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Markíza Gen. Dir. Pavol Rusko: "In the privatization of STV2, Markíza will not get hurt"

When, on March 7, The Slovak Spectator hosted "Spectrum Live," its fourth in the "Debates for Democracy" series, the live audience was scheduled to see the directors of Slovakia's three leading television stations discuss the future of their industry.The evening's structure changed just two days before the event when two of the men who had agreed to participate, STV General Director Igor Kubiš and VTV Managing Director Vladislav Kríž, withdrew from the program.
What resulted was a lively, at times fiery, discussion in which TV Markíza General Director Pavol Rusko alone fielded questions from the audience and a panel of journalists, including Marián Leško from the daily Sme, Pavel Hapák from the monthly Stratégie, and Eva Babitzová from the weekly Trend. Anna Vargová from Radio Twist moderated the discussion.


Daniel Borský

When, on March 7, The Slovak Spectator hosted "Spectrum Live," its fourth in the "Debates for Democracy" series, the live audience was scheduled to see the directors of Slovakia's three leading television stations discuss the future of their industry.The evening's structure changed just two days before the event when two of the men who had agreed to participate, STV General Director Igor Kubiš and VTV Managing Director Vladislav Kríž, withdrew from the program.

What resulted was a lively, at times fiery, discussion in which TV Markíza General Director Pavol Rusko alone fielded questions from the audience and a panel of journalists, including Marián Leško from the daily Sme, Pavel Hapák from the monthly Stratégie, and Eva Babitzová from the weekly Trend. Anna Vargová from Radio Twist moderated the discussion.

Sponsoring the event were AJ Ozap, AIT travel agency, Trend, and Radio Twist.

Leško: According to a recent public opinion survey, Markíza is trusted by 20 percent more people than STV. It is independent, it has high viewer ratings, it is trustworthy. Why is it so submissive? What I mean is that a certain unnamed politician mentioned to one of your reporters that "someone could get a punch," which appeared in the US weekly magazine Newsweek. For you, it wasn't worth broadcasting.

A government bureaucrat writes you a letter, and you follow his orders. Margita can remain Figuli (Margita Figuli - a 19th century Slovak writer) but Andrea cannot remain Vadkerti (an anchorwoman on Markíza's news changed her name to Vadkertiová, adding the ending "-ová," which is the correct version of a feminine surname according to official grammar books, and therefore in line with the State Language Law). So, I ask again. Why does Markíza behave in such a submissive way?

Rusko: Every enterprise and especially television has to respect the environment in which it works. Our television station has its mission, strategic objectives and an overall strategy of existence in this environment. As you correctly mentioned, we are independent, and we have our own way of work. We decided not to broadcast the footage you mentioned. I understand the people who say that it was not the right decision. But I think it was, maybe because I have more information than you do. Please, accept it as our own decision.

Regarding the name Vadkerti. Actually, Andrea benefited from the whole case concerning "-ová" endings. We knew why we had to make the decision, there was no order. I wanted it to be this way, and we reached an agreement. If Andrea had insisted on "Vadkerti," I think we would have discussed it, and maybe decided otherwise. If I say that we live in this country and respect its laws, that doesn't mean that Markíza tries to... well, you know what. Markíza doesn't do that. It decided to do what was good and right regarding the situation, and I think that's what really happened.

Leško: But, if I look at this as a TV viewer, as a citizen, and from my point of view the news department did not broadcast the things it should have broadcasted, because of some pre-selection. And regarding the case of Ms. Vadkerti, the law has its force, but the human, civic right to one's own name is above any law. Simply, if you back off on these issues, how can the viewer be sure that you will not step back on more important matters?

Rusko: If we were to back off on more important matters, the viewers would recognize it immediately, we would lose our market position, our trustworthiness and our good name. That's decisive. It is your personal opinion, when you say "you didn't broadcast something important." It's your right to have this opinion, but please do not force us to have the same view.

Hapák: Why do you consider the limitations of our TV market so important regarding a decision on the next private TV license holder? On the other hand, what would be the influence on the market if another entity entered it that didn't depend on bringing in income from this market for some years?


