2011 promises to become one of the most revolutionary years for Slovakia's public-service broadcasters. Slovak Television (STV) and Slovak Radio (SRo) will merge into a local media colossus called Radio and Television of Slovakia (RTS) after parliament approved legislation creating the merger that was prepared by Culture Minister Daniel Krajcer to resolve what he called a catastrophic financial situation within STV.
Two familiar landmarks of the Slovak capital, the inverted pyramid that is home to SRo and the high-rise headquarters of STV in Mlynská Dolina will eventually lose their current residents as the institutions are expected to move into shared facilities.
Krajcer’s plan, which was backed by 77 MPs, was criticised by those who are concerned that merging the financially troubled STV with the relatively healthy SRo will cause infection of the public-service radio stations under SRo’s wing. Media experts, however, have stated that the situation in STV had become untenable and had called for some kind of action, though some would have preferred a much slower pace. The merger is set for January 1.
Krajcer of the Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party had argued earlier this year that the model of placing public-service television and radio broadcasters under one roof exists in about 43 countries while in 14 countries the two are kept separate.
“It is a non-standard solution, given its speed, but it is a move which at the same time includes some of the conceptual changes I have been working on for a longer time,” Krajcer said.
On November 30, Krajcer stated that the legislation is not designed to reform the public-service media from scratch but only to provide it with a basic legal framework, the TASR newswire reported.
Krajcer’s legislation has a stated goal of saving €1.6 million annually. However, the overall debt of STV for next year is expected to reach €36 million.
The legislation approved by parliament designates a new RTS director-general with a monthly salary of about €6,700 who will be selected by parliament, in contrast to the current system in which the television broadcaster’s manager is appointed and may only be recalled by the STV Council, its supervisory body.
Until parliament selects the new manager, RTS will be led by Miloslava Zemková, the current director-general of SRo.
Actions by Štefan Nižňanský, STV’s current director-general, evoked concern among some media professionals and even though Krajcer stressed earlier this year that the merger is not about removing Nižňanský from his position, the parties of the ruling coalition have never hidden their negativity towards Nižňanský’s management.
Representatives of other Slovak media outlets have speculated that the public-service television broadcaster was on the verge of collapse.
The Slovak parliament is expected to elect the new RTS director in February 2011.
The new director will face the gargantuan task of improving the financial basis of the combined public broadcaster which, as of 2012, will no longer receive the so-called concessionary fees paid by all electricity consumers in Slovakia.
Instead, the new combined broadcaster will receive a direct allocation from the state budget.
Slovak Radio's broadcasts will be reduced from its current six channels to four and STV's channels will be reduced from three to two.
Former culture minister Marek Maďarič of the Smer party told STV that he views the legislation as an attempt by the ruling coalition to bring all public-service media under its political control.
But in a somewhat surprising move, almost all the MPs from the other opposition party, the Slovak National Party (SNS), voted for the legislation.
Several representatives of the ruling coalition partners have also raised concerns about the law. Béla Bugár and his Most-Híd party called on Krajcer to preserve special broadcasts in the languages of minorities.
According to the Sme daily, László Nagy of Most-Híd stated that it is unimaginable that a 15-percent minority population in Slovakia does not have even 15 minutes of television broadcasts each day in its mother tongue.
MPs from the ruling coalition’s Civic Conservative Party (OKS), who were elected in the June parliamentary election under the banner of Most-Híd, did not attend the voting. They expressed doubts about the likelihood of the merger resolving the television broadcaster's financial problems.
Krajcer’s immediate predecessor, Maďarič, had also toyed with the idea of creating a merged public-service media group which would also have included the state-owned TASR newswire. At that time Maďarič faced extensive criticism, with opponents suggesting that such a move would have put public-service media under much tighter government control.
6. Dec 2010 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová