PRIVATE MEDIA AT ONE TABLE: THE MAJOR AMENDMENT WILL DAMAGE THE WHOLE MARKET
Representatives of Czech private media gathered for the first time at a joint press conference. They are appealing to the Minister of Culture over the draft of a major Media Amendment.
Representatives of the private media sector are calling on the Minister of Culture to first discuss the role of the public media service before making changes to the draft of the so-called major media amendment. Without the discussion, it is impossible to specify how much funding Česká televize (Czech Television) and Český rozhlas (Czech Radio) need for their activities. This is the result of a joint press conference, which for the first time brought together representatives of all the main domestic private media professional associations across media types.
Specifically, the following organisations were represented: the Association of Commercial Television (AKTV) whose members include TV Nova and TV Prima, the Union of Publishers on behalf of press publishers, the Association of Private Broadcasters (APSV) representing commercial radio companies, the Internet Development Association (SPIR) and the Association of Online Publishers (AOV) representing online media operators.
They stressed that they were in favour of preserving public service media in the Czech media environment but were surprised by the way Culture Minister Martin Baxa (ODS) approached the drafting of the amendment. Therefore, they again called on him to revise the amendment.
According to Prima’s CEO, Marek Singer, representatives of the commercial sector have already used all options to enter a debate with the Ministry of Culture on the wording of the laws. “This statement of the private media is an ‘emergency brake’. We firmly believe that this is a public appeal, it should be of interest to the Election Committee and the Parliament,” he said.
Representatives of private media did not want to specify their ideas on the amount of the fees. They stressed that the setting of the fees must be based on the definition of the current role of the public service. They do not want advertising money for the private and public sectors to be mixed and therefore oppose advertising and sponsorship on ČT.
WHAT WAS SAID AT THE JOINT PRESS CONFERENCE
Marek Singer, CEO of TV Prima
- It is not true that the commercial television companies were consulted about the amendment. That would have been the correct process. Moreover, there is a successful precedent - the amendment to the Audiovisual Act.
- The proposed amendment will affect all commercial media. It poses a risk in terms of European law. The absolute lack of specification of what the money should be used for may raise concerns about unauthorised public aid.
- We have heard from Petr Dvořák, former CEO of ČT, for many years that he needs about CZK 300 to 500 million more. However, in a few months, this is an extra CZK 1.5 billion, without specifying what the money will be used for. You cannot write a blank cheque and then wait to see what it is spent on. Now is the time to discuss the role of the public service media.
Daniel Grunt, CEO of TV Nova
- It is not true that the increase in fees makes up for the situation where there has been no increase in fees since 2008. Commercial television was hit hard by the economic recession in 2009 when the entire advertising market fell by one-third and it has lasted almost until now while ČT has operated with a generous pre-crisis budget.
- The new definition of a licence fee payer introduces a mobile phone tax. This may be addressed more elegantly through a specific approach to the iVysílání online service, which is also something ČT’s new CEO wants to do.
- There is a real fear of destabilising the entire media market. ČT operates with a relatively significant production budget. Any increase in the budget will restrict production capacity, substantially increasing the prices of all production activities.
- We perceive the preservation of advertising and sponsorship on Czech Television as problematic.
Jiří Hrabák, CEO of Rádio Impuls, Radio Section of APSV
- Czech Radio’s revenues are now double those of the entire private radio market, while the reach of listeners attributable to Czech Radio and the private sector is 27% and 73%, respectively. This shows the economic ratio in the whole radio broadcasting.
- We are not declaring war on public radio. It is more of a fight with a certain arrogance of the Ministry of Culture. A year ago, Minister Baxa stated emphatically that the licence fee would not be increased, and after a year he changed his mind without giving any justification. We have not seen any economic analysis or information on what the money is to be used for. The process should have been the other way around.
- In 2023/2024 it is time for the public service debate to begin in the Czech Republic. The public service media has a role to play in our space, but we need to look again at what role it should play, and we need to see if we can specify what public service is. What resources they are supposed to use, and how many programmes they are supposed to have. There is also the issue of competition. In radio, it is manifested in competition for listeners, we also compete for advertising (in limited quantities), and we are together in the labour market, which we have felt more intensively in recent years. We are in the same job market as the public media. With the estimated increase of CZK 600 million in ČRo’s budget, we have no chance to compete for any job position. Secondarily, we also compete in the marketing and media partnership market.
