How is the national public radio financed

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The Swiss media landscape is in a state of upheaval. swissinfo.ch asked around in its international network to find out which systems for public media have established themselves elsewhere and how they are performing.

This content was published on February 7, 2018 - 11:00 am

Member of the editor-in-chief of swissinfo.ch since 2015. From 2006 to 2015 he was responsible for the retail banking department of the Zurich investor newspaper "Finanz und Wirtschaft". University degrees in New Media Journalism (Master of Arts, 2014, University of Leipzig) and in Economics (Licentiate, 1999, University of Bern).

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External content

+ China: Dependence on the State - by Jufang Wang, London
+ Brazil: The media power of the oligarchs - by Ruedi Leuthold, Rio de Janeiro
+ India: Direct Government Funding and Censorship - by Shuma Raha, New Delhi
+ Russia: Even private media under state control - by Fyodor Krasheninnikov, Yekaterinburg
+ Italy: Public Broadcasting Under Pressure - by Angela Katsikantamis, Rome
+ Japan: Public broadcasters are not allowed to advertise - by Fumi Kashimada, Lucerne
+ France: Paris dreams of a French BBC - by Mathieu van Berchem, Paris
+ Germany: Budget tax for the public broadcasters - by Petra Krimphove, Berlin
+ USA: First came the private ones - from Lee Banville, Montana
+ Spain: Financing through private broadcasters - by José Wolff, Madrid
+ Tunisia: Vulnerable to Corruption and Mismanagement - by Rachid Khechana, Tunis

On March 4th, Switzerland will vote on the future of public radio and television. If the population speaks out against the continuation of fee financing, the Swiss media landscape will change radically.

The federal government should stay completely out of media politics. This is the demand of the originators of the popular initiative "No Billag". The text of the initiative clearly states: "He does not subsidize radio and television stations." "The federal government or third parties commissioned by it are not allowed to charge reception fees." "The federal government does not operate its own radio and television stations in times of peace."

No alternative

There is no alternative to this, is the official position of the Swiss radio and television company SRG SSR, to which SWI swissinfo.ch also belongs. This is in the event that the "No-Billag" initiative is accepted by the people. Which, according to an initial survey commissioned by the SRG, should not be the case.

Around three quarters of the SRG SSR is financed through fees - "all that remains is liquidation," according to the company's top management.

Switzerland would be the first country in Europe to abolish the public media service. Nevertheless, the question arises: would fee-financed media - if it didn't exist - still be invented today?

The answer depends on the political culture. In Russia, for example, almost no one would be willing to pay media fees, as our correspondent writes. The state controls in every detail what the media are allowed to report on. There are private Russian media outlets, but they too are de facto subject to state approval.

It is also noticeable that the government-affiliated online foreign platform Russia Today has invested hundreds of millions of euros in strengthening its presence abroad.

This is also the case in Germany and France. The portal raised 25 million euros for the agency in France alone.

SWI has experienced censorship

SWI swissinfo.ch found out for itself what censorship means in China - there is no public service media there either. The Chinese swissinfo.ch site has been temporarily blocked several times by the state censorship after our editorial team reported on "sensitive issues" such as direct democracy.

In the absence of a public law system, the state is not the controlling power everywhere. In Brazil, for example - where the public TV Brasil leads a wallflower existence - a few oligarchs dominate the media landscape. The Globo Group, which defines the market, has the best journalists in the country, but no one is forcing it to do so in the long term.

The USA also had a long tradition of a purely commercial media system. At the end of the 1960s, a system of state media funding came into being. This is not based on a fee, but on direct federal support for the Cooporation for Public Broadcasting (CBP). This in turn finances part of the local media budget. This system is well established in the population and enjoys 70% approval.

Fees alone do not guarantee independence

Even a system that renounces direct state subsidies and instead finances the public media through fees does not per se guarantee that the media can perform their political functions. It is essential who collects the fees.

If it is the state directly, there is a risk of the media being appropriated for political purposes. In Tunisia, for example, a fee is charged to finance the public media, which is added to the electricity bill. The fee flows into the state treasury. The rest is financed from the general state budget, which leaves room for corruption and mismanagement, as our correspondent in Tunis confirms.

