Like an old football, the privatization of Slovakia's second state-owned television channel, STV2, is being tossed around again.
President Michal Kováč rejected Parliament's attempt to revive an old broadcast law that would semi-privatize STV2, sending it back to the chamber on October 11 for "re-discussion." The amendments to a three-year-old broadcasting rights law would convert STV2 from a "terrestrial" (ground-transmitted) channel to a satellite channel next year. In an October 14 press release, the president's office said the law was vetoed because a satellite channel would reach only a small part of the Slovak TV audience. "Only viewers with satellite or cable receivers would be able to view the new station," read the official statement.
Partly obscured by the technological debate, however, is the licensing of STV2 to a private company. Article III of the "returned" measure - known as Law 166 - would license STV2 to a private satellite broadcaster as of January 1, but on the premise that the private station share the same frequency with state-run STV for 12 hours of each broadcast day. In effect, STV2's public programs would remain on the air from 5 a.m to 5 p.m., while the private station would pick up the remaining slot from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m.
"Crazy," scoffed Ján Izák, general director of Slovakia's first private station, Vaša Televízia (VTV). "Such a model exists nowhere in the world. It's totally out of touch with the present market." The Radio and Television Broadcasting Council apparently agrees, proposing that STV2 continue terrestrial broadcasting until December 1998. Grujbarová said the current 25- to 30-percent share of the Slovak audience with access to satellite transmission is too small to support a new satellite channel. In her view, two more years would not only raise that percentage to 50 percent, but would allow STV to recover from the defection of its technical, entertainment and administrative staff to TV Markíza's shiny $34 million Sk studio.
Grujbarová also said that the Council had as yet received "no requests, [either] official or unofficial, to license STV2." The reason? "Because nobody wants to share 24 hours of broadcasting with a public station."
STV2's possible privatization would introduce a third private station to the Slovak TV market. TV-Markíza's quick emergence as the enfant terrible of the TV market, with a growing 46 percent share of the Slovak audience, constitutes the greatest threat to a third private station. Grujbarová thinks Law 166 should be altered to reflect that fact. "The market now has two private broadcasters, and we do not believe it can support a third," Grujbarová told The Slovak Spectator.
Katarína Vajdová, the director of Bratislava's Center for Independent Journalism, disagreed. "I don't think the [ratings] figures for Markíza will last forever. I believe that if there is privatization of STV2, Markíza will lose [a great deal of its ratings percentage] to whoever runs STV2, because STV2 has better technical support and a bigger physical audience. I can say positively that [whoever is licensed to broadcast on STV2] will provide programming to 78 percent of the Slovak TV market."
Jozef Heriban, TV-Markíza's public relations director, estimates an even higher percentage. "I think STV2 has the capacity to broadcast to 85 percent of the Slovak Republic," Heriban told The Slovak Spectator. "Before [Markíza] started, we said we would target 60 percent of that audience, perhaps more. It will be very big competition."
Another issue complicating STV2's possible privatization is the debate over whether a public station will be able to garner advertising. "Now the European Union wants to stop public TV from raising revenue from advertising," Grujbarová said. "So there's no guarantee how much advertising STV can drum up [in the future], or how much funding the station will get."
Vajdová believes the situation calls for stronger medicine. She insists that deputies should concentrate on revising Law 468 to specify precisely under what circumstances it is legal to broadcast private programs on a public frequency, and drop all other measures, such as Law 166.
Back to the drawing board
However, Grujbarová is preparing for Parliament to press on, meaning that the Council will start the process of licensing STV2. "When the law is passed," Grujbarová said, "we will announce a competition to license the new station."
It won't be the first time. The Council approved three private applicants to license STV2 in 1992 and 1993: Mac-TV in Košice, a Slovak company called ESPE, and a Swedish broadcast company called Kinnevik - only to see each one sent packing by Parliament. "If you consider all these things," Grujbarová said, "it will probably take anywhere from 18 to 24 months - even if we started today - to issue the license."
23. Oct 1996 at 0:00 | Tom Reynolds