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The MRT reform must be supported with more funding

mrt 1
ZNM
Friday August 11th, 2017Friday August 11th, 2017/ Friday August 11th, 2017

Two key issues are important to explain the demand for more funding for the public service compared with current – investment in people and in technology. Although at first glance it looks contrary, MRT faces staff problems and problems with lack of technology even though in the last decade were made certain investments.

 

Written by B.T

 

The biggest challenge of the new Macedonian government in respect to the media reforms is the transformation of the Macedonian Radio Television (MRT) into a reliable public service for the citizens. The public broadcasting service is a pillar of every media system in every  free democratic European country.

The Council of Europe, in its recommendation from 1996, affirms the vital role of public broadcasting services as essential factor for pluralism in media by providing comprehensive program that includes information, education, culture and entertainment for citizens.

The Council of Europe strengthens this role of the public service with the recommendation from 2012, in which explains that the primary role of the public service is to promote the general interest,  as are the social progress, public awareness of democratic processes, intercultural understanding and social integration.

However, in the same recommendation the Council warns that the public service cannot be source of accurate, timely and plural information if it is not independent from various political and economic impacts.

Unfortunately, MRT did not become real public broadcasting service of citizens, due to the exercise of strong political control of the governing structures and the absence of a stable and sustainable source of funding.

The 2014 European Commissions Progress Report also noted the political and party control over MRT, where it is concluded that MRT does not full fulfill the role of a public broadcasting service as source of informative media content that is balanced and impartial. In addition, the Commission emphasizes, “The political and financial independence of the public service is not yet firmly established”.

Negative conclusions about the work of MRT can be found in the 2014 Presidential and Early Parliamentary Elections Final Report by OSCE / ODIHR, in which it is noted  that MRT reporting during the election campaign period was biased in favor of the ruling parties. “The public broadcasting service failed to ensure balanced and equal coverage of all candidates”, it is stated in the report.

In order for MRT to become independent and professional public broadcasting service, the new government should be aware that the public broadcasting service must be independent from any political structure and that appropriate financial model has to be found i.e. one that will provide stable, long-term funding with aim to become strong public broadcaster with appropriate professional staff and equipment.

Political will without money is only empty phrase

The newly elected government at the beginning of June this year, only seemingly understands the importance and the need for strong public service as part of the overall media reform. In March 2016, the SDSM parliamentary group, then in opposition, supported the amendments to the Law on Audio and Audiovisual Media Services. Among other things, the Law envisaged one percent of the government’s budget, which is around 30 million euro, to be allocated for financing MRT.

However, already with the budget rebalance discussed in the Parliament, appear the latest deviations from the previous commitment. In the Budget rebalance, as a replacement for the public broadcasting tax, and the additional funds that were so far, allocated from the Budget of the Republic of Macedonia, for the last quarter of this year, only 200 million Macedonian denars or EUR 3.25 million are foreseen for financing the public broadcasting service. The explanation is that this is exception only until the end of the budget year, and that the complete annual finances will be stipulated in the Budget for 2018.

As in some of public appearances of the PM Zoran Zaev and his Ministers, it was noticed uncertainty on the amount of money allocated from the budget to the MRT i.e. should it be  0.5% or 0.7%.This confusion was additionally reinforced with the proposal for amendment in the LAAVMS, submitted to the Parliament by the opposition, where the percentage for financing the service is decreased to 0.5 percent.

The figure of EUR 3.25 million for the last three months, on annual bases means EUR 13 million euro. That, converted into percents means little over 0.39 percent from the budget, which is EUR 3,305.8 billion with the rebalance.

This means that for this quarter the Government decided to allocate less money for MRT compared to previous years, when the MRT was financed from the broadcasting tax and other budget donations.

This is depicted with the following figures, confirmed at the AJM request and from Public Revenues Office:

Payment of the BT in 2014, 2015, 2016 and in the period January-June 2017 07/07/2017
Broadcasting Tax 2014 2015 2016 30/06/2017
1.Decision for determining the BT 1.194.433.860 1.167.589.610 1.122.461.670 542.081.780
2. Voluntary collection 683.398.019 746.010.855 717.428.913 323.809.018
2.1 Notices 37.295.908 15.697.076 808.250 137.210
3.TOTAL charge (2+2.1) 720.693.927 761.707.931 718.237.163 323.946.228
% charge/ determination (3/1) 60,34 65,24 63,99 59,76
4.Collection by force (PN) 89.517.231 124.423.977 133.456.544 17.401.706
5. TOTAL charge (3+4) 810.211.158 886.131.908 851.693.707 341.347.934
% TOTAL Charge/ determination (5/1) 67,83 75,89 75,88 62,97
Notes: * In the row “Decision for determining the BT borrowings” data is taken only for 2014 due to limited  availability, only 12/2013-11/2014 period is used to calculate the annual amount. Decision for determining for 2015, data for the period 12/2014-11/2015 is used, for 2016, the period 12/2015-11/2016 is used, and until 30.06 2017, data for the period 12/2016-05/2017 is used in calculating the annual amount

