Банкеръ Weekly

Briefs

BNT DEMANDS BGN80MN STATE SUBSIDY FOR 2005

The executive and legislative power will face difficulties with state media in the very first days of the new parliamentary season. It is not a matter of journalism, but of money. The managers of Bulgarian National Television (BNT) want a BGN31MN higher state subsidy next year, it is clear from the draft budgets of the Bulgarian National Radio (BNR) and BNT, approved by the Council for Electronic Media (CEM). BNT expects to get some BGN80MN from the republican budget, although just BGN49MN was allocated to it in 2003. BNR's claims are more modest - it demanded about BGN35MN for 2005, or BGN5MN up from the amount earmarked for 2004. After the two projects have been already approved by CEM, they are to be discussed by the Finance Ministry, which will decide if the entire amount of required money would be allocated to the electronic media. The National Assembly will have the last say - firstly the parliamentary media commission, next - the deputies. It's almost certain that the Finance Minister's calculations about Bulgaria's macroeconomic framework will differ from BNT's and Finance Minister Milen Velchev will not allow such a huge amount to be released by the budget. History shows that BNT has never received as much from the budget as it has asked for. It even does not get the entire amount, voted by Parliament, but some 90% of it. The biggest achievement was that of BNT's former director general Kiril Gotsev, who was dismissed in March. For 2004 he managed to get about BGN5MN more than for the previous year, which resulted in a 10% increase of the budget money for BNT, from BGN44MN to BGN49MN. In the same time, Mr. Gotsev had demanded BGN71MN from the Finance Ministry. According to the almost unanimous opinion of the media experts, the additional 10% to the subsidy for BNT was not a result of the changed policy of the executive and legislative power to the state-run media, but of the personal contacts of the already former director general Gotsev to some power circles. Presently, however, Mr. Gotsev is already back in history and BNT might face a more difficult financial situation in 2005 than ever before. According to the requirements of its programme licence, as of January 1, 2005 each of its regional centres - in Varna, Plovdiv, Rousse and Bourgas - should launch its own 12-hour programme. Currently, the four regional TV centres broadcast 4-hour programmes. If the budget does not earmark money for a longer programme, BNT's managers shall not be able to keep the commitment, undertaken by the licence, BNT's management Board member Boyka Bozukova commented for the BANKER weekly. BNT's technical re-equipment is also a serious problem. We have earmarked BGN19MN for capital expenses in the entire amount of BGN80MN we demand from the budget. These finances have long ago been pleaded for in front of the Finance Ministry. Without that money BNT will very soon become an e-media with absolutely outworn technical equipment. If BNT does not meet European standards for digital broadcasting in 2005 or 2006 at the latest, it will be soon taken out of international exchange through which Bulgaria broadcasts signals to the other public televisions in Europe, Ms. Bozukova said. After the row of scams in which BNT managers got involved through the year, there will hardly be any responsible state official to publicly vindicate the thesis that BNT deserves a higher budget for 2005. In the forthcoming pre-election struggle such a statement will be certainly caught by his political opponents. It's also certain that the public servant and his political force will make rivals in the management bodies of all private televisions, which have for a long time been grumbling at the fact that state-run media are fed both by the budget and by ads. Both the first and the second options would not be to the liking of ruling politicians less than a year prior the forthcoming parliamentary elections. At the same time they should not forget something else. Since 2000 when the first private television - bTV - was granted a licence, till the present day two governments have failed to set prerequisites for the operation of both state-run and private televisions without scandals, suspicions of malfeasance and corruption. Although the Radio and Television Act allowed (and still does, albeit with big restrictions) BNT and BNR to play on the ads market, none of the dozen of former directors of BNT since 2000 has ever uttered a good word about it. It has not been praised by owners of private television channels either. And when all are discontented three is something wrong indeed...

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