Wednesday, May 30, 2007

CBC President parody video taken down by House of Commons

[Via Boing-Boing] The Canadian House of Commons asked YouTube to take down a parody video of Robert Rabinovitch's testimony to the House. Questions:
  • why can't Canadian citizens get the rights to the video of their own representatives?
  • what on earth did Rabinovitch say that might have been worth parodying?
[Update: the answer to the second question is: nothing.]

Monday, May 28, 2007

Description of SVT's governance

Establishment of public broadcasters by charters has its upsides and its downsides.

Upsides: it maintains the independence of the broadcaster.

Downsides: I have to read through Sweden's 1996 Television and Radio Law, the 2007 Licence Agreement, and the Supplement to the Licence Agreement, before finding that none of them contain anything on the governance of SVT.

Thankfully, this document contains information on SVT's governance, including: how the independent foundation members are appointed; how they further appoint the executive board members, and their tenure.

Polls on CBC's independence

No sooner do I complete my June paper (a 15,000 word research design for the thesis), than I find a new data point on perceptions of political independence by the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting.

The first poll is by Ipsos-Reid, and asks

Thinking specifically about the CBC...which of the following two statements is closer to your own opinion?

StatementMay. 04Aug. 02
The Prime Minister’s power to appoint the CBC President and Board of Directors
gives the government too much influence over the nature and content of programs broadcast on the CBC
The CBC is independent and it doesn’t matter who appoints the Board of Directors and President5250
Don't know/no opinion35

The poll is poorly worded, since the options are not mutually exhaustive. One might think CBC is independent, but it still matters who appoints the Board of Directors. (It reminds me of the get-out-the-vote campaign in West Wing, Season 4, where will changes one kid's sign from "It doesn't matter who you vote for, make sure you vote", to "No matter who you vote for, make sure you vote").

A similar question was asked in 1999 by a different polling group (Compass); at 35%, the percentage replying "independent" was much lower.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Greek PSB governance

I've been hunting for an English language description of the governance of the Greek PSB for a while now. I've found part of it:

The government introduced the broadcasting Law 230/1975 which abolished EIRT and, in its place, created Hellenic Radio and Television (ERT). ERT was a limited company whose only shareholder was the Greek state. It is characteristic that when the Bill was discussed in Parliament no party questioned either the state monopoly or the dominating role of the state over ERT (Alivisatos, 1986). The Law ensured tight governmental control of ERT and concentrated most effective power in the hands of the Director-General. The Director-General and the two assistant Directors-Generals were directly appointed (and dismissed) by the government. The Board of Governors, which had no real powers, was to be appointed following the decision of the Council of Ministers. The Director-General, who has autocratic power over ERT, is himself/herself at the absolute mercy of the government since his/her appointment (and dismissal) is a matter of 'political will' of the government. Clearly television was to be used neither as a 'public watchdog' nor for the development of a pluralist dialogue. It was, on the contrary, to be used to support the government of the day and its policies.


The Directors-General and directors of ERT were appointed and dismissed with great frequency, mainly because they ‘failed’ to cover adequately government’s policies. Between 1981 and 1989, for instance, there were thirteen chairmen and Directors-General and sixteen news-directors with an average term in office of about eight months.

This is from Georgia Chondroleou, "Policy networks in comparative perspective: media policy networks in Britain and Greece", presented at the ECPR 2001 conference.

Bibliography on broadcasting in Slovakia

Bibliography on broadcasting in Slovenia

These are, in large part, publicly available. God bless George Soros-funded organisations...

  • Gaube, Ales, "Slovenia: a Government Mouthpiece?", Transitions Online, 26th September 2005; deals with a reform of RTV Slovenia following a 2005 referendum; the referendum substitute a German-style corporatist board for a parliamentary appointed board.
  • Gaubes, Ales, "Slovenian Media: the Politics of Ownership", Transitions Online, 20th March 2006
  • Goegole, Hannes, "A Question of Transparency - Public Broadcasting in Transition - Editorial Independence in Romanian and Slovenian Public Channels", DeScripto, no. 2 (2004), pp. 16 - 17
  • Hrvatin, Sandra, Serving the State or the Public: The Outlook for Public Service Broadcasting in Slovenia (Peace Institute, Ljubljana, 2002) ; excellent summary, including relevant information on the appointment of other European PSBs. Tells the tale of how the Parliament came to indirectly appoint the Director-General, contrary to the law.
  • Hrvatin, Sandra, Media Policy in Slovenia in the 1990s (Peace Institute, Ljubljana, 2001)
  • Matkovic, Damir and Brajovic, Sasa et al, Public service broadcasting in transition - Croatia, Montenegro, Slovenia (Peace Institute, Ljubljana, 2002); notes that the journalistic Code and ombudsman promised in 2000 (and described by Hrvatin) still hasn't been appointed.
  • Volcic, Zala, "'The Machine That Creates Slovenians': The Role of Slovenian Public Broadcasting in Re-Affirming and Re-inventing the Slovenian National Identity", National Identities, Vol. 7, No. 3, 287 - 308 (DOI, gated); contains a choice quote from a senior anchor admitting that politicians influence editorial choices.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The governance of public broadcasters

Most of the time, I look at public service broadcasters (PSBs) as exquisitely political creatures.

