The new Polish government wants to abolish the license fee. Yippy? Not really. They want to fund public media via direct taxation. A step backwards? Back to the future?
Donald Tusk was finally sworn in as Prime Minister of Poland on Friday, and so was his new cabinet – mostly from Civic Platform, some from junior coalition partner PSL, plus a few unaligned ‘experts’.
How this new coalition will go is anyone’s guess. I was talking to Stanislaw Gomulka last week, the economist who worked with Leszek Balcerowicz during the ‘shock therapy’ following the demise of communism.
Gomulka was one of the names touted as possible finance minister in the new government, before it was announced that Jacek Rostowski would fill the post. Stanislaw told me that even if he had been asked – and nobody from Civic Platform had approached him – he would have turned it down: “Too much politics involved...”, was the reason for not being interested.
Civic Platform have lots of plans to reform public services – privatize parts of the health system, etc...but as Gomulka said to me – “The political reality of the coalition [PSL are essentially a centre-left group, and is there , as in France, really a consensus in the country for such a radical change?] will put a stop to much of that.”
But one of the plans they do seem to be determined to go through with is the reform of financing public radio and TV. At the moment TVP and Polske Radio are funded from the license fee, just as the BBC is in the UK (though Polish public media runs ads as well, making up 25 percent of the revenue - at least there are no commercials on BBC domestic service).
But only 40 percent actually bother to pay the license. It is a very difficult ‘tax’ to collect.
So Tusk and co. want to fund the public media via direct taxation from various ministries’ budgets.
Law and Justice (PiS), now in opposition, do not like this idea. They say that this will tie public media - funded by central government - ever closer to that government.
It’s a reasonable argument – if it wasn’t being made by PiS, who have tried to use public media as a counter weight against most of the private sector, which they see as infested by a post-commie/liberal oligarchy.
And anyway, all post-communist governments have planted ‘their people’ in the top posts of the public media. It’s the Polish way. It’s just the way things are here.
So public media will always be seen as a plaything of whatever government is in power.
PiS are also not below using the EU (Euro-sceptics, so they are) to back up their arguments, occasionally. They point out that the European Commission has recommended the license fee as the best source of revenue for public TV and radio.
New times need new finance
The European model of having a private media sector and a public one was a good one, I think. It meant that there was a large diversity in programming.
But since the media has completely changed in the last ten years, with many new channels and methods of distribution – cable, saellite, internet, mobiles – the media scene looks very different now. So maybe the old European model has to go?
Diversity in programming is no longer an issue. And that diversity will continue to grow as new technologies develop.
Maybe it’s better to just privatize large chunks of it, and have a small budget left to broadcast the types of programming that private broadcasters could never, or would never want, to fill?
Or maybe Polish governments will remain stuck on a different wavelength from the rest of us?
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Posted by beatroot at 11/18/2007