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The Tickle File
short takes on daily media news

Fired editor launches new project across the border
Stay tuned

Russian newspaper Izvestia (August 27) reported the tax registration in Riga, Latvia of a new company, The Medusa Project, owned by Galina Timchenko, once managing editor of respected independent Russian news portal And, too, on several Latvian online recruiting sites offers have been placed for editors, reporters and photographers conversant in Russian and English. When a new Russian-language news portal could be launched remains a bit of a secret.

It was a sad day last March when Ms Timchenko was fired. About half the staff subsequently walked out as the owner, billionaire Alexander Mamut, changed the news portal’s editorial direction to one decidedly in line with official Russian news policy. So much for independence; only one struggling TV channel, one beneath-the-radar radio channel, an untouchable (so far) foreign-owned business newspaper and a handful of web portals remain. (See more about media in Russia here)

Ms Timchenko, according to Izvestia, called it a “micro-project,” other details yet to be determined.

From Last Weeks ftm Tickle File

Radio concession subject to change
“a possibility”

A court decision seems to have ended a long and contentious dispute in the Czech Republic between the country’s public radio broadcaster and one of its biggest private sector radio operators. Involved also, and significantly, is the BBC World Service (BBC WS). The Supreme Administrative Court ruled that a concession held by a subsidiary of BBC WS could be transferred to French-based broadcaster Lagardère Active Radio International (LARI) without the encumbrance of old concession terms.

Czech public broadcaster Ceske Rozhlas (CR) fought the terms of the transfer saying they were party to the 2006 BBC Radiocom concession as provider of two three-hour daily program blocks. After ownership of the BBC Radiocom concession, FM licenses in Prague and 11 other cities, was transferred to LARI in the spring of 2013 the company said the concession terms, which specified inclusion of CR programming blocks, were “not an obligation, but a possibility.” Media regulator RRTV then fined BBC Radiocom, now part of LARI, for failure to comply with concession terms, which also included broadcasting in Czech and English. And on to the courts it went.

The news-talk station is now called Radio Zet and continues to broadcast BBC WS content. LARI has operated commercial radio channels in the Czech Republic Evropa 2 and Frekvence 1 since the early 1990’s. The BBC World Service operated a Czech language service until 2006.

Censor reaches across borders
Information prohibited

Visitors to the Russian-language version of Estonian news portal Delfi may not get the news they’re expecting. Accessing some pages, not all, leads to a notice from the Russian Federation’s censor Roskomnadzor announcing that the requested page “contains information which is prohibited in the Russian Federation,” reported Estonian portal (August 19). Some pages are blocked for some visitors while others have access.

Estonia borders the Russian Federation and was once part of the Soviet Union. About a quarter of Estonia’s population are ethnic Russians, the majority living in the country’s northeast. There are several Russian-language media outlets operated by Estonian publishers and broadcasters.

In mid-August Roskomnadzor began requiring Russian bloggers with more than three thousand visitors to register or else.

Culture department to save historic radio tower
“superlative engineering feat”

The Moscow city Department of Cultural Heritage will take over the Shabolovka Radio Tower, known locally as Shukhov Tower and considered a masterpiece by the worldwide architectural community. Property developers wanted the old tower, in considerable disrepair, torn down because, under Moscow zoning rules, a pristine office or housing structure of the same height (160 meters, 525 feet) could be raised. “In rebuilding the tower, the architecture will continue stay in the same place, in the same way and from the same materials,” reported Izvestia (August 18). 

The tower was ordered built by Vladimir Lenin in 1919 and designed by engineer Vladimir Shukhov. Construction was completed in 1922 with 100 kW broadcasts from Communist International commencing. Over time about 40 radio and TV masts were attached to the structure. All but cellphone masts vacated the tower by 2002. (See more about media in Russia here)

Earlier this year the Russian Federation Ministry of Communications and the State Committee for Radio and Television Broadcasting said Shukhov Tower had to be dismantled, citing concerns it might fall down. Big name architects including Tadao Ando, Rem Koolhaas, Kengo Kuma, Thom Mayne and Elizabeth Diller appealed to President Vladimir Putin to save the tower, “one of the emblems of Moscow, and one of the superlative engineering feats of the twentieth century, still influencing and enriching technical and architectural ideas globally.”

