Head of ERR wants more stable funding

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PHOTO: Aivar Aotäht

Chairman of the board of public broadcaster ERR, Erik Roose, sums up his vision for the public law media funding model as follows: “More sensible, longer-lived, clearer.” He is not satisfied with the current model and believes that ways of securing additional funding need to be considered. One option would be to bring advertising back to ETV.

CEO of Eesti Meedia Sven Nuutmann wrote in an opinion piece yesterday that commercialization of ETV’s program and increased ratings-centeredness points to the public broadcaster’s desire to bring back commercials. Nuutmann also wrote that Roose has lobbied for the plan among state representatives, as well as that it has been given the green light by the finance ministry.

“I’m not lobbying for anything. I’m working, and lobbying is not among by primary duties,” Roose, who took over as head of ERR last summer, told Postimees yesterday. Asked whether someone is doing the lobbying for him, Roose did not have an answer. He said that the subject matter has been raised during development plan meetings.

“The basis of public broadcasting funding, volumes, what the taxpayer gets for their money – those questions are theoretically always in the air, especially when putting together next year’s budget,” the head of ERR said.

Commenting on the alleged green light from the finance ministry, Roose said he can only share what has trickled down the grapevine. “I have gotten the impression that a part of finance ministry officials would be okay with it,” Roose explained. “Then again, I understand them fully as it is a simple matter for them: they would like it if the public broadcaster had revenue from outside the state budget. They’ve got applicants lining up from here to Pechory.”

Legislation in need of updating

Roose said that having commercials on ERR would hardly be unheard-of. According to the chairman, approximately half of the 43 members of the European Broadcasting Union sell advertising. “Therefore, it would not be a unique exception for ERR. It is a theoretical avenue for funding; however, I believe it would be simpler not to do it (sell advertising – ed.),” Roose said.

He admits that funding ERR receives from the state budget is insufficient. “The short answer to the question of whether we need more money is yes. The real question is what we need the money for,” Roose explained.

ERR desperately needs money to modernize its television complex. “The state of our two TV buildings that stand opposite to each other on Faehlmanni and Gonsiori streets is such that soon we could simply close the doors. Renovating them would cost many times as much as constructing a new modern building,” Roose admitted.

Funding for public broadcasting is prescribed by law. This means the ball is largely in the parliament’s court.

“I personally believe the 11-year-old law should be amended,” Roose said. He added that the need to do so is becoming more urgent with each passing year. Roose also said that funding is one component among many, and changes can only be made in the form of an amendment.

“Nothing can happen tomorrow or the day after that. So private media can keep calm this year and the next. Nothing will happen so quickly, even if someone wanted it to,” he said.

Roose said that at the same time, looking at the difficult situation of our advertising market and how major US social networks are taking our advertising money, it is understandable why private media networks do not want to see another competitor. He said that politicians in Estonia and elsewhere in Europe should think about what to do to stop this virtual embezzlement.

“It is something that needs to be addressed. Pulling the blanket off each other will not help. I’m also looking toward politicians with urgent expectation in this matter.”

ERR supervisory board members, MPs Marika Tuus-Laul (Center) and Heidy Purga (Reform) said that while Roose has presented several ideas for changing ERR funding, they have yet to hear a proposal that can be taken seriously.

“Naturally we will not be showing commercials, but the construction of the new building needs to be financed,” Tuus-Laul said. She went on to say that the current TV building’s equipment is outdated and salaries below the Estonian average. “It is impossible to work there like this,” the politician said.

Talking of ways to fund ERR, Roose gave the example of Lithuania where funding is tied to a percentage of excise duty and income tax revenue. He said that this leaves less room for haggling. “I believe it is not sensible to maintain this constant uncertainty of how much money we’ll get, and whether we can continue producing the “Foorum” talk show or not,” Roose found.

No certainty

Tuus-Laul does not believe such a model to be sensible. “The board wants a fixed percentage. The system they have in Lithuania and Finland is not an option for us. We discussed it in the supervisory board, but no one except Roose approved of it,” she said. The MP added that the idea was also not supported by the Riigikogu Cultural Affairs Committee.

Heidy Purga also said that tying the budget to a fixed percentage is unthinkable. “ERR is not the only organization to want that. Why should an exception be made for them?” Purga admitted that the new chairman has a difficult task ahead of him. “He must make do with the budget he has while covering EV100 events in his first year,” she said.

Purga agrees with Roose in that the problem lies in lack of certainty in terms of the final budget. “That is where all these different versions are from,” she said.

Tuus-Laul found that it is unnecessary to amend the public broadcasting act for the sake of funding. She believes that revision should concern sections on “new media”.

Purga sees a VAT exception as the most realistic solution. “There are other agencies that have VAT exceptions. I believe it is most expedient to look there first.”

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