Media Ownership And Control In East-Central Europe, Vol. 6 - 1999, No. 2
The article examines three topics fundamental to contemporary media democratisation discourse: the principle of publicity, media agenda setting, and information subsidies. In complex democratic systems, the idea of publicity primarily refers to the media and the public sphere, where the “public use of reason” or “public discussion” can take place. The fundamental significance of the mass media for the political system is based on their role in the processes of (public) opinion formation and expression: the mass media help determine and demonstrate the limits of legitimate public discussion in society. Information subsidy limits access to information and inhibits free (political) expression by forcing the media to conform to particularistic political or commercial interests and beliefs of subsidisers. Because mass media have extremely important functions for democratic societies, they require public regulation to eventually help transform them into public services, and mass media into public service media. It is argued that media democratisation requires specific forms of regulation beyond market regulation and private subsidies in order to limit the power and control in the hands of commercial and political actors, to serve the political and economic autonomy of the media, to thwart the development of powerful coalitions between the state, capital and the media, and to encourage citizen access to the media. social management and control of the media and communication infrastructure. Forms of political and economic regulation of the media prevailing in the post-communist countries – re-nationalisation, privatisation, transnationalisation – are considered as enforcing the growth of commercial-paternalistic systems, and new forms of contents and structural regulations are suggested.
The development of commercial television in the former communist countires was closely associated with the activities of Central European Media Enterprises (CME) and particularly its successful Czech station, TV Nova. This article looks at the overall strategy of CME, and shows that while it had some important successes, its primary strength was its political connections rather than its grasp of the television business. As the market developed, so its weak business model became more and more apparent. Its failure to win national licenses in Poland and Hungary, and the failure of its attempts to force an entry into those markets, meant that its prospects for commercial success were very small indeed. Its share price collapsed, its operating losses mounted, and by early 1999 it was entirely dependent upon the bounty of its rich founder, Ronald Lauder. It faced a choice of collapse or take-over. In the event, it was taken over by SBS, a US-owned niche broadcaster active in peripheral western European markets. The overall lesson of this experience is that broadcasting in central and eastern European countries depends on “political capital.” In order successfully to enter the market, political connections are essential. Where these are absent, it is very difficult to develop a competitive position. On the other hand, once a company is broadcasting commercially, then the small size of the advertising market means that there is a bitter competitive struggle. Just as in western capitalism, those who cannot survive the competition are forced out of the business. CME was a casualty of the very logic that it introduced to the region.
The decade worth of the East European transition allows us to sum up important lessons of the stormy and profound transformation in cultural administration. The East European cultural industries were the first ones to suffer massive cuts and withdrawal of secure funding early in the 1990s. Cinema was affected most notably. In all of the East European countries filmmaking underwent volatile structural changes and was subjected to often contradictory undertakings in administration and financing. The crumbling production routines caused a creativity crisis in many filmmakers. Problems included unfair competition, deepening generation gap, and decline in feature, documentary and animation output. The concurrent crisis in distribution and exhibition led to a sharp drop in box office indicators for all productions carrying an East European label. At the same time some East European films enjoyed an international critical acclaim internationally. The volatility in East European cinema coincided with a clearly articulated period of insecurity in West European cultural policies, driven by a growing anti-American sentiment. The establishment of such pan-European funding bodies as Media 95 and Euroimage came as a reaction to the overwhelming triumph of commercialism in cinema. The share of international subsidies for filmmaking in poverty-stricken Eastern European studios quickly increased as the concept of "national cinema" gave way to a "new European" one. The article focuses on the following topics: changes in East European production schemes, the end of national cinemas, issues of co-producing with focus on Euroimage, media and commercial financing, the questions of domestic versus foreign film distribution and exhibition, and festivals.
Structural Changes And Organisations In The Print Media Markets Of Post-Communist East Central Europe
The transformation of the media in East Central Europe during the post-communist period is featured by different economic, social, political and cultural changes. This article looks at two specific issues: structural and ownership changes in the print media markets of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland since 1989. Using analytical tools of media economics research characteristics of market structures, such as development of supply and demand, concentration, barriers to market entry, vertical integration, are analysed. It is argued that post-communist print media markets became less concentrated compared to the communist era, and due to frequent ownership changes market concentration levels fluctuated but not increased substantially during the 1990s. The article also gives an overview of the main characteristics of local and foreign-owned media companies. The development and reasons behind foreign investments are examined, as foreign ownership played a significant role in the print media sectors of the three countries during the post- communist era. It is argued that foreign media ownership is part of the general internationalisation of post-communist media in East Central Europe, which process has both negative and positive effects.
This article analyses the economic structure of the Hungarian press. We describe the circulation figures of national, political daily newspapers, their editorial profiles and market positions, how they were privatised, and how their editorial content is controlled. We also look at the ownership and control of the regional and weekly press. The analysis reveals that despite the unprofitability of most national newspapers, the market is relatively stable. While control of editorial content is mainly a function of ownership and market forces, journalists at some publications have secured a degree of independence. East Central European nations have widely embraced liberal-pluralist economic and political models. Here, press freedom is equated with private ownership by individuals, and the market is seen as the surest safeguard against state interference. But in practice, the press throughout the region is still heavily saturated with politics. Thus, our economic analysis is followed by a case study that examines recent efforts by the Hungarian government to use public money to establish a right- centrist newspaper. The discourse surrounding that event is used to explore notions of cultural democracy where the active participation of journalists and citizens in the production of a news reading culture is central.
The development in the Slovenian media market suggests that media legislation that is dominated by a free market ideology does not prevent the concentration of media capital. The process of media privatisation takes different courses in print media and in broadcasting. The main problems relate to (1) the non-transparency of privatisation processes, (2) media as family business, (3) cross-media ownership, (4) the impairment of public capital, (5) hostile take-overs. The authors analyse five forms of media ownership concentration in Slovenia: (1) chains -- the same company owns more than the “normal” number of media of the same kind in the state; (2) networks -- a holding company produces programs and distributes them with the help of local stations that are members of its network, but have their own legal independence; (3) cross-media ownership -- media companies include different kinds of media in their portfolio; (4) conglomerates -- corporations whose main activity pertains to a different branch of the economy acquire a media company; (5) vertical integration – mergers in programming production, distribution, publishing activities, etc. Experiences with the “deregulation” demonstrate that just an increase of the number of available channels or the expansion of new print media does not automatically increase the diversity of contents and sources.