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The Tickle File
short takes on daily media news

Politicians, again, threaten news coverage
reconsider this

Iceland’s Parliament approved a controversial austerity budget for 2015 this week. While direct government contributions to public broadcaster RUV were unchanged, the household license fee contribution will fall about 13% over the next two years. RUV’s executive board met to discuss “the need for extensive action,” reported RUV TV (December 18).

RUV operates two radio channels and one TV channel, quite significant for a small media market. Possible service cuts, yet undecided, seem centered on news content, both radio and TV, and sports broadcasting. Pension costs and debt service make up a large part of RUV’s budget. Iceland’s politicians have learned, noted independent newspaper DV (December 16), “political campaigns against RUK never have political costs.”

Governing right-wing politicians, struggling to contain Iceland’s fiscal malaise, have been unhappy with RUV’s news coverage. “I thing an unnatural amount of money goes to RUV,” said parliamentary budget committee chairperson Vigdís Hauksdóttir, quoted by Danish news portal (December 17), “especially when they do not have better news coverage. They (RUV) have a specific direction and it is leftist.” In October MP Hauksdottir called for selling one of RUV’s radio channels to benefit the state budget.

Iceland’s fabled status as a paragon of press freedom, noted Reporters sans Frontieres (RSF) (November 19), is now challenged by an onslaught of legal actions against reporters by politicians, cuts to RUV’s budget over the last two years and legislation restricting advertising. Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson’s press spokesperson recently advised journalists at news portal Reykjavik Grapevine to “reconsider” reporting on the PM’s large number of assistants and unannounced holiday as well as referring to Tweets from journalists about that story as “hostile.” (See more about press/media freedom here)

Despite money rattling from politicians RUV is moving forward on selecting Iceland’s entry for the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest. Icelandic singers have had respectable showings in recent years but, alas, never claiming the top prize.

Local TV channel supporters endure bitter cold, raise temperature
“At least respect us”

The struggles of local media, certainly if distant from major capitals, rarely attracts great attention. Russian and international media watchers regularly report and comment on the trials and tribulations of Moscow-based Ekho Moscvy and TV Dozhd. But in the heart of Siberia, nearly three thousand kilometers from the big city, only the rugged come out in support of the local TV station under pressure.

Several hundred people turned out in seriously cold weather last Sunday (December 14) for a rally in support of local Tomsk television channel TV2. The State provider of radio and television transmission systems abruptly cancelled the contract with TV2, one of the oldest privately owned television channels in the Russian Federation. Local authorities had denied a permit for a “protest,” therefore this particular gathering was called a rally, reported Interfax Siberia (December 14). Hot soup was served.

“We have generations of people who were toddlers when we began broadcasting,” said general manager Arkadiy Mayofis to Ekho Moscvy (December 14). “It is not about crushing a company, is it about destroying a part of the city. We therefore don't beg the Governor for help. We think that he must help us. He and the businessmen we helped, thousands of people of Tomsk whose stories we showed.” (See more about media in Russia here)

“When the company had problems the first time, six months ago, there were three events in support,” said rally organizer Ivan Shevelev, quoted by local Tomsk news portal (December 15). “If TV2 closes they can close any business.”

TV2’s other run-in with the Tomsk Regional Transmitting Center this year perhaps precipitated ill feelings. Repairs to exciter equipment at the TV2 site forced the station off the air for a month, illuminated by the station’s newscasts. “This is what media is all about,” said Mr. Mayofis. “And if you don't like us for that, at least respect us.”

“About a month after we had been switched off the air, because of the long repairs, we started to actively speak out in the press,” noted TV2 editor-in chief Viktor Muchnik. “There were rallies in support of us. Maybe, RTRS (Regional Transmitting Center) perceived that as political pressure and got offended.” (See TV2 statement via MDIF here)

Media regulator Roskomnadzor renewed the TV2 broadcast license through 2024 earlier this year then suggest that was a mistake. “A decision has not yet been taken on renewing the TV company TV2's license,” said spokesperson Vadim Ampelonskiy, quoted by Siberian Times (December 15). “The issue will be decided at the end of January or the beginning of February.”

A Moscow rally supporting TV2’s situation is planned for Sunday, December 21, organized by Russian media freedom advocate Glasnost Defense Foundation and Moscow Union of Journalists.

Far-right editor rattles newspaper staff
No “black sheep”

There was but a small rumble through the mountains last week as the board of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) and editor-in-chief Markus Spillmann reached an agreement on his departure from the newspaper. Beneath the ever-calm surface, like everything else in Switzerland, was intrigue. The – allegedly – hand-picked candidate to replace Mr. Spillmann set off earthquake alarms within the newspaper staff.

NZZ Media Group board president Etienne Jornod wanted a change at the newspaper, considered Switzerland’s newspaper-of-record, certainly in the Swiss-German speaking region. Though Mr. Spillmann had led the NZZ, its Sunday paper and online editions into the digital age with new designs and paywalls Mr. Jornod wanted to change the “fuzzy image,” reported Schweiz am Sonntag (December 14). For that mission he wanted Basler Zeitung publisher and editor-in-chief Markus Somm. That possibility, apparently, was a step too far for the NZZ editorial staff.

