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A Fee for the Public Broadcaster as Reason for Political PR

13 July 2016
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Ion BUNDUCHI, media expert

The state has the obligation to provide a minimum level of information of public interest to its citizens; such a minimum level of information can be provided by the public broadcaster that the state undertook to build; the public broadcaster can be truly public if it is financially and editorially independent; a public broadcaster cannot have editorial independence without financial independence; the financial independence cannot be achieved if the public broadcaster “lives” on the state budget that is run by the government.
On paper, throughout its existence, the public broadcaster has been funded from the state budget. The current Broadcaster Code stipulates that the public broadcaster is funded in a guaranteed and sufficient manner. Since 2006, when the code was adopted, neither of the multiple governments that ruled the country followed the law. The public broadcaster has always been under-funded. It has always been forced to beg money from the government despite the fact that the current legislation has linked the funding to the public broadcaster’s Annual Activity Plan, which is a document with two chapters: tasks and cost of tasks. Rubbish! In reality, all the managers of the public broadcaster have galled the carpets of the governance since 2006 hoping that the Ministry of Finance or the Prime Ministers or the MPs will become more generous. These hopes were vain, because the Soviet practices are reinforced concrete as compared to the law. The law is one thing, but the party is another thing. And it’s not yesterday that we are talking about. It’s about today!
About domestic anomalies

Since even the good provisions of the law have not worked, the authors of the new Broadcaster Code try to think of other provisions that will work. One of them is the subscription fee for the public broadcaster. The main reason is to ensure financial independence and protect it from the pressures of the power, which have been permanent since the existence of the public broadcaster. In fact, it should be called state broadcaster, because the definition of a public one is: funded by the public, in public service and controlled by the public. What do we have in reality? A service funded by the state; often we don’t know who it services and who controls it or rather, it is either uncontrolled or poorly controlled. Why do I say this? When there is efficient control, there are no debts of many millions almost all managers of the public broadcaster end up their mandates with. And, to remember everything, many of the managers with debts, as a “punishment”, were sent to diplomatic missions or participated in elections on party lists or found jobs in high-level administrations. Therefore, the definition of the public broadcaster is one thing, but what we have in reality is totally different.
About the essence

So, the fee. What is its origin? It is the sincere intention of the authors of the draft code to ensure the financial independence of the public broadcaster, thinking that the obligation of the state to build a truly public broadcaster was also sincere even though its implementation cannot be seen. An important specification: it is not a new fee imposed to us, beneficiaries of services provided by the public broadcaster. We still pay, as we did yesterday and the day before yesterday. The difference is that the money used to and keeps getting to the government, in the budget and the government used to and keeps deciding if and how much to give to the broadcaster. The government used to and keeps giving this money to the broadcaster making sure or, at least, suggesting that the latter will have to be obedient. So, the fee would mean that some of the money we pay as taxes is detached to a separate account, which is the account of the public broadcaster and the government does not have access to it. Consequently, it is necessary to identify the mechanism by which some of the taxes reach the public broadcaster, which would increase its financial independence and make it accountable not to the government, but to the citizen who pays it directly, not through intermediaries. When one pays separately, one has the right to request the good/service they pay for. So, essentially the problem is: can the Parliament and Government find the mechanism by which some of the taxes we pay are directed to the public broadcaster? I am fully convinced it can. But, knowing the nature of the political class and given that there are many and different laws in the election period, this fee might serve as a pretext of cheap and efficient PR for anyone. Any MP might show themselves revolted about the fee, demonstrating parental “care” for the citizens and eliminating an additional burden for them. It doesn’t even matter that this is not an additional fee. It doesn’t matter that the part of the redirected tax might be 5 lei per month. Even the “care” that makes us repay the stolen billion doesn’t matter. This is a good reason for a revolt in the name of voters and this opportunity must be fully capitalized. I am afraid that this is where we are getting and the real independence of the public broadcaster will wait.
The article was published within the Advocacy Campaigns Aimed at Improving Transparency of Media Ownership, Access to Information and promotion of EU values  and integration project, implemented by the IJC, which is, in its turn, part of the Moldova Partnerships for Sustainable Civil Society project, implemented by FHI 360.

This article is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The content are the responsibility of author and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.