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TELECOMUNICATIONS ACTS AND LAWS OF FRY AND REPUBLIC SERBIA

THE ROLE AND FUNCTIONING OF PUBLIC SERVICE BROADCASTING IN DENMARK
by Jorgen Flindt Pedersen, former Managing Director of TV2, Denmark

The main tendencies in Danish attitudes to the electronic media over the years have been to protect our national institutions against foreign competition with the purpose of enhancing Danish cultural values.

This policy was enacted from the very beginning, when radio started nearly 80 years ago with the foundation of DANMARKS RADIO as a public institution with a monopoly on wireless broadcasting.

And this policy is still very strong in the new media landscape of today with analogue and digital broadcasting.

But – to be correct – I have to say that it is not undisputed and a big share of the present members of parliament have more liberal viewpoints and are pushing for more deregulation. No one – though – seems to favour total freedom in this field – everybody seems to wish to uphold some forms of public ownership and financing to protect national values and to prevent total commercial influence in this very important field.

The policies and the structure today are very much a national compromise, but in its essence created by the left side of our parliament.

Let me give you a brief history.

When television came to Denmark in the early fifties it was obvious that the terrestrial transmission rights should be given to DR, DANMARKS RADIO, which held the monopoly on radio. There was no real debate about that. Neither was there debate about the financing. It should take place by the help of a rise of the license fee. Commercial television was by most Danes seen as very trivial and vulgar and without cultural values – typical American, which at that time was a bad word - and many opinion makers feared the influence of commercials on the mind of the people, they feared a development in a materialistic direction, which they did not want the Danish society to venture at.

When it became possible during the seventies to receive foreign television across the boarders and by satellite they nurtured the illusion that it was possible to prevent I simply by law of parliament.

Not realising that they were up against forces stronger then gravity / human curiosity.

They fairly soon realized their mistake and decided to take another and more active road in what was seen as a national and cultural fight.

To be proactive instead of reactive.

In Sweden the solution had been to create a duopoly. To have two stations within the same public framework to compete with upcoming private stations.

In Denmark a different model - and indeed very sophisticated model – was chosen. A model, which in itself was a long step towards commercialisation, but kept under public control and ownership.

That was the creation of the TV 2/DENMARK.

The station was founded by act of parliament in 1986 – and I had the privilege to manage it from 1993 to late 1999.

It went on air in 1988 and within a year, it was number one in Denmark. Probably a world record.

It is a hybrid form between public broadcasting and commercial financing.

The chairman of the board and the overwhelming majority of board members are all nominated by the minister of culture for four years. She can choose who ever she wants, but more and more the ministers have decided to take political considerations and listened to the wishes of different political parties instead of appointing people with a special knowledge about broadcasting and business.

In that respect TV 2 now has more or less the same political nominated board as DR, where the parties are represented in proportion to their strength in parliament.

But – and that is very important – it has not meant greater political influence. Neither at the TV 2 nor in the DR.

I would like to dwell a bit on this point.

In both instances the foremost power of the board lies in the economic field and in the very important task of appointing the managing director.

The managing director has in both these public institutions the responsibility for the programming and the board has no right to interfere in how it is conducted from day to day.

It is very much the same system, as we know from the Danish print media. The editor-in-chief is sovereign as far as the content is concerned, and the publisher and the board are not allowed to interfere.

This is seen as very important paradigm, and the role of the board is to protect the professionals from outside pressure – from the government, from political parties, private corporations or from any other strong pressure group or individual.

Today this system really works. From my own experience I can tell you that I have had no attempt from my chairman or other board members to try to influence my programme policy.

I have had a few attempts from cabinet members or other strong forces, but they have been very easy to withstand, because the ideology in the Danish society is so clearly in favour of independence for editors and programme directors.

I a country with a long tradition for interference in the workings of the media I would in the law try to get so many guarantees as possible for the independence of the management. I would specify that the members of the board was their for professional reasons only, to overlook the economy and to uphold the law, and I would keep out full time politicians and secure that the board only take relevant artistic and managerial considerations , when they appoint the topboss . I would make it a breach of statue for the management to take orders from members of government or any other strong pressure group.

But the freedom and independence for the management is never without boundaries. Neither is it so in Denmark. They are limited by some definitions in the law about the duty to create public service television.

Though I admit that this concept is very vague and very often defined by what is possible instead of by high idealistic goals.