In Europe itself, there is greater access by governments to public broadcasters. Especially in the eastern part. But also in Germany and Austria the call for increased controls has recently been loud from the right.

Loyal followers put at the top

In Poland, for example, after taking over government at the end of 2015, the PiS party put the public television broadcaster TVP on its conservative course. On the one hand, the entire top of the TVP was replaced by its own followers, on the other hand, around 200 independent journalists left the station.

The 2017 press freedom ranking published by the non-governmental organization Reporters Without BordersExternal Link shows that Poland is not an isolated case. It shows that media freedom has decreased in 61 of the 180 countries listed. This also includes countries such as France, Spain, Portugal and Italy.

Who has to pay?

The situation is similar in India, where the government has a strong say in corporate decisions. For example, when it comes to creating new jobs.

Another problem area when financing via a fee is the question of who is actually liable for the fee. In Switzerland, the base was expanded in 2015, in a referendum. Now all households have to pay, not just those who have a receiving device. This makes debt collection easier because there is no longer any need for inspectors to check whether someone has a radio, TV or computer.

In addition, it must be ensured that those liable to pay the fees also pay. In Japan, for example, only around 70 to 80% of those liable to pay a fee pay the bill. This is particularly serious because Japan's public broadcasters are not allowed to broadcast advertisements.

Neighborhood discussions

The financing of the public media is also a hot topic in Switzerland's neighboring countries. In Italy, for example, the nationwide collection of fees via the electricity bill was introduced in 2016. Meanwhile, Social Democrat Matteo Renzi, the former Prime Minister, is launching the debate on whether the license fee should be abolished entirely.

In Germany, it is repeatedly criticized that political interest representatives also sit on the supervisory bodies of the fee-financed broadcasters. And in France, the government does not support the public service media itself, but it is exerting massive pressure to save money, which is launching quality debates.

The public media are not only on the political agenda in Switzerland. It is clear that there will be further major upheavals in the Swiss media system in the coming years, even if the people reject the "No Billag" initiative on March 4th, i.e. stick to the existing radio and television article in the federal constitution.

The license extension for SRG SSR is due in 2019, within the framework of which the federal government could make adjustments to the order. The federal government is already submitting the draft for a new media law for consultation. This should regulate the role of the online media and later replace the current radio and television law.

SWI swissinfo.ch is a corporate unit of the SRG / SSR.

China: dependence on the state

From Jufang Wang, London

Since Chinese media are editorially dependent on the state, there is no public media in China as such. Before private Chinese news portals such as Sina, Sohu or Netease began to make news available online in the late 1990s, all media organizations or companies in China were either state-owned or controlled by the state.

In China, the media are the "ears, eyes, mouth and tongue" of the Communist Party, the government and the people. At the top of the pyramid is the state broadcaster CCTV. Its management is also very keen on international cooperation with partners from other countries, including those from the West.

The Communist Party requires the media to be obedient to itself, to maintain "correct public opinion" and to promote the core goals of socialism.

In terms of funding, the news media have been more market-based since the reform in China in the late 1970s and political opening. In the past they were seen primarily as the ideological mouthpiece of the party state, today they are mostly media companies financed through advertising and other commercial transactions. But even if this market-driven media reform changed the financing model of the news media, ownership and state control remain the same to this day.

Another interesting development is the spread of so-called "self media" operated by individuals on popular platforms such as WeChat. Some of these "self media" publish content on a regular basis. The most popular have millions of followers and are therefore ideal for attracting advertising. As a result, they function in a very similar way to independent media, but are subject to censorship by state agencies.

The original, full article in Chinese can be found here:


Brazil: the media power of the oligarchs

By Ruedi Leuthold, Rio de Janeiro

More than 70% of national television consumption in Brazil is produced by four major broadcasting chains, more than half of which are produced by the leading TV company Globo. In the print media, the four largest media groups unite over 50% of the readership. The state television company TV Brasil has an audience share of just 2% with educational and cultural contributions.

The Globo Group is criticized on the one hand because it monopolizes a lot of information power. On the other hand, the company has the best journalists, and this also applies to the scriptwriters and dramaturges of the telenovelas, who cast a spell over the large audience and create a feeling of togetherness in the vast country. Again and again the authors mix education and social criticism in their stories in a catchy way.

