Slovenia is to hold yet another referendum this Sunday, this time on the recently passed law on national radio-television, RTV Slovenia. While not critical to the government of Borut Pahor (although it came with a price), the result will nevertheless be interpreted as an important benchmark for PM and his team and Sunday’s vote should therefore not be underestimated. But seriously, what is it all about? In short, it’s about turning state radio and television into public radio and television once again.
Boy with a flute, the mascot of RTVSLO by sculptor Zdenko Kalin (source)
The current law on RTVSLO (one the new law seeks to replace) was crafted in 2005 by then newly minted government of Janez Janša, passed by Janša’s coalition in the parliament and then confirmed by a very narrow margin on a referendum called by the freshly dethroned LDS, then still led by Tone Rop. The law was widely seen as a blatant attempt to subjugate the biggest and most influential public media in the country, mostly by changing the organisation and composition of Programming and Supervisory boards, making them more, shall we say, government friendly by increasing the number of seats in both bodies (thus making them ineffective in the long term) and increasing the number of government-appointed members: 21 out of 29 and 9 out of 11 for Programming and Supervisory boards respectively. In addition wages of all workers at RTVSLO including journalists were now subject to the Law on wages of civil servants, making their connection to the state even stronger. They were now in fact employees of the state, overseen by state-controlled boards.
The law was drafted almost single-handedly and vigorously defended by a prominent member of Janez Janša’s SDS Branko Grims, who later concocted an overhaul of the media legislation earning him the designation of Goebbels wannabe. But in all honesty, not everything about the law was inherently bad. One thing the law did achieve was to somewhat stabilise RTVSLO’s finances by introducing a special levy, a solution which has proven effective although highly unpopular (as levies tend to be) and object of many a mockery, mostly along the lines of “this is what I get for my 12 euro?”
So what did Slovenes get for their 12 euro per month? Well, not much. In fact, there’s a general consensus that RTVSLO programming has gone from bad to worse. Not only was political influence plentiful, now it was also government sanctioned. Not only was there less and less interesting content, ratings were being chased by actively mimicking programming approaches of privately-owned POP TV (which is anything but a public service). Thus RTVSLO willingly abandoned its role of a standard bearer in terms of keeping overall professionalism and quality content at acceptable levels. Add to that the constant tug-of-war between urban and rural Slovenia (more cowbell!) and you have one big money-guzzling clusterfuck which has just gone digital.
While Radio Slovenia – the “R” in “RTVSLO” – somehow managed to keep producing quality content and evade serious raids on its autonomy, this can not be said for TV which has provided us with some memorable epic fails, pengovsky’s favourite still being The Bomb in Studio/Big Bad Ultra double bill which was probably one of the lowest points RTVSLO hit since independence, courtesy of semi-competent journalists on a mission and a drive for ratings at all costs.
Shoddy programming was backed by shoddy management and in the end RTVSLO ended up paying shit-load of monies for various projects which either never saw the light of day or burnt cash faster than a Concorde with an engine on fire, adding precious little to either specific or overall ratings. It was as if accordion-based content was the only game in town…. Errr… In the village, that is. Because shows which included a lot of polka, dancing and accordion were a huge hit. Well, I guess almost anything you air during Friday primetime is bound to become a hit. In this case it was the accordion. There you go.
At any rate. The referendum is now on. And the latest polls suggest that a) the turnout will barely reach 20 percent and b) those who intend to vote are split almost down the middle, with those opposing the law holding the tiniest of edges. This will probably go down to the wire (again) especially since there is a lot riding on this vote politically. Which is why it is even more curious that the coalition has until now made only token efforts in promoting the “yes” vote and the opposition did similarly little in promoting the “no” vote.
More on that tomorrow, of course
Tuesday, December 7th, 2010