STV 'needs more independence': director general

RADIM Hreha does not have an easy job, especially not at a time when a steady stream of reporters is leaving the news department of the Slovak Television (STV) public broadcaster. The Slovak Spectator spoke to Hreha, the director general of the STV, about the quality of the institution's newscast, struggles with finances, reshuffling within the institution, and the prospect of moving Slovak Radio and the TASR newswire into the same building as the STV.

RADIM Hreha does not have an easy job, especially not at a time when a steady stream of reporters is leaving the news department of the Slovak Television (STV) public broadcaster. The Slovak Spectator spoke to Hreha, the director general of the STV, about the quality of the institution's newscast, struggles with finances, reshuffling within the institution, and the prospect of moving Slovak Radio and the TASR newswire into the same building as the STV.

This interview was given before the exodus of reporters from the STV. When asked if he wanted to update the interview in light of the recent changes, Hreha declined.

The Slovak Spectator (TSS): When you took over as the director general of the STV, you said that you wanted to change the public's attitude towards the public service broadcaster. Have you succeeded?

Radim Hreha (RH):It is too early to say whether I have succeeded. There are still problems like being financially underfed, and the STV also urgently needs more independence. I have the ambition to return the STV to its public service status. A very important thing is to find an optimal way of financing Slovak Television that would ensure enough resources for production and development.

TSS: How has the quality of the STV newscast been recently? Is the STV unbiased or not?

RH: We are not fully satisfied with the quality of the newscast. But I am sure that its content has improved since I took over. We have gradually been building a team of expert editors who specialise in certain political and social issues. We are working on improving the quality of the general content and structure of the newscast, as well as the visual side. The first noticeable changes should be evident this September.

TSS: Is it possible for a public broadcaster to maintain its independence in news reporting when it is dependent on money from the state budget?

RH: We have a code of ethics in the Slovak Television for the newscast, which we respect and check for its compliance. We reject outside interference, which leads us to search for an optimal way of financing so that the STV is not forced to succumb to lobbyist or political influence. Financial independence is a significant criterion for impartiality and objectiveness for a public service broadcaster. Public television neither has to praise the government, nor to be unjustly critical; it has to inform objectively about the government's actions.

The STV newscast has no tabloid tendencies, in contrast to commercial television stations that only cover stories that make their contents more attractive. It has room to report in a more complex way about the government's actions, which might be less interesting from the commercial point of view, but which are equally crucial and important for the development of the society.

TSS: Shortly after you were elected, you told The Slovak Spectator that you were politically independent. You have also said to other media that you will not succumb to any political pressures. Why did communications director Ivana Semjanová recently apologise to HZDS MP Katarína Tóthová for a commentary by Daniel Dangl, who commented on archive photographs of the authors of the country's constitution by saying, "They carry the constitution with due ceremoniousness, without any idea that in a short time, it will have about as much weight as a gardeners' manual, or better yet, the Kama Sutra"? The STV sent a letter saying, "Dear Mrs. Tóthová, We are very sorry that the commentary concerning historical materials in the Hit of the Century programme aroused your outrage, and please accept our apology".

RH: I know this response, of course. I do not want the STV to be judged by this particular case. The letter to MP Tóthová was an answer to her as the co-author of the Slovak constitution, and not an answer to a political party.

TSS: Roman Lipták, the former executive director of the STV who had been considered your closest associate, has left the STV. What were his reasons for leaving?

RH: It was his personal decision. We parted professionally. Lipták played a crucial role in me establishing myself as the general manager, which I have always appreciated.

TSS: Lipták was replaced by Mária Sedláková from the private TV JOJ, which ran commercial programmes like A Million-Crown Girl and A Million-Crown Dance. Do you think Sedláková can fully replace Lipták?

RH: I am convinced, otherwise I would not have offered her the position.

TSS: Pavel Bob has left the post of manager of the Slovensko 1 Channel, called Jednotka STV, after a couple of months of serving. Sedláková has been filling in since August 1. Why did he leave? Does this not mean that the STV lacks stability?

RH: The current management and Pavel Bob differed over their opinions about the STV programming strategy. Bob decided to leave on August 1 based on a mutual agreement. However, this does not mean that the STV lacks stability. There are managers with excellent career backgrounds.

TSS: What is the relationship between the STV and the STV Council? Is it right that the STV Council can interfere in the programming structure?

RH: The STV Council is a control body, thus they have the right to address all the issues regarding STV activities. It can interfere in the programming structure only in a way that is comparable to similar bodies abroad. The trouble, however, is an unusual element of the STV Act - the fact that the council approves the organisational structure of the STV. This is strictly a managerial decision and the STV Council can directly interfere in the management of an institution, which is a highly non-standard position for a team control body.

Administrative proceedings are slowing down the reforms that the whole institution needs. I will try to convince the Slovak MPs to pass a bill on the STV that would separate the powers of the STV Council from those of its management. Undoubtedly, this would contribute to the effective management of the STV.

TSS: What is the current economic state of the STV? What changes have you made to operate the broadcaster more economically?

RH: We found several possible ways of saving funds, especially in operational costs, and we implemented the savings immediately. Unfortunately, we do not have the ability to "put aside" the money we save into activities that have been neglected. In fact, we have saved Sk6 million (€178,164) by abolishing outdated communication technologies and immediately invested in a better internet connection, since the technical conditions of the STV do not correspond with the important role of a modern public broadcaster.

TSS: Have you been losing or gaining viewers since you took over?

RH: In the second quarter of 2007 we were ranked second on the market. During prime time, we had an average market share of 19.9 percent at Jednotka, and the daytime share was 17.7 percent on average. Hit of the Century brought us an above-average audience on Friday evenings.

The number of viewers is not the main criterion of the quality of a public medium. But we do still sell advertisements, so we do not want the numbers to fall below certain limits.

TSS: The Culture Ministry has proposed that the STV, Slovak Radio (SRo), and the state-run TASR press agency should be based in the same building. Can you imagine, for example, TASR moving into the high-rise building where the STV is now located?

RH: The ideal solution would be to build a joint media complex for the STV and the SRo with new equipment. However, this will probably not be possible because of financial reasons.

But I could see a shared building for the STV and SRo in Mlynská Dolina, due to the reconstruction of the STV building and the need to complete technological buildings for the SRo, as quite feasible. The resources could be put together by the sale of the SRo building.

TSS: There is new legislation about the monthly broadcast license fees that stipulates that a new limited liability company should collect the license fees. The company will be founded by the STV and Slovak Radio and also financed by them. Will the new bill benefit the STV?

RH: In any case, it will help the STV raise its resources to about Sk300 million to Sk350 million (€8.9 million to €10.4 million) annually. It will not solve the STV's problems, however.

The main trouble is that based on two unrelated calculations STV needs at least Sk1 billion (€29.7 million) more in order to fulfill its mandate. The bill just solves one part of the problem.

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