According to a study by Reporters Without Borders, five families in Brazil control the fifty communication carriers with the greatest reach. And they make a good living from it. The members of the Marino family, owners of Globo, are among the ten richest Brazilians. Edir Macedo, the evangelical preacher of the rival company "Record", made it to number 74 on the ranking list.

It can be said that the owners of the media are making a living from the corruption and social inequality scandals that are shaking the country.

The original, full article in Portuguese can be found here:

India: Direct Government Funding and Censorship

From Shuma Raha, New Delhi

Prasar Bharati, India's public service broadcaster, was established by a law of the parliament in 1997. It operates the national television and radio stations Doordarshan (DD) and All India Radio (AIR).

With 67 television studios and 420 radio stations, Prasar Bharati is one of the largest public broadcasters in the world.

Prasar Bharati is mainly financed directly by the state and not through fees. In addition, it generates commercial income, which, however, is nowhere near enough to cover its financial needs. In recent months it has been proposed to privatize Prasar Bharati. It is still unclear how this will affect the media company's financing model.

Prasar Bharati's relationship with the government is strained. The law grants the broadcaster full autonomy, but at the same time gives the government a say when it comes to funding or administrative decisions. For example, with regard to new projects or the creation of jobs. Prasar Bharati is often mocked as the government's "mouthpiece".

Distorted reporting or even downright censorship are not uncommon. In the run-up to the 2014 elections, DD broadcast an interview with the then candidate - and now Prime Minister - Narendra Modi with significant cuts.

That year, the speech by Manik Sarkar, Prime Minister of Tripura State, was blacked out on Indian Independence Day because parts of the speech were critical of the Modi government.

The original, full article in English can be found here:

Russia: Private media also under state control

By Fyodor Krasheninnikov, Yekaterinburg

In Russia there is no public media at all, neither electronic, nor digital, nor in the print sector, which would be at least approximately comparable with those in Switzerland. Formally, all media in this country are either purely state-owned or private.

In practice, however, the "private" media are also under state control, since any private property in Russia can only exist with state approval or tolerance. Accordingly, "Public Television", a broadcaster founded a few years ago by the then President of Russia Dimitri Medvedev personally, is a purely state-run TV channel and is therefore completely dependent on the government in terms of content, finances and politics.

The Russians do not pay a media fee. However, this does not mean that the TV and radio channels are free for them, because they are all financed from the state budget. This means they are paid by all taxpayers, with taxes being deducted directly from wages. There is no cost transparency in the media sector.

The state controls all system-relevant media (TV, radio, online, print) down to the last detail and specifies what, how, when and in what form may be reported. And what not. The population accepts that and even agrees with it. When asked whether they would be willing to pay a media fee, but to take over democratic control, almost 100% Russians would answer "of course not" today.

Opposed to Western media, the editor-in-chief of Russia Today rejected such strict control of Russian media by the Kremlin at an international congress in the Netherlands.

The original, full article in Russian can be found here:

Italy: Public broadcasting under pressure

By Angela Katsikantamis, Rome

A debate has broken out in Italy over license fees. The tax, which is unpopular with the population, finances 70% of the radio and TV programs of the state company RAI.

The proposal by the Social Democrat Matteo Renzi to abolish the license fee has caused a lot of dust. It also ends the illusion that changing the billing system in July 2016 ended the dispute over the levy.

Since July 2016, the fee has been billed together with the electricity bill, regardless of whether someone consumes RAI programs or not. In other words: anyone who has a power connection pays the license fee automatically. At the same time, the fee was reduced from 100 to 90 euros (from 118 CHF to 105 CHF) per year. With the system change, income rose by 0.8 percent to around 1.8 billion euros (2.1 billion francs).

The public service broadcasting is financed to 70% from these fees, the rest is financed with income from advertising.

The basic idea of ​​public television is to offer a program that is as free as possible from commercial logic. 26.6% of the programs broadcast by the three main RAI channels are devoted to general information and in-depth analysis, 12.4% to programs and sections for the promotion of culture, and around 10% and 16% respectively for non-European films and feature films and general entertainment.