Mr. Somm was the hand-picked leader for the rather sleepy Basler Zeitung when a controlling stake was acquired by billionaire industrialist and politician Christoph Blocher, known outside Switzerland for the infamous “black sheep” anti-immigrant campaign. Under Mr. Somm the editorial tone of Basler Zeitung turned decidedly toward the far-right. Mr. Somm has referred to himself as “Blocher’s governor,” noted (December 15).

But Mr. Somm removed himself from consideration, reported the NZZ (December 15), “after careful consideration.” Until a successor for Mr. Spillmann is recruited, three NZZ deputy editors are holding down the fort… so to speak.

From Last Weeks ftm Tickle File

New frequencies and a very big transmitter

A special Russian-language radio program is now available from Ukraine state broadcaster NRCU. The two-hour daily broadcast consists of news with cultural information and educational features produced by Radio Ukraine International. For coverage a 800 kW medium wave (1431 kHz) signal is directed east supported, of course, by web streaming.

In Ukraine there remain several ultra-high power medium wave transmitters, part of Soviet heritage. The 1431 kHz transmitter is located at the Nikolaev radio center facility in southern Ukraine. At one time it was rated at one megawatts. (See more about media in Ukraine here)

A bit more conventionally, Ukraine’s broadcasters are cautiously reentering the Donbass region. State media regulator National Council for Radio and Television has requested new FM frequencies, two for Donetsk and one for Lugansk. “With these new frequencies we want to make a special kind of program,” said Council chairman Yuri Artemenko, quoted by Telekritika (December 11).

Young people in broadcaster’s sights
“under pressure, can’t cope”

Austria’s powerful public broadcaster ORF is making a “small request” to add another radio channel targeting young people. The Austrian government would need to approve “testing youth radio project FM21,” as explained by general director Alexander Wrabetz, Wiener Zeitung reported (December 10). FM21 would be available in eastern Austria under the DAB+ test rules, if approved, next year.

There is a vacuum to be filled, said Dr. Wrabetz. “We are under pressure from various commercial radio stations, which Ö3 cannot alone cope.” The ORF aggregate radio reach share – 74% according Radiotest H1 2014 figures - overwhelms private commercial radio and hit music channel Ö3, broadly targeting young people, has a 41% national market share among people 14 to 49 years. ORF also offers the Vienna-centric alternative music channel FM4. The proposed FM21 channel would target 14 to 21 year olds. (See Austria Major Radio Broadcasters in Resources here)

Public broadcasters have been sensitive in recent years to aging audiences, particularly for main general interest channels. Private-sector broadcasters have equally been sensitive toward public funding for more competitors.

Deadline set for another country to disappear
Be careful what you wish for

Major news publishers in Spain were overjoyed when a new Intellectual Property Act, signed into law by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, guaranteed payments from search engines indexing headlines and links. Hopefully, they haven’t spent the money.

“It’s with real sadness that on 16 December we’ll remove Spanish publishers from Google News, and close Google News in Spain,” wrote Google’s senior director for news and social products Richard Gingras on the Google Europe blog (December 11). An October meeting in Madrid between Google executives and Spanish publishers moved no stones; the Google team resolute in not paying for indexed snippets and publishers hammering for money. Many publishers in Spain were notified of the decision a day before the official announcement. (See more about Google vs publishers here)

Publishers in Belgium, Germany and France have lobbied lawmakers in recent years for force payments from Google and other search engine providers and news aggregators for indexing headlines, links and snippets. Publishers in Belgium and Germany relented when Google simply unhooked links to their content. Privately-owned search engine and news aggregators are not legally bound to index the entire world wide web.

The political trade gets the media attention it deserves
Forget the press release

The arrival in Brussels of US-style political reporting has taken a major leap forward with the Politico-Axel Springer European joint venture announced the acquisition of newspaper/portal European Voice, named several managers and editors and, more or less, set a spring 2015 roll-out date. Executive editor will be Matthew Kaminski from the defunct Wall Street Journal Europe. Politico Europe will be centered on Brussels doings with, they say, bureaus all over the continent.

According to the September announcement of the joint venture, big German publisher Axel Springer is providing the money, the Politico team expertise. Acquiring European Voice, founded then dropped by the Economist, and an events company from Shéhérazade Semsar-de Boisséson, who becomes managing director, gives ready access to print and web vehicles plus Brussels-based reporters. Though the earlier announce was quite circumspect, Politico Europe will most certainly be offered in the English language.

For years Brussels bureaucrats have howled about diminishing news coverage by major newspapers, agencies and networks. The European Commission partly funds the reasonably respected news portal EurActiv and often-bland television channel Euronews. Of course, the majors all have Brussels correspondents but coverage of the EU, like coverage of national European politics, is steeped in the tradition of polite policy analysis.

Politico upended political news coverage in the US with a very different focus: politics as a trade. Lobbyists and consultants, who they dance with and where they spend money, make headlines along with the politicians. Political operatives – and Brussels has thousands – scour Politico for the name-dropping. Politico’s DC reporters look for controversy, scandal, dirt and gossip with as many pictures as possible and they do not rewrite press releases.

Previous weeks complete Tickle File

Holiday 2014/2015

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