CONTESTS FOR NEW RADIO AND TV LICENCES
For the first time in the history of private media in Bulgaria cable TV channels united their programmes to broadcast live one and the same event. Between 19.30 hrs. and 21.00 hrs. on Tuesday (April 18) TV 7, BBT, Europe and Diema 2 showed a discussion titled Rules of the Game, entirely dedicated to the future contests for licensing new radio and TV operators. The talks were mainly focused on the amendments to the Radio and Television Act, proposed by the Association of Bulgarian Radio and Television Operators (ABRTO), the biggest association of partners and shareholders in private electronic media. The argument was if the proposals of owners would help to hold fair procedures.
In winter ABRTO's management proposed that the firms which were using radio and TV frequencies without having won a tender and were currently broadcasting with an interim permission from the National Assembly to be divided into three groups. The first two - for those users of air frequencies who are accurate to the State. ABRTO's idea is that they should be relieved of the obligation to take part in the future licensing procedures. The association offers that the Council for Electronic Media (CEM) which should by law organize and hold the procedures to hand them automatically a licence for using the frequency they have been occupying so far. ABRTO's draft bill projects sifting only for companies that fail to prove they have been accurate to the various terms and procedures, announced by the State.
The CEM is expected to invite the contests by end-June at the latest as the strategy for the sector's development till the year 2009 (approved by the former 39th National Assembly) projects. Almost 800 letters of intent for participation in the contests for national and regional frequencies have been received by the beginning of this week.
The unprecedented debate, broadcasted by four televisions, hints once again that the appetite for the still free air resource in the country is huge. At that, not so much because of the number of contestants, but because some of them are people with many possibilities and strong positions, politicians included. Their only problem is that all of them want something which won't be enough for all. The struggle for supremacy has already begun and promises to be held violently and by all means.
For the time being the most serious opponents to ABRTO's idea to leave most of the air frequencies in the hands of those who are using them now are the owners of some of the oldest and most famous cable TV channels. Like those who organized and broadcasted the debate on Tuesday - the owner of BBT Peter Mandjoukov, the former Chairman of Municipal Bank's Supervisory Board Lyubomir Pavlov (considered to be the powerful man in the shade in TV 7), the owner of televisions from the Diema Vision group Emil Slavchev whose interests are connected according to rumours with those of the famous general from BSP circles Lyuben Gotsev), and Emil Stoyanov, co-owner of TV Europe and brother of former President Peter Stoyanov. With the exception of Mr. Slavchev whose TV channels Diema+ and Diema 2 are progressing fairly well, the common problem of the other bosses is that their media are developing more slowly than their ambitions. This is something that could change only if they win tenders for air frequencies in the near future and gather a wider audience. As it is known, BBT and Europe have already filed documents for participation in a tender for a fourth national television. Apart form that Mr. Mandjoukov has moved in documents for the regional frequencies in the biggest Bulgarian towns. According to rumours, the famous TV journalist Kevork Kevorkyan is in his camp.
On the other side of the barricade are those who like ABRTO's proposal. On one hand, these are the owners of more than 100 regional radio and TV stations, whom the draft bill promises to save nerves and efforts from participating in contests against the already mentioned mighty firms and lobbies. Besides them, there are also other players who like the association's proposals. As the BANKER weekly already wrote, the air in 27 Bulgarian towns was occupied by the new CTN television in March. After the new media began broadcasting the Commission for Regulation of Communications announced that its temporary licences had been issued to the benefit of the Technosteel company, which was earlier owned by Chimimport and which rumours are still connecting with the well-known economic group TIM.
At about the same time TV 2, another television channel, started operating in Sofia. It is broadcasted at the frequency used by Nova Television until July 2003 while it was still a regional channel allowed to broadcast in the capital only. Although the managers of Nova said that after they got the national licence the company licensed for the Sofia region was sold to a British company, there is a different story spread in the media circles, too. It is believed that the agreement between the above mentioned British company and the Bulgarian-Swedish TV 2 whose program licence was used for the start of the new channel, is in fact an alliance between the owners of Nova Television and the well-known head of the Kres advertising agency, Krassimir Gergov. Recently, Gergov became a consultant (and according to the rumours, a shadow owner, too) of another television channel broadcasted in Sofia, GTV. Along with all other businessmen who managed to establish airy TV channels in the last few months, he will make a profit if, in the near future, the National Assembly adopts legislative amendments stabilizing their temporary licences and making them permanent.
At present, it seems that apart from the most famous names in the Bulgarian media and advertising branch, there are also the coalition partners National Movement Simeon II (NMSII) and the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) at the two sides of the barricade. It is not a secret that NMSII is the one that backs the ABRTO bill. A few days ago, several yellow MPs put forward in the National Assembly a text giving more rights to those who used the broadcasting frequencies so far. However, the representatives of BSP oppose their proposal. It became clear at the Tuesday discussion that about a week ago members of the Parliament representing the biggest parliamentary group gave the NMSII bill for consideration by the parliamentary Corruption Committee.
The worst thing of all seems the fact that it is not yet known what the two structures authorized to organize and hold the competitions - the Communications Regulation Commission (CRC) and mainly the Council for Electronic Media (CEM), think about the situation. The information coming from them is rather scanty. The commission and the council are only declaring they are ready to apply the acting legislation strictly. Currently, it stipulates that all candidates get ready for competitions if they want to take frequencies. However, neither CEM nor CRC say a word about the organization and the philosophy of the future competitions or about what types of radio and TV channels they are going to license.