When it comes to radio, RAI only occupies about a quarter of the market. The private broadcasters have the majority here.
The print media in Italy are owned by large private publishing houses.But the state subsidizes certain newspapers or online media with around EUR 10 million (CHF 11.8 million) annually.

Since the most recent reform in 2017, seven categories of publishers can apply for public support. This includes non-profit organizations and consumer associations that publish magazines on relevant topics.

The original, full article in Italian can be found here:

Japan: Public broadcasters are not allowed to advertise

By Fumi Kashimada, Lucerne

In Japan, NHK is the only public broadcasting company. It operates several national television and radio programs as well as an extensive international service called NHK World (Radio Japan / NHK World TV).

Their programs have a market share of around 30%. The remaining 70% is shared by 127 commercial broadcasters, 118 of which belong to one of five large networks with headquarters in Tokyo.
More than 95% of NHK is funded through fees.

According to the law, NHK is not allowed to send advertising as advertising revenue is strictly prohibited. The advertising ban is very strict and also applies to song lyrics. Therefore, for example, a singer had to change her song in a music show (from "red Porsche" to "red car").

All households and companies that have equipment suitable for television reception are legally obliged to pay fees. The monthly fee for households for purely terrestrial reception is ¥ 1260 (11 Fr.), for satellite reception ¥ 2230 (19 Fr.). Companies also have to pay television license fees.

But only around 70 to 80% of those liable to pay the fee actually pay the fee, as refusing to pay has had little effect so far. That could change after a court ruling by the Japanese Supreme Court.

The five major commercial broadcast networks are financed mainly through advertising. Four of the five networks have a close relationship with the four most important national newspapers: Yomiuri-shimbun (right-wing conservative newspaper with the largest circulation worldwide) with Nihon TV, Asahi-shimbun with TV Asahi, Nihon Keizai shimbun with TV Tokyo, Sankei shimbun with Fuji TV.

France: Paris dreams of a French BBC

By Mathieu van Berchem, Paris

In France, public television and radio broadcasters are currently going through difficult times.The threat does not come from a citizens' initiative, as in Switzerland, but from the president himself: Emmanuel Macron described public service broadcasting as the "shame of the republic" according to the weekly newspaper L’Express.

A "confidential" government project now plans to merge France Télévisions and Radio France, creating a group with 17,000 employees and a budget of 3.8 billion euros (around 4.5 billion Swiss francs). The British BBC is considered a role model. The aim of such a reform would be to achieve synergies, particularly in the area of ​​information.

Another Macron project is the fee system: Today owners of TV sets are charged a fee of 138 euros (162 Fr.) per year. This brings in around 4 billion euros (CHF 4.7 billion) for the state, 66% of which goes to France Télévisions, 7% to Arte and 16% to Radio France. There are plans to expand this to include owners of devices with access to the Internet. Today the fee is linked to the household tax. However, Macron would like to abolish this, so the question of debt collection will arise.

The main public broadcaster France 2 has long been torn between two opposing goals: On the one hand, it competes with the large private broadcaster TF1, with both broadcasters showing a slight decrease in their audience share last year (20% for TF1 and 13% for France 2) had to accept in favor of the news channels.

On the other hand, the quality standards are at risk, especially since the station was banned from advertising after 8 p.m. in the evening. This means that around 500 million euros (around 590 million Swiss francs) have fallen out of the budget.

Read the original, full article in French here:

Germany: Budget tax for the public broadcasters

By Petra Krimphove, Berlin

It was a milestone when, in 1984, Sat.1, Germany's first private broadcaster, went on air. RTL plus was added almost at the same time. Since then, public broadcasters such as ARD and ZDF have been competing with commercial providers in Germany's dual broadcasting system.

As private companies, private providers have to finance themselves solely from advertising income or, in the case of pay-TV, from subscription fees. This increases the quota pressure: the more people tune in, the more abundantly the money flows. And so it is shown what the viewer likes.

The public broadcasters, on the other hand, have a cultural and information mandate to fulfill. Their news programs and talk shows are still valued by Germans as the most serious source of information in the media jungle.

