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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 a shorter, more informal format.

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Week of January 30, 2017

News outlets face uncertainty with… certainty
We’ve been here before, don’t be intimidated

To say that news outlets - the real ones - are concerned about how events and issues are covered is mild. To the pros of journalism it is always a serious, soul-searching subject. The arrival of a new US administration openly hostile to facts, reality and those reporting same is a particular challenge.

It’s business as usual, with a couple of caveats, wrote global news agency Reuters editor-in-chief Steve Adler to staff and everybody else this week (January 31). “It’s not every day that a US president calls journalists ‘among the most dishonest human beings on earth’ or that his chief strategist dubs the media ‘the opposition party.’ It’s hardly surprising that the air is thick with questions and theories about how to cover the new Administration.”

He noted that Reuters works in “many (countries) in which the media is unwelcome and frequently under attack,” naming Turkey, the Philippines, Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, Thailand, China, Zimbabwe, and Russia. The point is clear. “We don’t know yet how sharp the Trump administration’s attacks will be over time or to what extent those attacks will be accompanied by legal restrictions on our news-gathering.” (See more about press freedom here)

Guidelines for reporters and editors generally follow those every reporter and editor knows: cover what matters, be resourceful, forget the PR handouts and “worry less about official access. They were never all that valuable anyway.” And don’t be intimidated or pick “unnecessary” fights. “Don’t vent publicly about what might be understandable day-to-day frustration. We need to do that in the US, too.”

The Trump administration has taken particular aim at news network CNN, refusing to allow officials on talkshows, and the New York Times. Returning to the US from an overseas assignment this past weekend January 29) CNN editor and producer Mohammed Tawfeeq, an Iraqi granted permanent US residence (green card) in 2013, was detained by Homeland Security agents at Atlanta Hartsfield airport under recent executive orders on immigration. He has filed a federal lawsuit seeking clarification of legal issues.

That knock on the door in the middle of the night
“They didn’t tell me the reasons”

It was a strange night for Vitaly Sizov, reporter for Public Television of Donbas, in the Belarus capital Minsk. In the middle of the night (January 31) he was removed from his hotel, taken to a police station and told to leave the country. He had, it seems, all proper accreditations to report on the Trilateral Contact Group for Donbas settlement meeting from the Belarus Ministry of Foreign Affairs, reported Ukrainian media news portal Telekritika (February 1).

The reason for the eviction, he was told, had something to do with being on a list of folks banned from entering the Russian Federation until 2021. And since Belarus and the Russian Federation formed the Union State in which everything is tangled he had to go. “They didn’t tell me the reasons.” The Trilateral Contact Group met and called for a ceasefire in the Donbas region of Ukraine after intense shooting began anew this past weekend. (See more about media in Ukraine here)

Public TV of Donbas was formed in 2014 by a group of local Ukrainian journalists. Its modest output consists of a 10 minute local newscast 5 times a week. Funding comes, in part, from the European Endowment for Democracy, which provides crisis support for local civil society groups ineligible for European Union support.

Government steps in to re-boot news agency
“exceptions are possible”

State-run news agencies have an air of a different age. There are notable exceptions: the venerable Agence France-Presse (AFP) operates as an independent public corporation and competes on the international stage. Smaller news agencies, more than similarly structured public broadcasters, have struggled in the digital age.

Serbia’s Tanjug news agency was to be privatized in November 2015. European Union (EU) accession guidelines require prospective new member States to embark on privatizations of State-owned concerns and set a level of independence for publicly financed media organizations. And Serbia is, more or less, on track for eventual EU accession. Privatizing Tanjug did not attract investors. (See more about media in Serbia here)

After more than a year in financial limbo and staffing cut to the bone, the Serbian government is stepping in, albeit tepidly. "When we say that the State withdraws from the media that does not mean 100 percent of withdrawing from the media, some exceptions are possible and we will see if we will access some general exceptions,” said Minister of Culture Vladan Vukosavljevic, quoted by (January 31). He will present a proposal sometime in February. Currently Tanjug’s main revenue stream is project work for individual State ministries.

Public broadcasting in Serbia is having its own financial - and political - crisis. A household license fee collected through electric utility bills was slashed in 2014 with the State making up the difference.

Bankers take hardline with publisher and broadcaster
no haircuts

Turmoil of the financial kind continues in the Greek media sector. Hopes for a bailout for television broadcaster Mega faded as shareholders tried and failed to pry money from bankers, reported (January 30). Banks have been threatening to seize the company’s assets. Employees have been waiting seven months for their pay.

Mega lost out in last year’s national TV license auction. Court challenges have allowed it to continue operating. In December major shareholder Fotis Bobolas said a solution would be coming and Mega TV would become a news channel after the first of the year. Even though Mega has topped the TV ratings in Greece it has long been seriously in debt.

Last week Mega TV shareholder Lambrakis Press indicated it will be closing daily newspaper Ta Nea, weekly To Vima and radio station Vima FM. Banks refused to pour in more money, reported Kathimerini (January 28) and the company is, essentially broke. Timing of the closure is vague; Ta Nea published Monday, January 30th. Greek media watchers widely suggested closure of the newspapers late last year. (See more about media in Greece here)

There was a proposal late last week from Greek-Russian multi-millionaire Ivan Savvidis to bailout Lambrakis Press. He asked the banks to write-off 80% of loans to the company and all personal loans to company president Stavros Psycharis, who is awaiting trial for money laundering and tax evasion. The bankers gave it a cold shoulder, offering to write-off 60% of the owed loans but leaving out Mr. Psycharis, reported (January 29). To keep the company more or less intact before a liquidator steps in, the bankers offered an “interim agreement” to pay employees and suppliers.

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