ON SEPTEMBER 3, the government approved legislation on September 3 that will enable the publicly owned Slovak Television (STV) to engage in profit-earning business activities, despite strong opposition from the Culture Ministry.
The draft amendment to the STV Act, put forward by a group of six coalition MPs, still must be approved by the parliament to become valid law. STV director Richard Rybníček stands behind the initiative.
"The cabinet has understood my arguments," said MP for the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) Tomáš Galbavý, a co-sponsor of the legislation, for the Hospodárske noviny daily.
"The aim is to enable this public institution to create its own financial resources, so that it doesn't have to ask for money from the state budget or increase fees," he said.
"Due to the fact that we decided not to ask for donations from the state budget, STV should be financed exclusively from concessionary fees and income from advertisements, or business," said Branislav Záhradník, PR manager for STV.
The deeply indebted STV has until now been dependant on financial aid from the budget for survival.
Critics say they are not against STV earning its own money. However, they call for more transparency.
"We are not against STV doing business, but we want there to be a clear framework in which it is done," said Zuzana Mistríková, head of the media and audio-visual section at the Culture Ministry, for the daily Národná Obroda.
Mistríková has also pointed out that it is unacceptable for STV to use fees collected from viewers and the state property it administers for business purposes. She has also called for legal restrictions on the scope of profit-oriented activities that STV can carry out. The currently discussed legislation does not impose such limitations.
The current legislation says that STV can engage in business activities only with permission from the Finance Ministry and may not establish, own, or co-own any corporations.
However, the MPs that put the draft legislation forward claim in their position paper on the proposal that it would be "more efficient and economically advantageous" if some of STV's activities were done by "external specialized corporations".
The legislators have named three such activities.
Firstly, they cite the collection of concessionary user fees, paid by households and companies that own TV sets. There are around 1.2 million concessionaires, who each have to pay a fee of Sk100 (€2.4) per month. The fees are currently being collected by the Slovak Post.
"Even though the currently valid Act on Concessionary User Fees enables STV to conclude an agreement with a corporation that will collect the fees, it is in STV's interest to have control over the company and a share in its profits, [which could be achieved] through holding shares in the company," reads the MP's position paper.
The second field is market surveys using so-called peoplemeters, gadgets that plug into regular television sets and transmit data to market researchers on what programmes are being watched. Data gathered from a representative sample of a given population are then used to compile viewer ratings, which influence programming and advertising decisions.
The Association of Media Advertising Agencies, STV, and the private television stations TA3, Joj, and Markíza agreed earlier this year to form a single measuring system, operated by the market-research agency Taylor Nelson Sofres (TNS).
In order for the system to work well, a "corporation in which every relevant Slovak television station holds a stake" needs to be created, according to the position paper.
"The results of the measurements will no doubt give STV viewer feedback, which will make it possible to improve the quality of the broadcast and thus help fulfil STV's main role," the authors of the draft wrote.
In a position paper prepared by the Culture Ministry, the ministry argues that STV already has the ability to fund the project - by asking the Finance Ministry for permission to use its advertisement earnings.
The third argument in favour of the proposed legislative changes is the need to find more efficient ways of selling advertising time on STV.
"Experience shows that it is wise to let a specialized profit-oriented corporation do this activity, as it provides the ability to compete on the advertising market," reads the position paper.
The Culture Ministry is now working on a new draft law on STV, which it says will thoroughly deal with the television's problems.
"We have taken a negative stand [on the proposed amendment], mainly due to the fact that the government is set to debate a complex new law on STV in two weeks time," Mistríková said.
If the parliament approves the amendment the government passed on September 3, it will only stay in place until a new law on STV becomes valid.
15. Sep 2003 at 0:00 | Lukáš Fila