External Broadcasts in Eastern Europe in the Post-Cold War Era: New Trends and Contributing Factors

2006-02-15

The changes in Eastern European external broadcasts?(EEEBs) content were very much attributed to the broadcasters new programming policies, restructured legal aspects of operation, funding and content supervision mechanism, and the redefined foreign policies of those East European countries.

Programming Policy

In terms of culture, two partly conflicting actions are shown. To support the European community, Hungary, Romania, the Czech Republic and Austria are programming feature content (e.g. Hungary's European Unlimited). These programs are co-produced by more than two EEEBs. Radio Prague, Radio Slovakia International, Radio Polonia, and Radio Budapest jointly produce and transmit Central Europe Today, and Oesterreich 1 co-produces Insight Central Europe with the external broadcasters of Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia. On the other hand, some nations are producing contents with regard to the cultural originality or excellence of their culture: e.g. Radio Prague's programs with regard to music, art, sports, and religion.

These two conflicting trends indicate the complicated situation they are confronted with?regionalization and individualization. EEEBs have to seek cultural originality that has been oppressed by old communist regime, but they also have to adapt themselves to regionalization or global Capitalism. The dilemmatic situation makes their broadcast contents multifaceted.

Legal Issues of Operation, Funding and Content Supervision

EEEBs regulate their contents to the direction of national interest and customization for the audiences in each nation. Radio Bulgaria is supervised by the National Council of Radio and Television, and the Voice of Croatia is controlled by the HRT Council. The Voice of Croatia is part of a government-owned company, Croatian Radio and Television. Radio Tirana of Albania is a channel of RTSH, a public broadcasting company. Its funding source consists of government support-based tax (65%), advertising, and subscription fee (35%). EEEB's major task is to propagate the information to promote national interest and international mutual understanding, however, the institution and its broadcast content are disclosed to external control by its funding source (in most cases, government).

For example, Lithuanian Radio and Television is ruled by Lithuanian Radio Television Law, which secures the independence of editors of the medium and it is supervised by the Lithuanian Radio and Television Council, whose members are composed of a total of 12 people: four are from the appointment of parliament (the Seimas), four are appointed by the president, and the rest are appointed by four different fields (education, science, art, and religion representatives). Its director is appointed by the parliament. Financing for the Lithuanian Radio relies on a mixture of advertising, sales and government support (90%). RTV Slovenia is supervised by the Council of RTV Slovenia. Its members are composed of 25 people, five of them are selected from parliament, and the rest consists of representatives of minor ethnicity, culture, press, sports, science, movie, music, and so on. RTV Slovenia's income (2000) is composed from a license fee (66.5%), advertising sales (18.9%) and a state subsidy (1.4%). RTV Slovenia is controlled by the law on RTV Slovenia. Slovenia's legal institution, funding source, and supervising committee are organized and balanced to secure political fairness. Radio Prague is funded by the government's budget and its fund is managed by the Foreign Ministry of the Czech Republic. The system is public broadcasting and is supervised by the Czechoslovak Supervisory Board that is organized for the independence of programming. In sum, external broadcasting in East European nations is mainly government-controlled, and the most common funding source for EEEB's is a governmental budgetary source that is collected by license fees or taxes. In some cases, a subscription fee from the domestic population is used for external broadcasting. Many channels are partly funded by advertisement, but the portion of it is small. However, legal systems and related laws are under the Westernization, and some supervisory committees show their effort for balanced and nonpartisan broadcasting.

EEEBs Transition

Even if the Cold War as an ideological struggle has come to an end, it does not mean that there is no need for nations to propagate their national interests. In contrast, external broadcasts are required to serve the foreign policy interests of their own government. Major powers, such as the U.S.-China or Japan-China, are still in acute relations with each other.

Religious, ethnic, and historical factors are still affecting the tension among many nations. Therefore, it is impetuous to conclude that the need for external broadcasting is withering away.

The importance of foreign policy interest is shown in the fact that major external broadcasters in Eastern Europe have been mostly state-owned. But a majority of external broadcast stations there are not firmly established in terms of finance, thus they are vulnerable to external factors such as financial support. Consequently, it is hard to expect them to be independent from political power unless nonpartisan legal institutions exist to support it. The difficult spot for EEEBs is to maintain a balance between high credibility and financial dependence on government or political elites and their derivative intervention in broadcast content. Increasing influence by civic organizations or parliament does not guarantee the content's characteristics or quality programs.

At this point, the commercial model of the American media system also has been pursued for external broadcasts in part, which has been unsuccessful until now. Since Russian economy has not saved enough capital, and Russia has low attractiveness to foreign investment. Russian media have been mainly funded either by a minority of foreign investors, financial sponsors, or by government subsidy. Economic liberalization pushed the media into suffering from a rapid rise in of production cost. As funding itself became a desperate purpose, the anti-concentration policy has weakened in Eastern European media policy. This trend could lead to the major Western capital's ownership domination of EEEBs, which, under the circumstances, would otherwise financially collapse.

The fundamental changes that the Eastern European media are confronted with a socially expected role of external broadcasting. Russia has tried to graft their system to the European model. However, this worsened the Russian broadcast's trouble because there were no established concepts of public service and citizenship. This indicates that the common cultural environment that was established in Eastern Europe is still there today, including the old inertia of Russian journalists being subordinate to the government. The fact that the professional self-image of Eastern European journalists is totally different from that of western journalists reflects a fundamental gap between different cultures. The long disconnection between Western and Eastern Europe has made it harder for them to adapt themselves to each other.

Overall, liberalization and commercialization of Eastern Europe changed the general environment of media systems including external broadcasts. Economic hardship has been an excuse for sustaining the government's control over external broadcasts. Realizing liberalization confronts difficulty in that there is not enough shared perception of public media and experience of independence. Commercialization is not easy to achieve because of insufficient investment or public funding sources.


■ Junhao Hong
Associate Professor

■ Jang Hyun Kim
Ph.D. candidate
Department of Communication,
State University of New York at Buffalo, U.S.A.
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