News / 24.03.2011

State Broadcaster should be funded from public purse

Seven of the eight big political parties are in favour of funding the operations of YLE from the public purse. The Union magazine Journalisti surveyed the position of parties in relation to YLE’s funding as part of a larger media survey in February.

Support for public funding comes from the Christian Democrats, the Centre Party, the True Finns, the Social Democrats, the Swedish People’s Party, the Left Coalition and the Greens of Finland. The National Coalition Party, a senior member in the current coalition government has not voiced a clear opinion on the issue.

The Christian Democrats are of the opinion fee payment should take into consideration of the paying capabilities of different socio-economic groups such as students with families and single parents.

The Swedish People’s Party are in support of a fixed YLE tax that does not depend on income level and should not fluctuate with the annual budget.

As a solution the Left Coalition is proposing a tax-based funding arrangement which stabilises the economy, tax revenue and budget fluctuations. The Greens on their part are talking about a “buffer fund” which would “prevent the government from putting pressure on YLE with sudden funding cuts”.

Whatever the actual model adopted of budget funding the political parties are now in consensus over an issue they considered as a last alternative a few years ago.

How to finance the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE) has been an issue that has bedevilled politicians of late. A parliamentary committee proposed two years ago to scrap the current television licensing fee and replace it with a public broadcasting fee paid by all households.

The proposed public broadcasting fee was to be paid by everyone irrespective of whether they possessed a television set or not.

But the proposal has been placed on hold by the Minister of Communication Suvi Linden, who deferred that decision to the new parliament that will be formed after the April general elections.

As a result YLE does not know how its operations would be financed beyond 2012 until a new government comes to power.

According to Jari Niemelä, chairman of programme workers union of YLE (YOT) the reason for the consensus stems from the fact that none of the political parties wants the financing of YLE to become an election issue.

“And it is good that way. I hope that after the elections YLE’s funding would be taken to the government negotiations and the issue should quickly receive a clear proposal. The most important, from YLE’s perspective is that the funding should in one way or the other be stabilized.

To Pekka Karhuvaara, managing director of MTV Media, the support of the political parties was expected because there are so many practical difficulties with other models of financing.

“Financing YLE from the state budget would be a clear solution. But the financing model would not affect the competition situation rather, what would affect it would be what YLE does with the money. If YLE comes out with new services into areas that are occupied by commercial players, then it would be coming to disrupt competition with tax payers money”, he said.

The bone of contention has always been that YLE should limit itself to programming areas that commercial broadcasters consider harmless to their interests.

A quick decision on financing the operations of YLE from the public purse would provide predictability of the company’s operations in the coming years. But public financing will also bind the company firmly into state-ownership. There are bitter examples world-wide of how public financing of broadcasting has swung according to the political winds.

“For instance in the Netherlands, it is was observed that even though politicians were committed to a certain level of financing, changes in governments have led to considerable cuts, says Tom Moring, Professor of mass Communication at the Swedish School of Social Science.

Moring points out that it is rare in European public broadcasting to have an entirely public financing model. More common is a combination of financing models that also contain revenue from advertising.

In April last year, leaders of parliamentary groups jointly committed themselves to a funding level of 480 million euros annually for YLE from 2012 onwards. According to information gathered by Journalisti the political parties consider the current budget size adequate for YLE. It is only the Christian Democrats and the True Finns who are in favour of reducing the budget.

“I would be satisfied if YLE would still maintain the current budget level for the next two years. However, I don’t believe that staff reduction in YLE would stop at 3000 if YLE provides a more precise channel profile of its services”, says Jari Niemelä.

Translated and edited by Linus Atarah

Original story:

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