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ETV: dreaming of a new drama

Margus Allikmaa PHOTO: Mihkel Maripuu / Postimees

Public Broadcasting (ERR), having garnered €300,000 from government for showing World Cup football, needs to concentrate on educational programmes, thinks its chief Margus Allikmaa.

In interview underneath, Margus Allikmaa says it’s ERR’s own fault that it has projected an impression of being rich – travelling all over the place and bringing title tournaments to its viewers.

So what was that all about now, the ado about World Cup? The sophisticated type of extortion?

No. Not for once have I considered extortion. We did have a serious problem how to put 2014 budget together with two title tournaments in a year – Olympics and World Cup. We had diligently filed our applications to the state budget, we had diligently done the negotiating at the finance ministry, we had explained out positions and been told that there was no money. OK! The state simply has no money! As, for years, there had been the talk of private channels perhaps showing football and other title tournaments, so that’s the logic we followed, making our offers to private channels. Here, we cannot make a difference between private channels and then the Tallinn TV – which is out of the question. Sure we offered to them as well. The decision was made after Edgar Savisaar had announced they didn’t have the money. Politicians then realising extra money was needed – I’m just thankful. This will help us get going, a long way.

You haven’t really paid for anything yet, have you?

We have borrowed, so to say, from next year’s budget. We cannot show the money as earlier year’s expenses while the event takes place in another year. We could not show, as down payment, what we have incurred earlier as former period costs. Total costs will be €650,000, in reality we have paid €50,000 of it. All the rest is next year’s budget money. For €300,000, we now have Riigikogu cover; €300,000 we will have to scrape up within the organisation.

Is that doable?

Well by now it would be embarrassing to say we cannot make it. It’s not easy, but we will be combining a little bit from here and a little bit from there, and maybe we can transfer part of the sum into 2015; or borrow from the next year but one.

But the problem will persist as Public Broadcasting will still be financed one year at a time, thus the need to beg and be in the dark?

It is our desire to increase, at long last, our base financing, as it was in 2012 when €650,000 was granted to finance title tournaments, so the money would be included in the base. So that in 2013, a year with no title tournaments, we would be collecting money and once the title tournaments come, we will have the money and there will be no need to go asking for extra constantly. But they did not include that money.

So the government giveth, and the government taketh away!?

Well we will have to come to the place where it’ll be included, permanently, in the base. I would be happy if the €300,000 now allotted would there remain. Even that would serve to ease the 2016 problems. Hand on the Bible, I would solemnly swear: if that money stays in the base, we will not raise an issue like this in 2016. Not that we would have it OK with the budget. Broadly speaking, we now find ourselves on the 2008–2010 level. To by and to develop programmes, we have not gotten a penny more. Meanwhile, inflation takes its share; but broadcasting costs and remunerations – these are all increasing. ERR is underfinanced. It’s our own fault that we have projected an impression of being rich – travelling all over the place and bringing title tournaments etc to our viewers. But we are insufficiently financed and, therefore, we use money from various foundations as they come up with ideas for programmes to be produced. 

To broadcast Teachers’ Day, you did have to visit the ministry, hat in hand, please give us money.

We did not go hat in hand! When we have sealed our budget, divided the money, with nothing left in reserve; and then, at half year mark they up and come saying we’ve a nice event here and please come arrange the broadcast, then we will have to say we have no money for that! They asked once, they asked again – the answer remained the same. When they came the third time, they came to offer the money!

It is sad that we aren’t discussing, really, what kind of a television we would like to have. Rather, it is how much money we have to do anything at all. What would you like to do in the future?

The volume of educational programmes should greatly increase, environmental programmes as well. Topics like that are crowding in on us, believe you me! For years, we haven’t had a separate budget line for educational programmes. It’s impossible to have zero self-financing for educational and science programmes! That we only expect money from foundations, from funds. But, so far, we have not been able to create it, as all the other things eat up the money. 

For years we have desired to produce a drama series which would not be mere entertainment; rather, we would take some national root text, literary works rising to prominence over the times; to have series come up based on these. We should also have many more series for the children, something good, beneficial and educational for them – this is such a must. Yet, these are very expensive stuff.

What will you be telling your people, where will you pull together the €300,000?

We will definitely be trying to get the missing €300,000 without cancelling any important radio or TV programmes. Definitely, there will be no mass lay-offs. This is not meant to scare anybody, but it is obvious we will not be able to afford everything.

So: thank Football your problems and desires did surface again?

Football is a faith, a religion; and, as private channels aren’t able to buy the licence, somebody will have to do it. We had to do it.

In this process, the good was that as we offered the rights to private channels, we did at least get some idea what kinds of prices our market would take. For our market, the price is too high. €650,000 is too much. Should anybody say that football can also be seen elsewhere and not on ETV screens only, then, yes, that is true; even so, that would be by theft. Because football rights are sold by principle of the territory: to the territories of Finland, Russia or Latvia. And, the rights holders in these countries are supposed to do everything in their power not to share the picture with neighbouring territories. Even so, Northern Estonia will inevitably see the Finns’ picture; Lake Peipsi coastal folks will receive the picture from Russia, the southerners will benefit from the Latvian broadcast. Central Estonia and Saaremaa, however, would miss the football. I am sincerely thankful for the way things worked out here.