E. Europe's Broadcasters See a Harsh Future
EASTERN European radio and television networks, once all-powerful, now face becoming poor relations to their European Community neighbors.It is not an enviable position. As hard as they may try, the people who run television and communications services are finding it hard to switch to commercial broadcasting. At MIPCOM, the international television market here that brought together some 6,000 TV buyers and sellers from around the world, the Poles, Czechoslovaks, and Hungarians looked out at the glittering displays of Western TV programs that they could barely afford. They hoped, meanwhile, to sell some of their own shows. "It is not easy for us these days," said Barbara Pietkiewicz, who heads Polish TV Enterprise. "Our budgets have been cut. We don't really know what kind of new broadcasting law the future will bring." In Poland, as in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, the broadcasting field is in confusion; not only have budgets been severely cut, but equipment is antiquated, and there are no guidelines for the future. Because of the lack of direction, the old communist broadcast ideologies continue, though strict censorship no longer prevails. Western broadcasters are eager to gain a financial foothold in Eastern European television and radio. A French company reportedly offered to set up a co-venture with Polish TV, but was rejected. In Hungary, Britain's Rupert Murdoch has bought a substantial interest in a TV station. In Poland, a US citizen appears to have the government's approval to construct a cable system in which he will have a major interest. But these Western moves don't substantially change basic attitudes. For decades, radio and television in these countries served as state propaganda tools. Many people in broadcasting today are the same ones who kept the government line. "You can't compare us with Western Europe," says Tomas Roubik, who handles exports for the Czech TV monopoly. "We are still very much saddled with our past." Mr. Roubik confirmed that while his government is drafting a broadcasting law designed to change the old structure, the staff of the three Czechoslovak TV channels has not adapted to the new conditions. It is still almost impossible to criticize the Soviet Union on the air. Everett Dennis, of the Freedom Forum Media Studies Center and an expert on Eastern European media, says the transition of Eastern European broadcasting is going to be "slow and painful." He did note that in Hungary the transition to capitalist-style TV was proceeding. A Bulgarian TV executive attending MIPCOM acknowledges that there is a good deal of resistance to change in his country. He doubts that Bulgaria will embrace commercial broadcasting, and added: "After all, television is supposed to represent the voice of the government." The former East Germany is now served by the two main German (state-run) TV channels as well as commercial satellites. According to Roubik, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland have many applicants for broadcast licenses. The governments appear hesitant to make the necessary frequencies available, however, which means that new broadcasters will have to lease them from the state networks.