Daniel Borský

Rusko: Let's count: the TV advertising market for 1997 should be one-third larger compared to 1996. Last year it was Sk 950 million ($31 million). We suppose that in 1998 there will be Sk 1.6 billion ($53 million) available, that's if we count on a 30 percent increase of the advertising market. Subtract the margins for agencies, and there remains Sk 1.3 billion ($43 million) for Markíza, and also VTV. From Sk 1.3 billion we subtract the amount needed for Markíza, that's Sk 750 - 800 million. STV already claims that it needs to increase license fees. But that's not in order to obtain more money for programs. STV needs to increase the fees to cover the losses caused by the fact that Markíza broadcasts here.

So, if we increase license fees, then we could - with difficulties, but probably could - come close to STV's budget, which is Sk 1.4 billion. Today the license fee is 50 Sk, so let's count on Sk 500 million ($16.6 million). If they double it, then it would be approximately a billion, and 400 million is again lost somewhere. It will be either covered by the state budget or advertising. If STV wants to have more than the budgeted Sk 1.4 billion, it needs to have advertising. That would mean the following: 800 milion for Markíza, and 250-300 milion for STV. I cannot foresee any possibility - not taking into account VTV - how another TV company would be able to feed on this cake by 2002.

On top of that, we must keep in mind that there is a billion crown ($33 million) entry fee, which must be returned within five years. If we need Sk 700-800 million in order to exist, plus savings to return the entry capital, that makes it a net Sk 900 million, which means a gross of 1 billion crowns. This country needs one good commercial station rather than three bad ones. That wouldn't be any good. If you want to have a good commercial station, it must earn money, because it needs to purchase things. It must return the investment and buy new programs, invest tens, hundreds of millions into production of its own films, into dubbing, into programs. So, a TV station needs one billion, objectively.

That's why we say that it's adventurous to privatize STV 2. Or, in other words, I don't believe that anyone has calculated that after privatizing STV 2, there would be an influx of investment which would bring the needed billion, and there will not be any need to return it. For the time being I do not believe that anyone is thinking this way. But I have not totally excluded that possibility.

Babitzová: You keep defending your standpoint that Markíza without competition in a commercial environment is the only possibility of a dual TV broadcasting system in Slovakia. However, if there is no comparable entity, and you are strictly against it, how can you call this a dual system? That's where duality in Slovakia ends.

Rusko: The principle of a dual system is not that there are two or more commercial TV stations. The principle is that there is an alternative to state TV. Anyway, there is another TV station here, VTV, which has a lot to return to this country, so it should get down to work. In the same instant that you privatize STV 2, you write off all debts that exist there. So, you can be sure that they would never give it back.

There is also TV Sever, which is in an unclear position, and which has the potential for extensive coverage. What is the state's media policy there? Is the intention to prefer local TV stations, such as TV Naša in Bratislava, owned by Ľubo Belák? How would that TV station be financed? We have - not us personally, but the people in charge - an unclear media policy regarding the development of the wavelength spectrum. And if this is not clear, well then how can anyone plan a viable policy?

I do not believe that the privatization of STV 2 was called for on the basis of any analysis, careful thinking, or studies. And that is a very serious thing - regarding such a serious step as the privatization of STV 2 - and very sensitive, and someone should bear responsibility for this decision.

Leško: You know quite well that the tender for STV 2 is a purely political case, in which the winners have already been chosen - Pro TV, so, you are dealing with premiere league privatizers like Mr. Ondruš, Trel etc., and it is not possible to stop this privatization steamer by this discussion.

You know very well that this thing with STV 2 is a fraud, it ~s the media robbery of the century, and it has wider social, civic relevance. My question is: regarding Markíza and its commercial interests. You present strong civic attributes. If Markíza is not concerned with these attributes, are they not mandatory anymore, Mr. Director?

Rusko: Nothing is mandatory. It is important. You keep saying that the people concerned with programs that we decided not to broadcast are preparing something that will directly hurt the interests of Markíza. Everything is evolving, our views and our opinions. And they will keep evolving. But regarding what you said, I am not so naive as to suppose that by this discussion we would be able to stop what you called a privatization steamer. I still believe that in the privatization of STV 2, Markíza will not get hurt.

If we were to back off on more important matters, the viewers would recognize it immediately, we would lose our market position, our trustworthiness and our good name.

This country needs one good commercial station rather than three bad ones. That wouldn't be any good. If you want to have a good commercial station, it must earn money, because it needs to purchase things.

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