Most of the time, I think that's the right perspective.

Recently, however, I've been looking at PSBs as corporations, with all the associated paraphernalia of corporate governance. The results have been interesting.

PSBs can be divided into two types: dual board, or single-board.

German PSBs have dual boards: a massive, supervisory board (aufsichtsrat), composed of upwards of twenty members representing civil society, and a much smaller executive board, led by a generalintendant. Something like France Télévisions, by contrast, has a single board of five members, with a President/CEO.

Until now, I've viewed the institutional choice between single- or dual-board structures as a political one: where politicians choose a dual-board structure, they do so because they believe this structure provides a buffer against political pressure, and because they want to insulate the PSB from such pressure.

What if these choices aren't made with conscious objectives in mind? What if, instead, politicians just follow examples drawn from other fields?

In corporate governance generally, we can draw a line between three groups (Hopt, Klaus J., "The German Two-Tier Board", in Hopt, et al, Comparative Corporate Governance (Oxford, OUP):
  • single board countries: UK, USA, Ireland, former British colonies, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece
  • dual-board countries: Germany, Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands, Scandinavia;
  • mixed countries: Eastern Europe, France, Belgium
If the corporate governance of PSBs reflects national practice rather than political views about the desirability of independence, then we should expect single-board countries to have single-board PSBs, dual-board countries to have dual-board PSBs, and mixed countries to plump for either. What's the evidence like? Of the twenty-nine PSBs for which I have access to the legislation, here's the breakdown:
  • single board PSBs (11): USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, Chile, Spain [post-reform], Portugal, Greece(?), France, Bulgaria
  • dual-board PSBs (18): Austria, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain [pre-reform], Italy, UK, Ireland,

The fit is not bad. Three dual-board countries don't fit: Italy, UK and Ireland; no single-board countries don't fit. There are some countries whose systems of corporate governance I don't know enough about to decide whether their placement is accurate (Israel, Japan, Chile).

Some tentative conclusions:
  • PSB governance may be strongly influenced by more general corporate practice;
  • those countries which could have opted for either system chose dual boards;
  • the choice of governance for the BBC and RTÉ was contrary to corporate practice;
  • It nevertheless seems to have been a good choice, with both broadcasters enjoying a better reputation than TVNZ, ABC, or (especially) the CPB in the USA, at least in this author's judgement;
Therefore, the dual-board model may be preferable for public broadcasters, squaring the circle of accountability and independence.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Rai round-up

On Saturday, Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa, Finance Minister, writes to Rai saying that he no longer has confidence in Angelo Maria Petroni, the Finance Ministry's representative on the Rai board. Petroni was nominated by Padoa-Schioppa's right-wing predecessor. Petroni claims that the move is purely political, and has no legal foundation. Petroni is partly right: the move has no basis in the Gasparri law, which currently governs the broadcaster. However, according to Repubblica,
"il ministro dell'Economia può revocare la fiducia ad un proprio rappresentante rifacendosi al principio più generale del "contrarius actus". Ovvero, così come autonomamente il fiduciario è stato nominato, altrettanto autonomamente può essere revocato se non esiste una normativa specifica".

The decision will be referred to a shareholders' meeting in June.

Yesterday, Mediaset, along with other European partners, buys a majority stake in Dutch production company Endemol. Mediaset will, through Endemol, now supply programmes to its competitor, Rai, in prime-time. An overwhelming majority (93%) of respondents in a Repubblica insta-poll believe that Mediaset will use their control to screw Rai over.

Today, the centre-right members of the Rai board, upset about Petroni, threaten to vote no-confidence in the director-general Claudio Cappon. As far as I can see, this procedure is not found in the legislation or statuto sociale of Rai.

Conclusion? In both cases, the centre-left and centre-right are making up the law as they go along.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Public attitudes towards government intervention in the media

"People have clear views about how their health should be provided for, the economy should be managed, and the environment be protected, but attitudes towards government intervention in the communications field appear fitful and unfocused. Perhaps it is more difficult for people to have well-formulated views on the organization and control of institutions and technologies which are both remote and rapidly changing, or perhaps the role of government in this field is more obscure to the public—and thus, as the data record suggests, of less interest to social scientists"

Peter Golding and Leo van Snippenburg, in The Scope of Government

Daily Mail loses libel case

When I speak to Italian friends about the differences between Rai and the BBC, I often say that there are simply not so many newspaper articles about the BBC as there are about Rai. When newspapers do publish things on the BBC, they try (usually) to select issues of genuine public interest and (usually) try to be truthful.

That's why I was pleased to see that my friend Thea Rogers has won her libel case against the Daily Mail for a story they ran on her. The claims made were of no public interest, nor more importantly were they true. The Mail has been forced to print an apology which, sadly, is not yet on-line.