Busting journalists conveniently creates new story
Trouble and looking for it

Continuing civil disruption in the US community of Ferguson has attracted considerable news media attention. Coverage within the US is extensive, increasing with the arrival of troops in armored vehicles. Confrontation is always a leading news story, enhanced, in this instance, by questions over a local cop shooting dead an unarmed black teenager.

Big news organizations outside the US have taken interest; explaining America to local audiences – or spinning a point of view – always worth a few more clicks, particularly in August. Three German reporters on the scene have run foul of local police, reports Handelsblatt (August 19), and found themselves accommodated, however briefly, in the county jail. Die Welt correspondent Ansgar Graw and German freelance reporter Frank Herrmann were detained for violating a civil curfew, released after three hours. Bild reporter Lukas Hermsmeier was busted Monday night (August 18), circumstances unclear. Getty Images photographer Scott Olson was detained, though not charged, for not following a police order to move along. (See more about press/media freedom here)

“We demand that journalists in Ferguson be allowed to exercise their jobs without having to be afraid of arrest or, even, being shot,” said Reporters Without Borders Berlin office spokesperson Astrid Frohloff in a statement.

Local Ferguson cops removed two US reporters from a McDonalds, roughing up one, when confusion reigned supreme a day after the tragic incident. Local cops also lobbed a couple of teargas canisters toward an Al-Jazeera America crew then removed their equipment. “Police should not be bullying or arresting journalists just trying to do their jobs,” said US President Barack Obama shortly before better-trained Missouri Highway Patrol officers took over from less media savvy locals.

Commission complaint from spurned promotional ad
Don’t touch that dial

Irish broadcaster Communicorp has formally complained to the European Commission DG Competition about public broadcaster RTÉ. State aid, abuse of dominant position, the license fee and advertising are all wrapped together. The company “intends to fight this abuse of a dominant position and will ensure that the European Commission is aware of RTÉ’s activities,” said Newstalk chief executive Gerard Whelan, quoted by (August 13)

The Communicorp complaint appears instigated by RTÉ’s refusal in April to broadcast a TV ad tagged “Move the dial” promoting a show host who had joined Newstalk from RTÉ Radio 1. The ad would have violated RTÉ’s advertising code as call-to-action spots are not allowed, said an RTÉ spokesperson at the time. Communicorp is Ireland’s biggest private sector radio broadcaster, owning national channel Today FM, Dublin stations Newstalk, 98FM, Spin and TXFM.

Since the European Commission (EC) enshrined the dual public-private broadcasting system in Europe with the Amsterdam Protocol in 2001, private sector broadcasters and publishers have sought – with some success – to put legal limits on what national public service broadcasters (PSB) can do and how much money they can raise. In a 2008 decision DG Competition remanded the Irish government to tighten up legal language on RTÉ’s public service mandate. Lawyers for public broadcasters have taken particular note over the last decade of DG Competition rulings on State aid, service mandate and digital expansion.

Complaints to DG Competition typically follow action – or lack thereof – from national competition authorities or courts. Communicorp currently has a complaint against RTÉ pending at the Irish Competition Authority. This summer DG Competition staff are hard at work, reconsidering the settlement with Google, avoiding a ruling against Gazprom, rescuing Greek banks and auditing several airlines.

Previous weeks complete Tickle File

week of August 25, 2014

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editor's pen Occupying the news cycle for an entire day or two was the story of authorities detaining a traveler in transit. It grew precipitously as details emerged; a major newspaper involved, electronic devices confiscated, wobbly statements from authorities. Add to that whistleblowers and spies for sufficient theatrics.


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When News Is Bad, They Turn Up The Hits
warning light Perhaps it is the spirit of the times. Hit music is again a winner in audience surveys, news and information not so much. For private broadcasters it’s a good thing. But public broadcasters face questions.



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Media in Greece, Cyprus and Macedonia

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Public Broadcasting - Arguments, Battles and Changes

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Media in Romania and Moldova

The profile of Romania's media scene is complicated. Changes take place often as multi-national media houses exit and "colorful" local owners take over. Neighboring Moldova faces its own set of challenges. This ftm Knowledge file details the rough road to sustainable media. Includes updated Resources. 60 pages PDF (February 2014)

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Friday August 22, 2014
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