As institutions under public law, ARD and ZDF are mainly financed from fees. A generous 8 billion euros (9.4 billion Swiss francs) a year are available to public broadcasters for their programming. Every German household has to transfer 17.50 euros (21 Fr.) per month for this, regardless of whether they consume the programs from ARD, ZDF & Co. or not.

While some critics complain about the alleged left-leaning of the public broadcasters and speak of "red-green radio", others criticize the "clear stamp" of the bourgeois-conservative party CSU. In fact, representatives of many social groups such as trade unions and business associations sit equally on the supervisory bodies of public broadcasters, as well as delegates from political groups who certainly have their voices heard.

Read the original, full article in German here:

USA: First came the private ones

Posted by Lee Banville, Montana

Public media has never been taken for granted in the United States. Unlike many countries where some form of publicly supported media had developed with the advent of radio and television, commercial broadcasters have long dominated the United States. The government established national public radio and television systems relatively late.

It was not until the Broadcasting Act of 1967 that the basis for federal funding of public media was created and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) was founded.

Public service media in the United States are not government agencies, but local public institutions that are funded by a mix of federal funds, individual sponsors, corporations, and foundations.

Unlike other countries where the public service broadcaster was funded through a tax on recipients or a fee on users, money is allocated to CPB through federal funding. That means that the federal congress must give the blessing to the total budget of the federal government for public broadcasting.

The two main national networks, Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) on the television side and National Public Radio (NPR) on the radio side, are member organizations that provide content to their local owners - the actual terrestrial broadcasters.

Some critics have questioned the need for public service broadcasting as the number of cable connections increased. However, opinion polls show that 70% of the population is in favor of government support for PBS and NPR.

The original, full article in English can be found here:

Spain: Financing through private broadcasters

By José Wolff, Madrid

In Spain, the concept of public service media goes back to the establishment of Radio Nacional de España in 1937 and then Televisión Española (1956). Access to information has been a constitutional right since 1978: the state must provide a public radio and television service.

Both channels are currently part of the Corporación Radiotelevisión Española (RTVE), a public company wholly owned by the state. However, the law guarantees their independence from the government, parties and companies. The RTVE is only accountable to Parliament. The nine-member board of directors is elected jointly by the two chambers of parliament.

Half of RTVE is financed directly from the general government budget. The other half is generated by levying taxes on telephone companies (0.9% of revenues), private television broadcasters (3% of revenues) and pay-TV providers (1.5% of revenues).

The national private broadcasters and broadcasters are part of large, partly international corporate groups (such as Mediaset, Prisa or El Mundo), Spanish publishing groups (such as Vocento or Godó) or the Catholic Church. They are mostly funded through advertising.

Read the original, full article in Spanish here:

Tunisia: Vulnerable to corruption and mismanagement

By Rachid Khechana, Tunis

In Tunisia, the daily newspaper "La Presse de Tunisie" and its Arabic-language counterpart "Assahafa" are among the oldest public media. The circulation of both titles has plummeted in recent years. They are not independent, they were christened "La Pravda de Tunisie" by their opponents, alluding to the censorship in the Soviet Union.

In addition to the newspapers, the state in Tunisia holds over 98% of the share capital of the official press agency Tunis Afrique Presse. The agency currently employs 304 people, 168 of whom are journalists.

The maintenance of public broadcasters is costly to the state. He is obliged to provide 14 million dinars (5.6 million CHF) for the payment of salaries, which make up 76% of the costs. Charges on electricity bills as contributions to radio and television contribute around RSD 13 million (CHF 5.2 million) to the financing, plus advertising income estimated at RSD 2 million (CHF 0.8 million).

The situation is even more difficult on public television, as the company's annual budget is RSD 56 million (CHF 22.4 million), of which RSD 14 million (CHF 5.6 million) comes from Advertising and 5 million dinars (2 million CHF) come from program sales. The rest must be provided by the state.

Here, too, fees are charged with the electricity bills for refinancing. But that's not enough. The fees collected are not transferred directly to radio and television, but to the state treasury, which leaves room for corruption and mismanagement. Transparency is completely lacking, because the contributions of the citizens to public radio and television companies are not published. That was the case before the Tunisian Revolution in 2010/2011, and it is still the case today.

The original, full article in Arabic can be found here:

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