CYPRUS EDITORIAL: Footing the bill for public broadcaster reform

08 September, 2018 | Posted By: Financial Mirror

The government’s decision to reform the state broadcaster and cut back on CyBC’s commercial advertising revenue, in exchange for a bigger annual payout by the taxpayer, was a welcome move but may have a hidden agenda.

On the one hand, it satisfies a long-standing demand of the media to deny the public broadcaster the privileged status of having both a state-paid budget and competing with private media groups for a shrinking advertising pie.

On the other hand, it also seems to satisfy the inequality created at CyBC where 85 permanent staff share a payroll of 5.5 mln euros, while 256 contract staff with annual contracts earn a total of just under 8 mln.

Wanting to make more people permanent staff in the public sector has been on every politician’s agenda, regardless of ideology, and now that the Finance Minister has boasted the fact that the economy is on a healthy recovery, it has brought union demands out of the woodwork.

To be fair, the contract staffers at CyBC also carry most of the workload but have never enjoyed the pay benefits and perks afforded to the civil servants.

The move, approved by the Cabinet this week, and comes into force in 2019, also allows CyBC to continue to collect from online advertising revenue, suggesting that transmissions on cable TV platforms or through its mobile app will still be able to charge for commercial advertising, thus competing with private broadcasters.

And then there is the case of high revenue earning events, such as Champion’s League football, and whether CyBC will pay dearly for them from the taxpayer’s pockets or if it will abandon this right and stick to televised national-team football, Olympics, the Eurovision song contest, etc.

In other words, it will have to revert to ‘quality programming’ and produce journalistic work abiding by high standards of media ethics, transmit public events, and screen premium shows, either locally produced or acquired from other state broadcasters.

At the same time, with a media professional returning to the helm of the state-run Cyprus News Agency, which earns a mix of taxpayer-approved budget, paid subscriptions and commercial advertising, perhaps this too should be reformed and allowed to become more autonomous, in order to assist the local media and provide premium-quality journalism for general distribution.

There aren’t that many state-run news agencies left in the world, and the few that remain are simply an extension of government propaganda tools, which is not an image that the CNA would want to project.

On the contrary, it now has a unique opportunity to seek autonomy and put quality journalism at the top of its agenda, as opposed to serving the interests of the administration of the day.