FOR MANY years the Dias media group, which has a big stake in Sigma TV, campaigned against the public broadcaster CyBC taking advertising and thus competing for advertising revenue with private television stations. Its argument was perfectly rational – a broadcaster funded by the taxpayer should not be depriving private stations, which received no state support, of much-needed revenue by taking a piece of the advertising pie.
This was an uneven playing field, made even more so by the state allowing the CyBC to raise revenue by running lottery draws, while forbidding the private stations to do so. Even so, the revenue generated by the corporation came nowhere near covering its annual costs, which included highly paid staff, short working hours and over-generous pensions. The pension fund has a big deficit that is covered by the taxpayer.
On Wednesday, having discussed the matter with the corporation’s board, the council of ministers decided that the CyBC would stop taking commercial advertising. It would still be allowed to take adverts on a barter basis and broadcast adverts of events it is sponsoring. To compensate the corporation, the government would increase its funding starting from 2019. In other words, the taxpayer will pick up the bill for making the advertising pie bigger for private television stations.
There was no issue of the public broadcaster cutting its operating costs, as it would no longer need a commercial department and the work of its accounts department will be reduced. What will most probably happen is that the redundant staff will be offered over-generous compensation packages to take ‘voluntary retirement’, as is standard practice in the public sector. The Anastasiades government is very generous with the taxpayer’s money, when it comes to keeping public employees happy.
Perhaps now that the CyBC will not be looking for advertising revenue, its board will decide to turn it into a true public broadcaster that does not compete with private stations for high viewer ratings. At present, the CyBC is no different from private television stations, offering lowest common denominator entertainment and completely ignoring the minority of demanding viewers that want a little quality from the public broadcaster, even if the shows are not locally produced. This minority has been completely ignored since the arrival of private television stations.
A public broadcaster that is wholly funded by the taxpayer cannot ignore minority tastes – it has an obligation to cater for the whole population. We can only hope that the big bosses of the CyBC will understand this new reality and start catering for minority interests, broadening the range and improving the quality of its output.