News coverage in Greece of the EU austerity referendum was, by all accounts, quite over the top. Nearly all news outlets took clear positions, the possible exception being newly minted public broadcaster ERT and a few online portals. With the referendum result now known questions have been raised about election law violations.
An investigation into "violations of the electoral legislation in the way the media handled the issue of the referendum” was ordered by Athens district public prosecutor Elias Zagoraios, reported typologies.gr (July 7). Allegations surfaced last week but the prosecutor “did not intervene earlier” to avoid appearance of “an attempt to silence the press.” It is unclear whether or not the National Broadcasting Council will pursue a separate investigation. (See more about media in Greece here)
News coverage during the run-up to the referendum by privately-owned TV channels Mega TV and Skai, both sympathetic to the “yes” position, raised attention. Mega TV, reportedly, photoshopped scenes of cash-machine lines that originated from an unrelated 2012 item in Brazil. Both stations avoided coverage of rallies by “no” supporters for “technical reasons.” Employees of Skai allegedly assisted organisers of demonstrations supporting the “yes” position a day before the voting, after which SYRIZA - the political party of prime minister Alexis Tsipras - withdrew participation in Skai news broadcasts.
A bid for Russian entertainment TV broadcaster CTC Media, announced this past weekend, could end foreign investment in Russian media. As a NASDAQ traded company incorporated in the US State of Delaware CTC Media is required by law to make formal notifications of prospective major share trades. Last year the State Duma, at the request of President Vladimir Putin, passed legislation limiting foreign holdings in Russian media to 20% effective January 1st, 2016.
Russian TV broadcaster YUTV made a non-binding offer for 75% of CTC Media, reported vedomosti.run (July 6), apparently sufficient to satisfy Russian law. YUTV is principally owned by mobile telecom MegaFon principal and CEO Ivan Tavrin and billionaire Alisher Usmanov, also a MegaFon investor, owner of Kommersant and mail.ru, YUTV operates the Disney Channel in Russia. (See more about media in Russia here)
In the strongest signal yet that Modern Times Group (MTG), the largest shareholder in CTC Media, is ready to give up the fight and move on the company informed regulators it would reclassify its investment from “equity participation” to “discontinued operations.” MTG holds a 37.9% stake in CTC Media. Russian billionaire and Bank Rossiya principal Yuri Kovalchuk holds a 25.4% stake through a Cyprus shell company and the rest (36%) is freely traded. Two weeks ago CTC Media asked the Russian government for an extension on the divestment deadline.
“Our ambition is to get out completely and not be left with any ownership after the process is complete,” said MTG spokesperson Per Lorentz, quoted by Dagens Industri (July 6), who also indicated no other offers had been received.
The uncertainty has devastated CTC Media’s market value, which has fallen from US$1.8 billion to US$337 million in a year, reported Bloomberg (July 2). The YUTV bid, reported vedomosti.ru, is US$200 million. A Russian minority shareholder called the offer “simply humiliating.”
Last week Russian state broadcaster VGTRK announced the dismissal of all staff from the Russia 2 channel. President Putin gifted the channel to Gazprom-Media for an all-sports channel last month. Gazprom-Media is in “the process of evaluating employees,” said spokesperson Irina Osadchaya, quoted by vedomosti.ru (July 1). “Of course, we do not keep all employees, but most of them.” Program details of the new all-sports channel are still forthcoming.
From Last Weeks ftm Tickle File
The Serbian parliament extended this week the privatization deadline of state-owned news agency Tanjug and other media outlets, giving one and all additional time before the official procedure closes October 31st. Nearly 40 TV stations, radio stations, newspapers and news bureaus are being offered at bargain basement prices. The State Privatisation Agency published bidding floors on all assets, from €760,000 for Tanjug to €3,000 for small local radio stations.
