By Costas Apostolides
THE government’s and House of Representatives’ decision to prohibit commercial advertising on CyBC is a correct policy that is long overdue. But, as usual, the corporation is campaigning to keep its revenues and budget untouched.
DISY leader Averof Neophytou has argued that CyBC should model itself on the BBC, namely a state corporation not funded by commercial adverts, but by tax payer’s money. Its main objectives must be providing news and information, cultural and sports programmes, TV and radio programmes that promote Cyprus and its national interest, and discuss and analyse issues concerning the country and public at large.
Last but not least, the corporation should provide good entertainment. In undertaking all of this, the CyBC should not be influenced by commercial considerations.
As a general principle organisations that are subsidised should not be in competition with the private sector. The CyBC is both heavily subsidised and takes in revenue from commercials. (The European Union allows state media to raise funds through the attraction of commercial advertisements, though some countries do not allow this option.)
The problem is that it is virtually impossible for a private station to compete on all fronts against a heavily subsidised state media company.
For example a private station cannot put the necessary resources in place to compete with CyBC’s morning radio show from 6am to 10am weekdays, The Morning Itinerary, which has a large back up staff, and includes interviews with ministers and others on all the morning news stories.
When it comes to the evening TV news, however, the private TV stations are putting up a good fight.
Through a slicker presentation and some very good journalists, private TV stations are managing to compete, with Sigma and Antenna generally doing well against the state station.
Under conditions of prosperity advertising revenues appear sufficient to carry the main private stations, though regional stations face problems.
The recession, however, has drastically hit advertising revenue and three of the main advertisers, Orphanides supermarket and Laiki Bank have closed down, while Bank of Cyprus has drastically reduced advertising.
Moreover advertising generally was hit early – from late 2008 – and has not recovered. Therefore prohibiting commercial advertising by CyBC at least allows the “cake” to expand a little for the private sector.
The CyBC admittedly is in a difficult position if commercial advertising is cut and at the same time the government reduces its subsidy. The corporation states that the two together represent a reduction of 25 per cent of its revenue.
But it is also clear that there is potential for cuts, or changes that could increase revenue. For example the CyBC 2 TV channel is not producing anything very worthwhile.
A station that has three episodes of Friends running one after the other does not deserve to exist, though I must say it’s still a better series than anything on FOX.
CYBC 2 is very low on the rankings and does not comply with the stated objectives of the corporation. There are also one or two radio channels that could be sold off.
There are significant gains that could be made by streamlining and coordinating the journalists in the news rooms (TV, radio channels 1 and 3). While the policy of hiring retired staff on weekends should also be stopped.
It must also be borne in mind though that the situation in Cyprus necessitates that CyBC provide Turkish Cypriot programming, and this is a high cost operation, one which I suspect requires upgrading to be a viable alternative for the Turkish Cypriot community and while it is in competition in trying to put the Greek Cypriot case before the international community in both radio and internet form.
Certainly improvements are needed in these activities, but they are related to policy on the Cyprus problem and should not be the object of austerity cuts.
There are justified criticisms against CyBC. The tendency of TV journalists to speak more than their guests on TV discussion programmes is one example, though to be fair their colleagues on the radio morning show do a better job and often put politicians in a difficult position.
The problem of CyBC 2 has been mentioned, but the corporation also states that it cannot fund major international events such as the Olympics or World Cup.
The answer to that is simple. CyBC should cooperate with the private stations to share costs and split programmes between them. Cyprus is too small for the state TV/radio to fund such activities alone.
CyBC has also had some very successful programmes in recent years that have forced the private stations to change their ways. One of the most popular is the game show We Play Cypriot, by which the Cyprus dialect is the focus of competition between groups of people.
It’s been a major hit and has given rise to similar shows on other stations. So not all is weak, and there are other programmes that are contributing to the cultural and other objectives of the corporation.
The CyBC should therefore be encouraged to be inventive, save us from the mundane Greek and Cypriot soaps and encourage innovation. It should sell off CyBC2 and should not compete for commercial advertisements.
Costas Apostolides is chairman of EMS Economic Management Ltd ([email protected])