EDITORIAL

Whither STV?

SLOVAK Television is not on its knees and it is not threatened by collapse, said Štefan Nižňanský, the general director of public broadcaster Slovak Television (STV) during an impromptu speech at the end of the state-owned network’s prime-time news broadcast recently. But the statement by Nižňanský, the 14th general director of STV since the fall of communism in 1989, served only to demonstrate how rotten the broadcaster has become.

SLOVAK Television is not on its knees and it is not threatened by collapse, said Štefan Nižňanský, the general director of public broadcaster Slovak Television (STV) during an impromptu speech at the end of the state-owned network’s prime-time news broadcast recently. But the statement by Nižňanský, the 14th general director of STV since the fall of communism in 1989, served only to demonstrate how rotten the broadcaster has become.

In his speech, Nižňanský admitted that STV has serious economic problems. According to many, that is a merciful understatement, given the fact that the network is considering killing its third channel, STV3, which is devoted mainly to sport. No mass protests for the preservation of STV3 are expected, since for many Slovaks the channel’s existence, let alone its justification, is a complete mystery. For many people, the fact that Nižňanský can still take to the screen during prime time and directly address the (dwindling) number of viewers who still watch STV’s evening news broadcast is equally mysterious.

This situation has arisen partly because it has now become routine that STV gets a new head whenever political power changes hands in Slovakia – in fact, directors have changed even more frequently than governments. Political motives remain at the root of this. But more importantly, it is because the situation in the public broadcaster is actually destined to deteriorate further unless there are some fundamental changes made to the way STV is managed.

While the constant churn at the top has done STV few favours, there is no doubt that Nižňanský has to go. A former star news anchor under communism, he should never have been appointed to the job in the first place.

Nižňanský partly blames STV’s parlous financial state to a €1.5 million shortfall in the collection of fees, which in Slovakia users of electricity must pay each month to fund STV and other state media organisations. He also says that STV assumed when it drafted its budget that the state would simply fill any holes.

Well, it won’t and Nižňanský shouldn’t really be surprised if the new government does not give him a single extra cent. Nor should he be surprised that people are simply no longer inclined to pay for STV, even if this is still required by the law and they therefore face fines if they refuse.

Far too often viewers are served half-witted comedies, shown so many times in the past that some have managed to memorise the dialogues, or re-runs of ‘humorous’ programmes from the 70s and early 80s packed with leaden ‘jokes’ that were approved by the communist censors.

It was Nižňanský who last year banned the broadcast of an investigative report about a troubled social enterprise in Bardejov which was receiving subsidies from the Labour Ministry under the management of then-minister Viera Tomanová. The report depicted an apparently non-functioning company which existed only “officially”. Nižňanský said that the news department had failed to finish the story on time.

“Some reporters are processing topics and reports superficially, unprofessionally, at the very last moment and with a tabloid undertone through which they endanger the broadcast; in many cases, they even economically damage STV,” Sme quoted Nižňanský as saying.

But the rest of the media cast doubt on whether quality concerns were the real reason why the report ended up in the STV archives rather than on the screen – especially since STV’s news reporting at the time could be called many things, but “balanced” would certainly not have been one of them.

Culture Minister Daniel Krajcer, who previously worked for private TV stations Markíza and TV JOJ, announced on October 7 that he has drawn up a solution for the “catastrophic situation” within STV.

He was forced to act by the alarming growth in STV’s debts, which now amount to perhaps €17 million; its recent loss in a court trial which has resulted in a stiff penalty; and a contract that STV has signed with the Towercom company to implement DVB-T digital terrestrial broadcasting. The “watertight” contract, which carries a price tag of almost €200 million, but Nižňanský is still claiming that it is possible to terminate it.

Though the public has yet to learn any details about how Krajcer intends to salvage the 54-year old public broadcaster – the minister said he would provide these on October 12 – it is already clear that cosmetic changes will not be enough this time. Nor will adding just another person to the army of those who have already filled the STV director’s chair.

Everybody now knows that something has gone badly wrong in public-service television. But what? STV is so vulnerable to becoming the media toy of whoever is in power because it depends on them for its funding. While trying to pick “the right director” politicians have neglected to address this fundamental problem.

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