State to shut back door to broadcasting licence

In an attempt to limit just anyone with money from being able to buy and operate a television or radio station, parliamentary deputies have decided to amend the state legislation which regulates who can purchase and operate electronic media.
The impetus for the legislation change was the April sale of the troubled VTV Cable television to the previously unknown Satel Media company. By purchasing the station, Satel became the owner of not only the VTV name, but also its right to broadcast, a license which generally takes months and many mid-stream approvals to receive. VTV's competitors and some politicians charged that it could be dangerous to simply hand over the license along with the station.


Due to a loophole, the new owner of VTV, Satel Media, has the right to broadcast without going through any licensing procedures.
photo: TASR

In an attempt to limit just anyone with money from being able to buy and operate a television or radio station, parliamentary deputies have decided to amend the state legislation which regulates who can purchase and operate electronic media.

The impetus for the legislation change was the April sale of the troubled VTV Cable television to the previously unknown Satel Media company. By purchasing the station, Satel became the owner of not only the VTV name, but also its right to broadcast, a license which generally takes months and many mid-stream approvals to receive. VTV's competitors and some politicians charged that it could be dangerous to simply hand over the license along with the station.

"With such legal tricks [of the VTV and Satel Media], the license could slip into anyone's hand, and it will go on this way until fair laws are passed," said Andrej Hryc, President of the Association of Independent Television and Radio Stations.

As it was in accordance with current law, the Council for Radio and Television Broadcasting accepted the Satel buy of the VTV Cable Television license on May 26. But plans are now in process to legally un-couple the license from the broadcasting company which owns it, thus requiring that anyone who buys a station must still go through an approval process before being allowed on the air.

The issue, said the reformers of the law, is particularly important when dealing with cases like VTV, which was deeply in debt at the time of its sale. Amending the law will help prevent owners of current media companies from purposely tunnelling, or bankrupting their own company in the knowledge that they can then profit anyway by selling the license to someone else.

"This amendment is designed to secure that the companies that operate radio or television stations are not being tunnelled on purpose," said Jirko Malchárek for the Party of Civic Reconciliation (SOP), one of the initiators of the amendment.

The new norm, the creators say, guarantees that the licence be a non-transferable state property and would only be leased to companies which proved the ability to operate the station through tender. It was approved for the second reading on June 9, and might still face some additional revisions, said Peter Juráš, the media council chairman.

Satel Media, gained VTV's license buying one of the station's numerous unpaid debts worth 60 million crowns for a cut-rate 20 million. VTV ended last year with the debt of 1.3 billion Slovak crowns.

VTV's former ownership links have been criticized by the public and politicians for serving as propaganda tool for the previous government of former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar. While managed by Vladimír Poór, Trnava-based businessman and Mečiar's ally, the station fell into heavy debt and faced copyright charges filed by the National Center for Audiovisual Arts.

Satel Media owner Tatiana Heldová said that the VTV would be a TV station of a universal nature with balanced and objective news reporting. On December 1, 1999, however, Heldová intends to launch a modified program structure and gradually shape a "completely new television with a new name and a new image."

She admitted that due to the former management, VTV had the worst position among media for its bad reputation in the eyes of the advertisers. She said she was convinced, however, that by the end of 1999, VTV would become Slovakia's leading television station in both advertising and viewership. VTV would also like to increase its coverage area "with help from Telenor [a Norwegian telecommunication firm], which provides us with the signal," and foreign investors, she said.

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