It is a very difficult concept – and one of my board members illustrated this. He – a professor in economics – continued meeting after meting to talk about public relation considerations, when he obviously meant public service. Doing public relations would have been very bad.

In our governing laws public service is defined by the words quality, many-sidedness and variety.

That means that public service stations in Denmark cannot send obvious trash programming, that they cannot be one-sided and that they cannot only care for a few special interests.

It has been very important for myself and my colleagues at DR to fight for the position that public service is not only restricted to news, information and cultural programming. We also see it as a duty to bring quality, many-sidedness and variety into drama, entertainment and sports. These fields are too important for the whole cultural consciousness of the population to be left to commercial stations with foreign ownership, only motivated by money.

Therefore much money and manpower has been allocated to develop national drama and entertainment concepts and to buy sports rights. As far as the last subject is concerned the situation has become very difficult – as you probably all know – and it could in the future be a field, which is more and more has to be left to the pure commercial stations.

It is so expensive and takes to big a share of the programme budget.

An important consideration has also been that if the public service stations did not broadcast entertainment fewer viewers will be attracted to the channels and to their news and information programming.

Then we ran into the danger of becoming ghettoes.

For only a minority of the population.

A minority with many other means of getting informed about what is going on in our society.

While the big majority will get less information.

DR, which is financed totally by a licence fee – like the BBC in Britain. NRK in Norway, SR in Sweden and YLE One in Finland – has defined public service as programming which will not be provided to the viewers, if only the market should decide. DR also uses the words "duty in the service of the people".

But I think it is fair to say that DR to keep its share of the market and to get continued funding has to provide some programmes, which could be found on the commercial channels.

Some years ago they lost many viewers and one could hear DR-bosses talk about their public service developing in the direction of "a lot of service with no public". And then they changed management and direction. With a lot of success as I will demonstrate later.

Now let me concentrate for a while on the construction, function and role of TV 2/DENMARK – It offers in my view a model, which in many respects could be of interest also in this country, where you consider the development of a strong national and democratic media structure.

I mentioned earlier on the composition and the role of the board and the independence of the management.

Let us now have a look on the important economic foundation of TV 2.

As one my predecessors once expressed it:

We must all accept the governing facts of our entire trade. The purpose of broadcasting may well be to generate culture, but TV culture is never generated in an economic vacuum, nor is it brought to the people without the good help of money. TV is money long before it becomes culture.

In the beginning TV 2/DENMARK had to rely more on public funding than today. Now nearly 80 % of its revenue stems from commercials.

The commercials are in special slots between the programmes and are not allowed to interrupt a programme.

There are also restrictions on advertising for beer, alcohol and medical products.

And recently TV 2 has agreed to restrict advertising in connection with children programming to avoid legislation against it.

The restrictive Danish advertising laws have meant that the commercial stations have decided to broadcast from London.

In the beginning TV 2 saw DR as the main competitor and that is reflected in a very comprehensive news coverage and in strong departments for actuality and sport.

But more and more we had to realise that to maintain our leading position on the market for TV advertising we had to be aware of the taste of a younger audience. That does not mean programmes of a lower quality – but with a different scope, and it can certainly be argued that it would be wrong to leave the young audiences to the money-people only.

But of course the danger is that suddenly it becomes difficult to see the distinction. At the moment that situation has not arrived. TV 2/DENMARK is still very strong in its political coverage and the number one station in covering national events – like our elections. (Later I will give some exact figures, which underline the differences.)

TV 2 does a lot of very strong documentaries and fortunately, they reach a bid audience, and the buyers of advertising space see it as sign of seriousness, which they like to have combined with products.

Another very important feature of TV 2 is that instead of in house production most of the programmes except for news and sport have according to the law to be commissioned from private production companies.

That has meant that the organization is relatively small, 500 people – for instance compared with DR , 2000 people– and it has been possible to keep production costs at a very reasonable level. It has also meant an ability to take quick decisions and react both to events as well as to the market. Also the degree of innovation has been rather high, because we have chosen a flat strucvture with a high degree of trust in any staff member.

The third – and not the least important feature – is regionalism.

It was very much a political decision to establish 8 regional stations within the TV 2-system, each of them autonomous with their own respective managements, boards and bodies, representing the people of the region, but with their financial means allocated by the central TV 2 board. They carry regional advertising but the money goes into the central money chest and they all get the same amount back, regardless of how much revenue they have created and the size of the region.

The chief executive of TV 2/DENMARK has no responsibility for the administration or the programming of the regional slots, which are allocated by the central board, where the regions are represented by two members.