Tanjug - Telegrafska agencija nove Jugoslavije - was first formed in 1943 as the official news agency of Yugoslavia then absorbed by the Republic of Serbia in 1995. The European Commission has made privatizing state assets a priority in European Union accession negotiations. Not being sold off are public broadcaster RTS and two newspapers. (See more about media in Serbia here)
"For the fifth year in a row Tanjug has been profitable,” said Branko Djukic, quoted by B92 (July 1). “Moreover, we’re putting a portion of the profits back to the Serbian budget and taxpayers. We have significant market revenues and a developed business.”
If no bidders arrive by the end of July individual assets will be offered to employees. Some working for local TV and radio stations are apparently ready to seize the opportunity. If there are no bidders closure is the final option. It is not clear what physical assets are involved. The tiny local radio stations employ as few as two people. Critics noted that big European broadcasters and publishers have fled Serbia in recent years due to “harassment from authorities.”
"We can handle it ourselves,” said the optimistic Mr. Djukic. “I don’t see why we wouldn’t. We are ready, in a much better position and in a much better economic environment. Everything that’s going on in Serbia makes our argument.”
About a thousand jobs will be cut at UK public broadcaster BBC over the next couple of years, said general director Tony Hall in a widely reported video message to staff (July 2). Fewer people than projected a few years ago are watching traditional TV depressing GBP 150 million (about €210 million) in license fee income by 2017. Marketing, PR, IT, HR, finance and legal departments are to be targeted, mostly the nameless, faceless middle managers.
“We've already significantly cut the costs of running the BBC, but in times of very tough choices we need to focus on what really matters - delivering outstanding programmes and content for all our audiences,” said Lord Hall. Earlier in the week youth-oriented TV channel BBC 3 was fated for online distribution only at about half the annual cost. Then, too, there are looming sports rights negotiations. (See more about the BBC here)
The current right-wing UK government, aghast at both the BBC’s enduring public support and lack of fealty from senior executives, has proposed rolling senior citizens out of license fee obligation as well as removing altogether legal recourse for non-payment. The BBC’s Royal Charter is up for parliamentary review in early 2017, scope and funding likely to change.
Legal minds have been clocking overtime in recent months sorting out the digital dividend. In a case winding its way through the European Court of Justice (ECJ) a newspaper publisher is seeking to have a website it operates declared a newspaper, or at least not falling under the jurisdiction of the EU’s Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMS). Newspapers - and radio broadcasters - have been considered “local” media for purposes of AVMS regulation, therefore exempt from the rules and paper-work.
Austrian regulator KommAustria in 2012 decided that newspaper Tiroler Tageszeitung’s website fit the description of an online audio video media service because of its video section and was, therefore, subject to AVMS regulation. Lawyers for Moser Holding, owner of the newspaper, visited the Austrian Supreme Administrative Court for relief and were sent away. The next - likely final - stop is the ECJ and its ruling in the case is expected later this year.
Ahead of that ECJ Advocate General Maciej Szpunar gave an opinion (July 1), not binding on the court but always considered a barometer of legal judgment. First, he offered that the AVMS Directive “did not intend to include internet information portals within its scope… albeit in an anachronistic manner from the point of view of today’s level of development of internet technology.” That’s because web portals with audio and video in addition to text and photos are “not the result of the technological development of television, but an entirely new phenomenon…”.
He goes on: “The fact that in theory it is difficult to come up with an abstract definition of an audiovisual media service does not… mean that in practice it will not be easy to identify such a service. The great majority of services of that kind of service offer feature-length films, television serials, sports events and the like on websites. This is therefore the kind of communication which can easily be classified as typical television communication. Uncertainties must, however, be dispelled in accordance with the purpose of the directive, so that it is not applied to multimedia websites. Therefore, the only websites to be regarded as audiovisual media services must be those which undoubtedly satisfy all the criteria of such a service.
“That does not mean, however, that content placed on the internet, including audiovisual content, cannot or must not be subject at all to regulation by law, including the provisions of EU law, on matters such as the protection of minors and public policy, advertising, or the rules on the broadcasting of important events. Those provisions must, however, be adapted to the specific characteristics of the internet, in particular to its multimedia nature.”