice...in a shorter, more informal format.

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Week of April 9, 2018

Competition inquiry seeks to untangle TV sports
no comment all around

Inspectors from the European Commission paid an unannounced visit this week to Fox Network Group’s London offices and Ziggo Sport offices in Hilversum, the Netherlands. They were looking for documents or anything pertaining to sports media rights and suspected cartel activities. The EC has periodically examined sports media rights over several decades.

The inspections were aimed at “companies active in the distribution of media rights and related rights relating to different sports tournaments and their broadcasting,” said an EC statement (April 10). “There is no legal deadline to complete inquiries into anticompetitive conduct” and the inquiry “does not mean that the companies are guilty on anti-competitive behavior.” Although the statement mentioned raids in “several Member States,” only the UK and Dutch inspections have been identified. It is possible others could have unannounced visitors in coming days. (See more about sports and media here)

UK Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) officials accompanied the EC inspectors in the visit to Fox Networks Group, which operates a wide range of Fox Sport channels with many offshoots across the globe. Fox Sport in the Netherlands offers Dutch Premiere League, German Bundesliga and the UEFA Europa League. Fox Networks Group is also the majority stakeholder in Fox Sports Eredivise, a football channel, in which football league Eredivisie and TV producer Endemol are shareholders. Fox Networks Group is a subsidiary of 21st Century Fox. (See more about 21st Century Fox, et.al. here)

Although there has been considerable attention in the UK relating this to the impending CMA ruling on the 21st Century Fox bid to acquire the equity in Sky plc it does not already own, this EU inquiry appears centered on sports media rights questions in the Netherlands and, possibly, Germany, Italy and Spain.

On the visit to Ziggo Sport, the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) was present. An ACM spokesperson deferred comments to the European Commission, which, in turn, deferred comments to Ziggo Sport, reported RTL Nieuws (April 11). Ziggo Sport confirmed the “raid,” reported NOS (April 11), but made no further comment. Ziggo Sport holds media rights to Formula 1 and Premier League football and is a subsidiary of VodafoneZiggo, a joint venture cable operator of Vodaphone Netherlands and Liberty Global.

In February the ACM began a market analysis and consultation on fixed telecom network competition involving KPN and VodafoneZiggo. The EC approved the VodafoneZiggo joint venture in 2016.

Publisher in jail, folds newspaper
spurious charges

Tucked between Lithuania and Poland along the Baltic coast is Kaliningrad, the western-most outpost of the Russian Federation. The 950 thousand inhabitants are rather isolated. It’s largely known for three things: trade in amber, trade in luxury automobiles and, perhaps, Russian nuclear missiles.

This past week Kaliningrad lost its independent weekly newspaper, Novye Kolyosa (New Wheels). Its last published edition, printed in Lithuania, was confiscated. The newspaper had been denied access to local printing facilities. The latest action came after the newspaper published details of the torture and death of a local resident while in jail. It published photos of the alleged torturers. Novye Kolyosa had been published in Kaliningrad for 23 years. (See more about media in Russia here)

Chief editor and owner Igor Rudnikov has been in jail since November, charged with attempting to extort money from a law enforcement official promising to back off publishing a damaging story about corruption. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) (November 1 2017) colleagues say Mr. Rudnikov was beaten before and during detention, receiving a broken arm. Human Rights Watch (November 7 2017) called the charges “spurious.”

Media report shows publishers problem is not public broadcasting
"demanding transformational phase"

Publishers and commercial broadcasters have railed for years about deleterious competition from public broadcasters. Evidence has been largely anecdotal. Surely, they have repeated, public broadcasters funnel ears and eyeballs - and, more importantly, money - away from for-profit media operators.

The Norwegian Media Authority (Medietilsynet) at the behest of the Culture Ministry was called to research this last October. The results were published this week. Publishers and commercial broadcasters found no joy.

NRK contributes positively to media diversity, said the analysis. And, too, NRK’s digital offerings do not cause significant barriers to competition from new entrants. Three separate studies contributed to the report.

The report notes the obvious: the rise of digital media has “reduced” the competitive space between newspapers and broadcasters. Everything is equally available on digital platforms. Media consumers, then, “experience” their media choice more directly. (See more about public broadcasting here)

A primary focus of the report was news and information, national and regional. Increased time spent with NRK websites has not diminished news consumption via commercial news portals nor have paywalls on commercial news portals increased traffic to NRK news portals. Norwegian news consumers tend to follow multiple sources, more as complement than substitute.

“Commercial media operators are still in a demanding transformational phase,” concludes the report. Local and regional media are particularly vulnerable. The reason does not seem to be competition from NRK. Weakening NRK will not make commercial media more competitive and may weaken, rather than strengthen overall media diversity.” (See more about media in Norway here)

Schibsted Norway editor Einar Halien called the report “one-sided,” quoted by Dagbladet (April 10). “The connection is very simple. If you are getting the same offer for free from (regional broadcaster) NRK Hordaland as you get from (regional newspaper) Bergens Tidende, there is reason to believe that it will limit the possibility for Bergens Tidende to pay for digital journalism.”

After deafening election defeat, critical media scrambles for the exits
"the shrinking space"

Just two days after the Hungarian parliamentary elections, media outlets critical of the xenophopic Fidesz party and prime minister Viktor Orban are changing owner, scaling back or closing. Lánchíd Rádió will close immediately, reported 24.hu (April 10). Hir TV will undergo “serious downsizing.” Daily newspaper Magyar Nemzet, hours earlier reported to close, has been tossed a life-line by an opposition politician, said mandiner.hu (April 10). Weekly newspaper Heti Valasz will also close if a new owner does not come forward. All are owned by energy billionaire Lajos Simicska, who conspicuously broke with PM Orban in 2015.

Magyar Nemzet has been published continuously since 1938. The possible closure would cede to PM Orban and the Fidesz party effective control over all daily newspapers and related online portals. Centrist/green party LMP (Lehet Más a Politika. Politics Can Be Different) politician Peter Ungar, who won a seat in parliament from a Budapest district, is said to be in negotiations to acquire the newspaper, reported merce.hu (April 10). (See more about media in Hungary here)

At a briefing a day after the election results were released, OSCE/ODIHR election observer team leader Douglas Wake offered that the Hungarian parliamentary elections were “transparent” and “professionally executed,” reported Bloomberg (April 9). He also noted that “media coverage… was extensive, yet highly polarized and lacking critical analysis.” Newscasts of the state broadcaster “clearly favored the ruling coalition, at odds with international standards.”

“While voters were presented with clear options in these elections, the shrinking of space for genuine debate hindered their ability to make a fully informed choice,” he added. “The government’s excessive spending on ads that amplified the ruling coalition’s campaign message undermined contestants’ ability to compete on an equal basis.”

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