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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 notice...in a shorter, more informal format.

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Week of March 20, 2017

TV talent show producers at odds with contestants
a long time since Waterloo

Each year in living memory as spring blooms turn to full summer foliage comes the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC). It pre-dates TV talent competition shows by a generation. It is a ritual. It attracts about 200 million worldwide viewers, some in Australia. Another ritual, in recent years, is a bit of controversy.

This year’s ESC will be hosted in Kiev since Ukrainian singer Jamala (Susanna Jamaladinova) won last year in Stockholm. In its enduring struggle to avoid controversy, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), keeper of the ESC rules, adjudicated the final result as Australia’s entry won the jury vote and Russia’s entry won the televote. Jamala’s tune, 1944, won the total points tally, Russian representatives complaining all the way about it “offended Russia” by alluding to Stalinist mistreatment of Crimean Tatars. (See more about the Eurovision Song Contest here)

So as nationally selected contestants for the Kiev 2017 ESC were named an entry from the Russian Federation was conspicuously late. Perhaps fitting for this year’s ESC theme - Celebrate Diversity - Yulia Samoylova, wheel-chair bound, was finally selected (March 12). Some called it cynical.

In the process of a visa review Ukraine’s security services discovered Ms Samoylova had performed in Crimea since the annexation by the Russian Federation. She was then, reported Deutsche Welle (March 22), “banned from entering (Ukraine) for three years.” The EBU was "deeply disappointed,” in a statement. “We must respect the laws of the host country.”

Quick on their feet, the EBU folks offered to allow Ms Samoylova’s appearance via video link. Russian state TV Channel One said that wasn’t good enough and they wouldn’t be broadcasting any of the ESC semi-finals or finals this year and Ms Samoylova would represent Russia in 2018. EBU/ESC officials are “hopeful” of finding a solution.

Broadcaster adjusts names, cleans books, looks ahead
“still confusing media world”

Czech broadcaster CET 21, licensee of TV Nova, is changing its legal name to TV Nova. All of the company’s several channels were renamed to Nova variants in February; TV Smichov to Nova 2, TV Fanda to Nova Action, TV Telka to Nova Gold. CET 21, acronym for Central European Television for the 21st Century, is owned by Central European Media Enterprises (CME), principally owned by Time Warner.

“The change is based on the natural need to be clearer in the ever still confusing media world,” explained TV Nova managing director Klara Brachtova in a statement quoted by parabola.cz (March 20). The original TV Nova channel launched in 1992 as Czechoslovakia devolved into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Through a decade of turbulent ownership - including a landmark financial settlement with the Czech Republic - TV Nova became the country’s leading TV broadcaster and the fuse that lit CME’s expansion. (See more about media in the Czech Republic here)

The Great Recession of 2008 shook almost every media market, central and eastern Europe in particular. CME’s expansion became a liability as shares are publicly traded (CETV - NASDAQ) and principal owner Ronald Lauder sought a stable financial partner. Time Warner stepped in as a lender and shareholder, now with a controlling stake. Time Warner also brought in new management, smoothing out rough edges. CME’s 2016 net revenues, reported February 9, rose 5.3% over the previous year to US$ 638 million.

Last October Time Warner agreed to acquired by telecom giant AT&T for a cool US$ 85.4 billion. US regulatory approvals, ultimately expected, should arrive later this year. Earlier this month CME restructured (read:reduced) debt held by Time Warner and took dividend payments “off the table.” Co-chief executive Michael Del Nin said late last year, quoted by Reuters (October 24), the AT&T/Time Warner transaction would have no effect on CME.

Nasty campaign promise moves forward, publishers targeted
“with a vengence”

A campaign promise of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party to “re-polanize” the country’s media sector remains unfulfilled. Certainly public broadcasters TVP and Radio Polska have undergone a thorough conversion to state media. Other broadcasters, bound to licensing structures, rushed to ease criticism and avoid the government’s wrath. Publishers - print and online - are the last holdout.

That is likely to reach a test as a draft parliamentary bill to limit foreign ownership of media outlets is expected to be submitted this week to the Sejm’s committee on Media and Culture, reported media portal wirtualnemedia.pl (March 20). A parliamentary vote is expected by the end of June. The right-wing nationalist PiS gained legislative control in October 2015. (See more about media in Poland here)

Primary targets remain Polska Press Group, publisher of several regional titles, and Ringier Axel Springer Poland (RASP), publisher of best selling tabloid Fakt, news magazine Newsweek Polska and online news portal onet.pl. Polska Press is a subsidiary of privately owned German publisher Verlagsgruppe Passau. RASP is part of the joint venture of Swiss media house Ringier and German publisher Axel Springer.

Last week RASP president Mark Dekan published an open letter celebrating Donald Tusk’s reelection as European Council president and excoriated “primitive manipulation” by PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski. In a separate letter to employees, Mr. Dekan noted that talks about “re-polanization” have returned “with a vengence.”

State-friendly media in Poland has followed, as usual, the PiS lead, Gazeta Polska (March 14) ranting about “German occupation.” That led the Polish Journalists Society (Towarzystwo Dziennikarskie) to publish (March 16) its “Dear German Friends” open letter: “We know how embarrassing and false these lies and slander are. Although we are not responsible for this shabby propaganda campaign, which also concerns us, we would like to address to you words of apology and regret.”

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