From the data presented in this table, the following can be concluded:

For example, according to income, the year 2015 was best. In relation to the collection of the broadcasting tax, it can be seen that MRT has made decisions for determining the tax of 1, 16 billion Macedonian denars or almost EUR 18.9 million. Out of it, by voluntary collections  EUR 12.130 million income was generated, while by forced collection EUR 2.023 million or total collection only from the broadcasting tax for the year 2015, income of over EUR 14.408 million. In the worst year 2014, by total collection MRT generated income of EUR 13.174 million, again over what the Government had projected with the rebalanced budget, which was limited to a projection of EUR 13 million annually.

Where is the money coming from the Government?

When making such analyzes, one should bear in mind that the Government, on several grounds, besides the revenues from the broadcasting tax, allocates additional several million euro annually from the budget for financing of the MRT. According to MRT’s 2016 annual reports, in the last three years the government has received grants in the amount of 3 to 5 million euro. Exception is 2013, when MRT had significantly higher revenue from the Government.

Now with the budget rebalance for 2017, with the reserved EUR 3.2 million for financing MRT by the end of the year, the previous donations will be abolished on various grounds. At the moment, we do not know how much has been transferred from the projected funds for  2017 within the old budget, but starting from the Ministry of Finance document for realization of the budget in the first 6 months, it can be concluded that about 55% of the projected funds are allocated.

“The Government of the Republic of Macedonia in the first six months of 2017 realized 585 million Macedonian denars, which is 32.8% of the budget for this year. The most significant item in the expenditures of the Government of the Republic of Macedonia is the subsidies and transfers, whose realization in this period amounts to 383 million Macedonian denars, or 54.5% of the total planned amount for this purpose” it is stated in the Ministry of Finance document.

This calculation can also be confirmed by the quarterly Report on the work of MRT in 2017. According to the report, MRT received 282 million Macedonian denars or EUR 4.58 million from the budget. However, from the Ministry of Culture out the planned 32 million, MRT did not receive a single penny, and neither MISA transferred anything from the planned 10 million.

Therefore, we conclude that in this rebalance, the Government discards the efforts of the media organizations and does not follow last year’s commitment. Last year, SDSM voted for the Law submitted by the journalistic organizations. This Law envisaged 1% from the state budget to be allocated to MRT, out of which 0.3 percent go to the Macedonian Radio-diffusion and the Agency for Media.

In addition, there is another fact that can be drown out from the MRT’s 2016 annual report, which must not be ignored. At the end of 2016, the total liabilities of MRT (short-term and long-term) amounted to 1.3 billion Macedonian denars or EUR 21.85 million, where reprogrammed debts for VAT are over 2.2 million euro.

Staffing and technical problems

To conclude, the funding solution with 3.35 million euro is solution that is far from the need to keep the system at minimum operating level, let alone some substantial reforms in MRT. When it comes to the public service, neither the government nor the opposition show signs that they are aware or know what the situation is right now and what is necessary to change the bad state.

MRT has a lack of personnel, journalists and technicians, and urgently need of new cameras, computers and vehicles. Although it has over 300 journalists, out of which seventy editors for all three programs on Television and Radio, MRT does not have informative program that meets the minimum standards of real informative program.

During the day, the latest news are somewhere during the late hours (22, possibly 24 o’clock). The morning news start as early as 9, and often at 10 o’clock. This indeed has been shown at several major events in the world –the terrorist attacks throughout Europe, but the biggest, so to speak, journalistic shame, MRT experienced last year during the floods in Skopje, when the first broadcast was at 13 o’clock.

It is similar; maybe even worse the situation with the Radio. The first program of the MR broadcasts the last live news live at 22 o’clock, after which the morning news are being recorded and broadcasted at 7 o’clock in the morning. The first fresh news is broadcasted in a short show at 10 o’clock. We have relatively precise knowledge of how many people work in the information programs, that is, 12 in MRT in the First Program and in the Radio Desk only 4 journalists.

Others that are filling the news releases are from other news rooms, but the essence is that daily news rooms or desks must have more people, in order to function the flow of information i.e. 24 hours a day, which is the legal obligation of the Public Broadcaster (Article 110 from ZAVMU, paragraph one and paragraph three).