The regions have three slots in prime time and more and more they concentrate on news. In the same time they function as production companies and deliver to the central station.

In all the regional aspect has meant that TV 2 has been very close to the Danish audience and able to register what happened even in the far corners of the country.

From a democratic viewpoint is also very important that the local politicians and other powerbrokers can be held responsible on TV:

So – you see – it is a complicated and intricate system – I have now and then after long negotiations compared it with the EU – but I must say that is has proved workable and successful, very much indeed..

As I now can demonstrate for you with a picture of the market situation in Denmark.

Overhead 1:

TV 2 became very fast the market leader and has upheld that position for more than ten years.

What is most important is to notice how successful the national – or one could even call it nationalistic - media policy has been.

Put together DR and TV 2 with four stations has got 70 percent of the viewing. This figure has been stable for a long time and means that the goal of protecting national values most certainly has been reached. About 60 % of the programmes are of Danish or Nordic origin.

Even the attempt foreign owned commercial stations to circumvent our national legislation by broadcasting from London has not changed the dominant position of DR and TV 2.

Quite recently – to be able to compete for the younger audiences – TV 2 has launched TV 2 Zulu and it looks like it is going to become a success – even though the production budget is quite small.

The philosophy is once again to be aggressive as a public broadcaster and not let the private stations reach a market share in any target group, which could make them leader of the market – either separately or put together.

I can also be seen that their income and thereby the ability to invest in programming is less than half of the public service institutions.

That means that the outlook for the future is still rather optimistic.

Overhead 2:

If we look at the financing in more details, I can show you how DR and TV 2 share the license fee

And how TV 3 and TV Denmark get an amount from cable and satellite fees, which are bigger than what TV 2 takes in from license. And they will get even more, when their penetration increases. They try very hard to achieve that goal by buying up sport rights – in football and soccer. TV 3 has been very successful as I can show you now.

Overhead 3:

My last overhead will prove that there are still very big differences in the programming of private commercial and public stations. That it is quite a different product. But behind the figures lies the fact that information today is not what it used to be.

Documentaries are more narrowly angled and personorientated than in my heydays and docu-soaps are called information.

The ability to reach an audience is God in modern day television and our public service stations have been very clever in developing the tools for that purpose. As the Danish Film industry has been very successful not only in Denmark, but on a global scale. There are a lot of good synergies in the cooperation between TV- and filmmakers and it is very much to be recommended to develop that kind of cooperation.

The government has allocated money to DR and TV 2 with the purpose of investing in movies and now we see a lot of good results. Both in the cinema and on the screen. Lars von Trier is just one name.

Let me say a little about the problem of mixed funding in a political perspective. For hard core liberals it is very controversial. And for the EU- authorities it is indeed a problem, when private companies complain about unfair competition.

Fortunately in a protocol to the Amsterdam-treaty the head of states have approved mixed funding. Not unconditionally. But it has to be seen how the EU court in the future will interpret the text from Amsterdam. But some form of mixed funding has to be allowed. Otherwise the protocol would be meaningless.

TV 2 has also been accused of unfair competition by our competitors and a case is resting. Also our very successful internet activity has been under fire from the print press. It now seems that the station has to prove that we use our license fee money for specific public service purposes like having regional stations and a big news operation. This we can do very easily.

If we look into the future the favourable position of the two public stations will continue. DR and TV2 have been allocated to digital terrestrial channels each – one to the present mainstream channel and the other for more interactive use.

The funding is still unsolved, but it has been very important – once again – for the public stations to be active players on the scene.

So – to sum it up: A political majority has until now decided that in our country – a small country – television cannot be left to the market forces.

That television is a very political and strategic important commodity and it is important to keep some hands on that wheel.

It is done in an indirect way – so one could say that it has been given to the professional and journalistic environment in Denmark as a public trust.

As far as I can see, it has worked very well and the system could certainly be recommended for countries with a strong will to uphold their own cultural values instead of just giving in to total commercialisation, which in a very short time will be dominated by big media-conglomerates.

Some sort of cooperation with the private players is a possibility – in Denmark also – because the

Investments are so big – but there is always a danger that the cure will work, but the patient die.

Therefore in the end it is important to have well defined goals – to repeat and repeat that the outmost goal is to provide information to the viewers and not only to provide eyeballs to the advertisers.

To give to the viewers not only, what they want, but what they deserve. Because we more than ever need a democratic society, built on enlightened citizens.

 


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