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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 May 15, 2017

Nice tunes prevail, many firsts, disruptors fail to thwart song contest
Epic Sax Guy returns

An unavoidable television event each May, attracting millions of loyal viewers, is the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC). This year’s event - several, actually - took place in Kiev by virtue of a Ukrainian singer winning last year’s content in Stockholm. Fans seem to like the annual rotating venue.

This year’s winner is from Portugal, which had never won before. Solo
singer Salvador Sobral attracted 758 points with a nice ballad, sort of unusual for the ESC. Bulgaria’s Kristian Kostov placed second as the first ESC contestant born in the 21st century. He’s 17. Placing third was Moldovan trio SunStroke Project. They’ve been to the ESC before, placing 6th in 2010 and introducing the world to Epic Sax Guy, Serghei Stepanov. The YouTube video went viral.

The European Broadcasting Union (EBU), trade body for public broadcasters, owns the ESC franchise and sets all the rules. The EBU wants a happy event to attract big audiences for its members. As such the ESC is now adorned with all the social media twinkle. (See more about the Eurovision Song Contest here)

To keep happiness at the front of the stage the EBU expects a non-political event. Given the current state of international relations, policing that intent has been a challenge. There were difficult moments surrounding Ukraine’s hosting the event, starting with questions about costs and ending, almost literally, with disruption by one of the participant broadcasters.

The contestant chosen, cynically some believe, by Russian Federation state broadcaster Channel 1, an EBU member, could not receive a visa from Ukraine because of a dispute related to that problem in Crimea. Attempting to negotiate a solution, mistakingly assuming a solution would be a solution, the EBU suggested the Russian contestant perform via video link. Going the other direction, there was threat, allegedly, to move this year’s event to Berlin at the last minute. In the end the Russians refused to participate, the Ukrainians held their ground and the show went on. There’s a lesson here.

As usual grousing arose from participating countries whose entrants fared badly. This year it was the turn of last place Germans. But they’ll be back, said ARD entertainment coordinator Thomas Schreiber, “among other reasons, because Germany is the biggest television market in Europe and that, by far, most viewers call for it,” quoted by Tagesspiegel (May 15).

Broadcaster snapped shut, replacement to follow
where's the news?

The new Israeli State broadcaster - Kan - took to the air this week. It is different in many ways from the previous State broadcaster - Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA). For one, it is smaller.

Arguing about the make-up of Kan began as soon as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proposed legislation in 2014 to replace the IBA, officially for financial reasons. And members of parliament (Knesset) were arguing right up to the very end, or beginning depending on your perspective. The IBA was set to close last year, postponed until next year and finally shut-down at the end of last week.

Last week TV outlet Channel 1 began shutting down. The final broadcast of main news program Mabat LaHadashot (Glance at the news) was Tuesday, May 9th. Staff was given “only a few hours notice,” reported Haaretz (May 10). They signed off, crying, singing the national anthem. In a marathon late-night session the Knesset agreed to remove and separate the news division from the new State broadcaster, which allowed the process to continue. (See more about public broadcasting here)

Through the rest of last week only a skeleton technical staff remained at Channel 1. Israeli singer Imri Ziv passed through to the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) finals, viewer sensitivity noted. Channel 1 broadcast the entire show then signed off forever. Whether or not Israel will offer an ESC entry for next year is, yet, another question. The new State broadcaster is seeking European Broadcasting Union (EBU) membership, normally required for ESC participation, but that could be a problem as EBU rules also require members to have news departments.

Trust in TV news affected by political alignment
"unbelievable"

Television remains the primary news and information source in Poland. Trust in TV news outlets has slipped, according to public opinion polling agency CBOS. The comprehensive survey looked at demographic segments and political affiliation and was conducted across Poland by telephone during the first week of April. The credibility of news outlets was also measured.

Broadly, 64% of people in Poland prefer getting their news from television, 20% from the internet, 8% radio and 4% newspapers. Older people, unsurprisingly, strongly prefer TV, younger folk the web. People with higher education more likely go to the web for news.

Credibility sharply divides news viewers. News programs of State broadcaster TVP are considered “unbelievable” by 32% of all respondents, noted wirtualnemedia.pl (May 10), up from 12% in the previous (2012) survey on the same subject. The right-wing populist Polish government, taking power in late 2015, has remolded TVP into a pro-government state broadcaster. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of those polled said TVP is aligned with the government and the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, up from 30% in 2012. (See more about media in Poland here)

TVN news programs are slightly ahead of TVP as most watched for news and information, 71% against 69%, respectively. Forty percent view TVN news as trustworthy, down from 49% in 2012, and 23% untrustworthy, up from 30%. Just 5% see TVN news as aligned with the government, down from 32%.

News and information on Polsat channels is viewed by 66% of those surveyed. Its news programs have also fallen in credibility; 38% agreeing from 45% in 2012.

Politician offers solution for journalism problem
Tell us what you really think

We are, indeed, living through breathtaking times. At a serious diplomatic gathering one country’s president turns to another and offers a little “joke” about “liquidating” journalists. Yes, it was recorded.

Standing beside Russian Federation president Vladimir Putin at a press conference in Beijing, China for the Silk Road Summit Czech president Milos Zeman quipped, “There are too many journalists here. You should liquidate them,” reported Czech news portal aktualne.cz (May 15) and many others. "Disposing of them is not necessary, but limiting their number is possible,” replied president Putin.

Given the parties involved, the venue and the subject it was beyond sarcasm. Microphone gaffs are those moments when folks are - or seem - unaware of the live microphone. A Kinsley gaff - pointed out by American journalist Michael Kinsley (1988) - is a politician revealing those true colors. (See more about press/media freedom here)

"Journalists never understand the jokes,” said presidential spokesperson Jiri Ovcacek afterward, on Twitter, of course. “I expect embarrassing comments and outraged reactions of politicians who are fond of the media now.” President Zeman is known in the Czech Republic as a right-wing populist with a gift of the gaff. His position is largely ceremonial.

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