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After railing for years about Google and Facebook specifically and the web generally publishers are returning to that other object of their existential ire, public broadcasters. As usual, they want new laws. Curbing competition is, it seems, necessary to a perfect order, meaning more money.
"We are still seeing a flood of text-based free offers funded by public money, nothing more than a fee-financed digital state press that distorts the competition and leaves us hardly any opportunities for development," Axel Springer chief executive Mathias Döpfner told the Association of German Newspaper Publishers (BDZV) this week, quoted by regional daily Sächsische-Zeitung (September 19). Herr Döpfner is also BDZV president. Addressing attentive politicians, he asked for tougher restrictions on the content German public broadcasters place online, “otherwise there will be a life-threatening imbalance for us in the medium term against public broadcasters. With only state television and state press on the web… that would be something more like the taste of North Korea.” (See more about media in Germany here)
Yes, he invoked North Korea. And he also said public broadcasters has “crossed a red line.” At least it wasn’t a midnight Twitter post.
"Words can become weapons,” said public television network ARD chairperson Karola Wille, in response, quoted by meedia.de (September 19). “That's why their easy use is so dangerous.” She suggested the real discussion point should be fake news. Axel Springer publishes, among other titles, the tabloid Blick, not shy about conspiracy theories. German publishers have resisted any statutory definition of fake news. (See more about fake news here)
"This affects all free and independent media,” she continued. “We should, on the other hand, stand together in these times more urgently than ever for that which strengthens us and what our society needs: for credibility, for reliability and for good journalism.”
“Newspaper publishers should mind their own houses rather than furious attacks,” added German Journalists Association (DJV) president Frank Überall. “It is unfortunate that the BDZV president is using the same vocabulary as the Pegida (far-right nationalist political movement) and the AfD (Alternative für Deutschland - populist far-right political party) against public broadcasting.”
Curtailing hate speech on media outlets is an ongoing challenge for regulators. Particularly taxing are TV channels crossing borders with unwanted content. And this is an uphill battle in the Baltic States.
This week Lithuanian media regulator LRTK recommended Russian channel TVCI be suspended from broadcasting, reported regional daily Vakaru Ekspresas (September 21). Russian TV channels have faced sanctions and suspensions in Lithuania periodically since 2014. The Vilnius Regional Administrative Court will decide, quickly it seems, if the 6-month suspension goes forward.
The specific episode attracting the LRTK’s attention was a hate-filled rant in June by notorious Russian Duma deputy Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Representing TVCI - the international channel of State-operated TVC - before the LRTK earlier this month Alexei Guscin argued “violation of fundamental rights,” not recognizing Lithuanian law and Mr. Zhirinovsky just giving his “personal opinion.” The LTRK determined the program violated Lithuanian law for “inciting war.”
"The guest came but he just confirmed the information they sent in writing that they did not recognize our view of the statements made in this program," said LTRK chairman Edmundas Vaitekunas. "As the violations are repeated, the channel was punished earlier, the Commission decided that this time the restriction of its broadcast will be increased to six months.”
In turbulent times, media watchers - and others - look for signs, some prophetic wisdom. The lightening bolt of first choice is the people’s vote, audience, circulation and traffic estimates. A close second is peer recognition. Both are taken seriously for at least an instant.
The Primetime Emmy Awards for television greatness were handed out on live TV Sunday night (September 17) in the US. It was the 69th edition of the annual event. Members of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (ATAS) vote for their favorites in a slew of categories.
The first earth-shaker - not really - was streaming services displacing traditional US TV networks. Next - and related - is risk. Hulu, Amazon and Netflix took 32 Emmys, none dependent on the Nielsen over-nights, able to take on more creative and financial risks. That risk-taking advantage allows the rise of the next earth-shaker: diversity. Women and people of color populated the winner’s circle, not just as actors, directors and writers. Women’s stories took the best drama and best miniseries categories; A Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu) and Big Little Lies (HBO), respectively. (See more about streaming media here)
Quite notably, the biggest winner at the Emmys for US network TV was the legendary Saturday Night Live. It remains a ratings hit for NBC. A certain thread runs through the comedy-satire that attracts late night viewers - across several similar shows. Again, turbulent times are a comedians playground.
The Emmys broadcast on CBS was a ratings flop, according to Nielsen. It was head-to-head with NFL football. Award shows - like talent shows and much of US network TV - have been drifting lower in the broad ratings for years. Sports, generally, still wins viewers.