Daniel Sedláček, CEO of Media Bohemia
- In terms of overall market share, our media group is similar to Czech Radio; we have 300 to 400 people, half of whom are salespeople, which ČRo does not have. The discussion about the increase should have been preceded by an audit of the financial management system. We achieve the same share as ČRo with 20% of the staff and 20% of the costs. One has to ask, is the service delivered by ČRo so valuable and different from the service we provide?
- The transposition of the German media law also deals with the financial management of public service media and stipulates that the same thing should not be produced at a much higher cost. This should concern us before the question of fee increases is raised.
- For me, the amendment is a call from the public service media: give us money, we don’t know what for yet, but we want to keep our influence. The media market is changing, mobile phones are not involved by chance, but my children have never tuned into ČT or ČRo on them.
Michal Hanák, Chairman of the Executive Board of SPIR, Vice-Chairman of the Board of Directors of Mafra
- The amendment also fundamentally affects online, which the ministry probably does not think. Licence fees were originally created to help with the dissemination of a specific programme in a limited environment. However, the online environment is not like that at all. In the free market, we find public service media competing with us not only for listeners or viewers but also for staff and advertising revenue.
- We are concerned that the amendment expands exemptions for online advertising and does not attempt to define what the money will be used for. ČT also produces online content that is not delivered in linear broadcasting but is only used on the internet. Unequal competition deserves professional discussion, it is not a philippic against Czech Television and Czech Radio. We wish to have a confident public service media, but presenting bills in secret does not help.
Libuše Šmuclerová, Chairwoman of the Board of Directors of the Union of Publishers, Chairwoman of the Board of Directors of CNC
- None of us can remember a lineup across media types coming together at one table. Numerous reasons for this are common to all of us. None of us want to question the role of the public service media in any way but the amendment on the table has a number of flaws. The role of ČT and ČRo is treated very narrowly in the draft amendment but in fact, it has implications in other sectors. It is not just about linear or terrestrial broadcasting but also about online.
- If we want ČT and ČRo to be good managers, there must be a discussion about what the requirements are for public service media in a given media type. As no requirements have been defined, they cannot be specifically fulfilled. What is the concept that we are going to implement? What are the requirements and concepts?
- The third question is what the public service media will use the funding for. The standard lawmaker should look at the whole market, which has not happened. That is why we want there to be a debate and we want limits to be set and basic obligations to be imposed on the public service media.
Ondřej Neumann, Association of Online Publishers, Editor-in-chief of Hlídací pes.org
- The expansion of ČT and ČRo into online platforms is a potential risk and a big warning for the future. On the internet, both public service media are producing specific programming, competing with us and displacing us. There is a need to define what a public service is and how much it is needed on the internet. Media pluralism must be preserved.
You can read the full text of the joint statement of the private media organisations in the file below.
The major media amendment includes the proposed changes to the Act on Czech Television, the Act on Czech Radio, and the Act on Radio and Television Fee, which aim to increase the television and radio fees to CZK 160 per month for Czech Television and CZK 55 per month for Czech Radio. The proposed changes also include a new definition of the licence fee payer and the application of the fee to users of smartphones or other devices for receiving content. Last week, the inter-ministerial comment procedure on the amendments to the Acts on Czech Television, Czech Radio and Licence Fees ended, and after its settlement, the proposal will go to the government and the Chamber of Deputies.
Professional associations have already taken a negative stance on the draft amendment after it was announced. Shortly after the announcement of the draft amendment at the beginning of September, the Association of Commercial Television (AKTV) said it was demanding its withdrawal from the legislative process. AKTV said that it was unacceptable that it had not been invited to the discussions on the wording of the amendment and that in its current version, the draft undermined the stability of the media sector. The professional associations including the Union of Publishers, SPIR and APSV, representing the private radio sector, have also joined the calls for withdrawal. The Association of Online Publishers (AOV) adds that in view of the new European Media Freedom Act, it demands that conditions be created for the functioning of a pluralistic media market and that fair conditions of competition be set in the online environment.
The press conference can be viewed here.