Additionally, in the recent years, MRT has destroyed the correspondent network. Moreover, where there is a correspondent, there is lack of cameras to follow the events. The small amount of information they broadcast is due to the solidarity of colleagues from private local media, who are willing to share their materials with the correspondents.

The situation is poor with equipment and with the staff, which controls it. According to data from the Media Agency, in 2015 MRT had only 26 engineers and technicians. Meanwhile the number of technical staff has been reduced, since part of the staff has retired.

Few years ago, there was a complete interruption in broadcasting of the program. The only engineer who knew how to remove the defect was deceased and there was no one to replace him since there was no job opening for that position.

Another shocking fact, presented by reliable source that work in MRT, is that MRT directory does not have spare computer, so if it breaks or needs to be reset or replace some part, the program will be interrupted.

The same can happen for example with the main power unit in the entire house, which are more than two or three decades old.

As far as compliance of the informative program with full timely and prompt information, as well as adequate number of journalists is concerned, there is not enough equipment or vehicles.

For example, the entire MTV, according to our sources, had a total of 20 camera operators, 12 cameras, half of which do not work or have problems with their displays. Three to four camera operators cover the News on MRT1 in the morning and one in the afternoon.

The second program service MRT2, which is now in Albanian, had only two available camera operators in the morning and one in the afternoon. It is also a problem if a team or a camera operator goes on a trip. The editions of other minority languages complain that they do not have a camera operator to take a statement or make a conversation in the field.

On a daily basis are two vehicles used to transport journalists and camera operators with two drivers and one van if needed and if it is not on the road, and in the afternoon, one vehicle and one driver for the two program services. The vehicles are pretty amortized, our sources claim.

There is also a problem with some of the computers in MRT. Namely, the technique has gone so far that the journalists themselves should montage the files, either on TV or in the Radio. However, prefabricated units with the software or the modern system (from Cinegy) are only few.  Only in the newsroom of MTV 1 and MTV 2, and only a limited number of journalists work in the Sinegy system. They are partially edited, and are finished by the editors. Others work on other system – software, “Premier”, which further complicated the work and reduced the quality of the footage due to problems with the transfer of material from the HD cards. Missing microphones, “bugs”, memory cards, are constant problems.

All above mentioned may be confirmed by the fact that for investments in 2016 were foreseen 37 million Macedonian denars (out of total income of over one billion), and only just over 18 million or about 300 thousand euro were realized. In 2015, the situation was even worse – total investments were only bit over 4 million Macedonian denars (see: MRT 2016 Annual Report).

Here is the staff structure of MRT until the end of 2016:

Number of employees:  864

Educational structure of employees:  46.4% with secondary education, 41,3% are with higher education, 12,3% with other.

Only, the data that less than half are with higher education is worring.

There are no reforms without money

According to MRT 2016 Report on the work, the amount of wages has been far from priority according the expenditures. About EUR, 6.5 million were allocated for gross wages. According to the approximate calculation of the charges, it is clear that the average net salary in MRT is around MKD 23,130 (gross, divided by the number of employees, minus 40% of charges). If we exclude managerial contracts, for which unofficially many people are talking, the basic salaries of the editors-in-chief who run the programs range around or below MKD 30.000. Journalists’ wages are even lower.

Anyone who wants serious reform should know that the reform in the media is not carried out with underestimated labor, especially with low salaries in MRT. Only well-paid journalists and editors can be seriously committed and independent in professional expression. In fact, the example with BBC, and not to mention other public services in Europe, but also in the region, is clear. The HRT’s annual budget (the public broadcasting service of Croatia) is just under EUR 200, while the RTS (Serbia) is about EUR 100 million. In Macedonia, no more than EUR 12 million per year are provided for MRT.

These are only some of the reasons why AJM and other media organizations advocate 1% of the Budget of the Republic of Macedonia to be allocated to MRT. The serious reform should be paid, or financially supported; otherwise, it will remain only at the level of false promise or insincere approach.

To point out again – SDSM in 2016 as opposition was supportive and voted for amendments to the law in which the finances for MRT were defined at 1% of the budget. SDSM should remain consistent and not change its stand depending on whether it is in power or in opposition.

The representatives of the journalistic organizations, directly, from the Prime Minister and one of the Ministers received the promise that they will support AJM and will remain consistent. The first steps of the newly elected government with the rebalanced budget and with the stated ideas that it will be done gradually to reach this percentage in period of several years, indicates their inconsistency.

In addition, the political elites need to know that there is no R from the reform, if MRT is left with finances only for its survival. If there are no reforms in the public service, we cannot even talk about overall reforms in the media sphere!

This activity is part of the project “Regional Platform for Advocating media Freedom and Journalists’ Safety”. The content of the analysis is the sole responsibility of the Association of Journalists of Macedonia and the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Union.

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