European public broadcasters face a double threat | Voice of America


The pandemic has increased audiences for European public service media as Europeans turn to factual information, according to the professional association of broadcasters and academic studies.

Television, radio and digital channels have all flourished, especially in Western Europe.

But while the public seems to have appreciated, the continent’s public broadcasters face a double threat. Populist governments in central Europe have been or are seeking to reduce their editorial independence, turning them into official spokespersons, rights activists and journalists warn.

And in Western Europe, center-right governments are under increasing pressure from conservative lawmakers and populists to dispel public broadcasters.

FILE – Prime Minister of the Czech Republic Andrej Babis makes a statement during a media video conference at an EU summit in Brussels, Belgium, July 20, 2020.

In recent weeks, attention has focused on Czech television and criticism of the populist government of Prime Minister Andrej Babis is efforts to politicize its board of directors and undermine the broadcaster’s management team ahead of parliamentary elections. ‘October.

Last week, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), a trade association, urged Czech lawmakers to protect the independence of the country’s public broadcaster, saying Ceska Televize is “the most widely used news brand in the Republic Czech, with 60% of everyone in the country. country using the service at least once a week. ”

EBU President Delphine Ernotte Cunci and Association Director General Noel Curran noted that she also enjoys “the trust of more Czechs than any other news channel.” They based their claims on data and surveys compiled by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford.

“In recent months it has become alarmingly obvious that the government of the Czech Republic is trying to exert pressure on this independence, directly and indirectly,” they said.

FILE – An operator works in the masters room of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) in Geneva, November 13, 2007.

Last November, the broadcaster’s supervisory board – which oversees operations, appoints the broadcaster’s CEO and approves the budget – was abruptly removed. The country’s parliament voted last week on a list of new council members, all affiliated with the ruling party, ANO.

The channel’s current and besieged general manager, Petr Dvořák, told local media: “The aim is not to change one person into a leadership position, but to change the whole of Czech television, its behavior and its operation. ”

He warns that the populist plan is to officially keep the broadcaster as an independent broadcaster, but it will be done to reflect the views of the ruling party. “The same thing happened in Poland,” he added. Dvořák expects to be ousted soon.

Krzysztof Bobinski of the Society of Journalists of Poland fears that public broadcasters in 11 EU member states are at high risk of coming under the control of the ruling parties.

Bobinski urges the European Commission, the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe to work more closely together to highlight the fact that “too many EU governments are using public media to bias the public debate in their favor and thus threaten the quality of democratic processes and the rule of law. ”

The measures taken by Babis to change public broadcasting in the Czech Republic mirror actions taken elsewhere in the young democracies of Central Europe. After coming to power, the Polish Law and Justice Party cut off the wings of the country’s public network, TVP. The OSCE observation mission on the 2019 parliamentary elections in Poland noted in its report “a lack of impartiality in the media”, in particular TVP’s coverage.

FILE – The studios and headquarters of Polish Television (TVP) are seen in Warsaw, Poland, 17 May 2015.

Reporters Without Borders claims that the Polish public media “have become spokespersons for government propaganda”. The group raised similar concerns about the public media in Hungary. In the country’s 2019 elections, leaked audio tapes were revealed by editors asking reporters to favor Viktor Orban’s ruling party Fidesz in their coverage.

Populist leaders say the criticism is unfair and that public broadcasters have been the mouthpiece of the Liberals and the left for years. Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa accuses his country’s public service media of regularly broadcasting “fake news”.

FILE – Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa attends a press conference in Vienna, Austria, March 16, 2021.

He called the Slovenian news agency a “national disgrace” and said journalists working for the state broadcaster Radiotelevizija Slovenija were overpaid and spread “lies”. His government wants to change the country’s media laws so that they can increase the state’s influence over public service media.

The criticism in Central Europe by populists of public broadcasters is echoed by their Western European counterparts, who identify the public media as liberal and accuse them of being hostile towards them and of being dominated by a metropolitan mentality out of touch with it. the lives and thoughts of millions of people. ordinary Europeans, especially those living in rural and deindustrialized areas.

The German populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has been locked in a war of words for years with the country’s public broadcasters. In 2017, he went to court to try to get more airtime for his representatives, accusing broadcasters of regularly avoiding them.

Executives of German public broadcaster ZDF admitted that they often focused too much on coverage of issues and events in the country’s major metropolitan areas and failed to provide sufficient coverage of the rural east. They say it is something that they are looking to rectify.

File – The members of the crew of the German television channel ZDF dismantle their installation in Marseille, July 18, 2007.

In Britain, the ruling Tories have long had a strained and ambivalent relationship with the BBC, which they accuse of liberal bias. Libertarians are opposed in principle to the use of public funds. The BBC is largely funded by an annual TV license charged to all UK households, businesses and organizations using any type of equipment to receive or record live TV broadcasts and iPlayer catch-up.

The Conservatives pledged in 2019 to reform the BBC and review its funding. There has been a growing movement in recent years to abolish license fees, and a growing number of Britons have refused to pay them.

FILE – Pedestrians walk past a BBC logo at Broadcasting House in London, Britain January 29, 2020.

“There is no need for the BBC,” according to Alex Deane, public relations consultant and former Conservative government adviser. He says resentment towards the BBC is not based on right-wing or left-wing politics, but rather is rooted in “cultural issues and topics like Brexit and patriotism”. And he says that in the digital age there are many sources of business information and entertainment.

But BBC advocates say she is respected both in Britain and the world for her reliability, strength of journalism and impartiality, and they point out that in times of crisis she is the source preferred information of the British compared to its commercial rivals.

Ninety-three percent of the British population listened to BBC television or radio during the first two weeks of the 2003 Iraq war, according to polls. At the start of the pandemic in March 2020, when British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the start of new strict coronavirus restrictions, more than 15 million viewers watched BBC coverage, double the number of those who have turned to commercial rivals.


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