THE GOVERNMENT has increased its spending on the CyBC by €2.5 million in the 2019 budget to cover the loss of revenue from advertising, after last year’s decision to stop the broadcasting of commercial ads. It will still be allowed to carry ads through barter agreements, arrange sponsorship of shows and product placement and take ads for big sporting events so it can cover the cost of broadcasting rights.
Not everyone was happy with this arrangement, least of all the CyBC unions, which were not even invited to express their views at the discussion of the corporation’s budget at the House finance committee. They were due to meet on Wednesday to examine ways of responding to the decision. Their main objection to the new advertising regime was that it would constitute a blow to the independence of the corporation! This view was also expressed by Akel deputies at the committee.
There could not have been a more irrational argument against the government decision. It suffices to say that none of these champions of broadcasting independence offered a rational explanation of how independence would be affected. In fact the exact opposite is true. A broadcaster that does not depend on advertising for its survival has infinitely more independence than one that does. Would a television station that receives, for example, €200,000 worth of advertising from a big company report anything critical of it and risk losing the revenue? Furthermore, it can focus on quality rather than cheap shows aimed at boosting viewership, in order to attract advertisers.
Not depending on advertising revenue makes a news organisation more independent as alienating its advertisers is not a consideration affecting its news coverage. Can Akel and the unions not understand that eliminating commercial considerations gives the CyBC more not less independence. It is not even as if banning ads would increase the corporation’s dependence on the government which will hold the purse strings. The reality is that the €2.5m that will be lost from advertising represents a paltry 10 per cent of the corporation’s annual financial needs. Dependence on the government is a given as the CyBC receives some €25m from the taxpayer every year.
If banning advertising makes the CyBC a fearless, investigative public broadcaster that produces quality programmes, instead of chasing high viewer ratings through low-brow entertainment like all the private stations, then the extra €2.5m paid by the taxpayer would have been worth spending. Admittedly, there is no guarantee this will happen, but without advertising the small chances that it will have received a little boost.