Monday, January 22, 2007

Observational equivalence

One of the measures of PSB independence I'm looking at is the turn-over rate of PSB directors-general, and specifically whether they often change within six months of a government change. The idea is that, if directors-general are appointed only for two years, or if they know they'll be fired with a government change, they can't be independent of politics.

So, if turnover is low,that means the broadcaster is independent, doesn't it? Not necessarily. Here's Mark Pollack explaining why the problem of observational equivalence messes things up:
Studies of agency autonomy that rely on the frequency of sanctioning are therefore likely to run into the methodological problem of observational equivalence, namely that the absence of sanctions is consistent with both the obedient servant and the runaway bureaucracy scenarios, each of which predicts, albeit for different reasons, the rarity of sanctions

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Weekly round-up: BBC, RTVE, RAI

Three items this week, in descending order of importance, increasing order of triviality:
  1. The cost of a BBC licence fee was set for the next six years. The fee will increase 3% for the next two years, and 2% for the four following years. The figures roughly follow projections for CPI, but there is no inflation link. The BBC is annoyed, because they think the settlement is below RPI (which is below industry-specific inflation for broadcasting, which may be subject to Baumol's disease), and because they thought they would get extra for spearheading the switch to digital terrestrial. They do (a £200m side-payment), but the DCMS is sure that there are cost-savings to be made. [Historical data on licence fee]
  2. RTVE revealed its new executive line-up. According to Formula TV, Director-General Javier Pons has kept Fran Llorente and Pablo Carrasco as directors of News & Current Affairs and Content respectively, but Carrasco loses control over Programming, which goes to Carlos Fernandez. The RTVE union in Madrid opposes against Carrasco's nomination, claiming he favours external production far too much.
  3. RAI councillors complain when people criticise them. The five right-wing members of the Rai board - Urbani, Petroni, Bianchi Clerici, Malgieri, and Staderini - denounced the "campaign to delegitimate their action" - roughly, criticism that they acted in a partial manner damaging to the company when they appointed Alfredo Meocci as Director-General in violation of rules of conflict of interest. One interesting tid-bit: the CdA had wanted to give Siniscalco [Minister of Finance at the time, and thus sole shareholder] a list of names; Siniscalco refused and said he only wanted one. Good on 'im

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Dyke didn't jump but was pushed

Minutes of the BBC Governors' meeting of the 28th and 29th January reveal that Greg Dyke was sacked by the Board of Governors, rather than resigning. As Torin Douglas wrote,
For those who have read Greg Dyke's book Inside Story, there are few surprises in the minutes of the BBC governors' meetings.
Still, nice to have it confirmed officially.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Government interference

I've belatedly found a wonderful survey from May last year on trust in the media. As usual, the relevant cross-tabs are buried behind several links. The juiciest information for my purposes comes with the agree/disagree responses to the statement, "The government interferes too much in the media in our country". The question isn't ideal for gauging the actual level of interference - one may think that there's a high level of government interference, but there should be more; or that there's a low level of interference, but there should be less still - but nonetheless, the results are useful.

(% Agree, government interferes too much):
  1. Nigeria: 75%
  2. South Korea: 71%
  3. Brazil: 64%
  4. Indonesia: 59%
  5. United Kingdom: 58%
  6. India: 56%
  7. USA: 52%
  8. Egypt: 49%
  9. Russia: 49%
  10. Germany: 32%
Surprisingly low positions for Russia and Egypt perhaps impaired by the low availability of alternatives. Where alternatives are available, as in South Korea (highest usage of internet as a news source worldwide), resentment at government interference seems to grow - although public broadcaster KBS is still the most trusted media brand, strangely enough.

For the record, 51% of Italians believe the government's influence on public broadcaster Rai to be excessive. Maybe Italians are equally bad judges of the richness of their media ecology as Russians and Egyptians seem to be.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Rai to become a public foundation

Minister for Communications Paolo Gentiloni today unveiled a blueprint for the future of Italian public service broadcaster Rai. Rai is to become a public foundation which shall nominate the executives of the company and decide on the value of the licence fee in conjunction with the government. Public service and commercial broadcasting will be entrusted to distinct divisions; these two, and a third network division, will be overseen by the foundation.
The creation of the foundation is welcome. A number of positive aspects:
  • political appointees will now have an oversight role, not an executive one. The Foundation shall appoint the consiglio di amministrazione (managing board), which, if the name means anything, will have executive responsibility. This is a great improvement over the current system, where the consiglio di amministrazione is nominated by the Parliament, but shares executive power (and cedes executive initiative) with the Director-General.
  • foundation members' time in office will allow for strategic thinking. Foundation members will be appointed for six year terms; one-third of the membership may be replaced every two years. The six year term should allow for members to plan ahead without being shackled by a biennial appointments circus. Partial renewal should ensure that the Foundation's collective intelligence isn't destroyed after each term.
  • division between public- and advertising-financed content will help Rai's image. At the moment, the quality of Rai's programming - of Italian television in general - is low. Consequently, Rai is often hostage to licence-fee strikes, as irate consumers renege on their licence fees in protest at low quality. If the (popular, sometimes entertaining) lowest-denominator crap moves to the advertising financed channel, then it should reduce the grounds for licence fee strikes. There is a risk that public service content will rapidly become a cultural ghetto - but some parts of Rai - i.e., Rai 3 - have become quite good at winning ratings with public service content.
At the same time, there are some unclear aspects:
  • the appointment mechanism has yet to be decided. There are two options: the Spanish and the German. In the first model, six members are nominated by the regions, and appointed by the Parliament with a two-thirds majority; the President is nominated by the Presidents of the two Chambers, and appointed by the Parliament with a two-thirds majority. In the German model, the board is larger, and is drawn from civil society groups.
  • the financing mechanism is unclear. According to the guidelines, the value of the licence fee will be set every three years by the Government on the basis of a proposal by the Foundation, which will reflect the cost of producing Rai's public service content. It would be nice to see some mention of automatic inflation-uprating there; I don't put it past future right-wing governments to starve Rai of funds by freezing the value of the licence fee in real and nominal terms.
If you ask me for my recommendations, then:
  • appointments should not be made by civil society groups. Although it sounds desirable to free such an exquisitely political body from political appointments entirely, that's to ignore the fact that much of Italian civil society is also exquisitely political. Who can imagine a nominee from CGIL (the leftist trade union) acting as anything other than a left-wing activist? This model - the German - failed pretty badly when exported to Hungary; I have no reason to suspect that Italian civil society is markedly more independent from parties than Hungarian civil society.
  • the licence fee settlement should be made for six years, and uprated in line with inflation: if the contract between the Ministry and Rai for public service programming is to last six years, why shouldn't the licence fee? This would aid planning, and put the issue beyond the range of any single legislature.