Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Weak Arguments Just Won't Work

I see that Dutch public broadcasting has launched a direct appeal to its public to protest about government funding cuts. That's been tried by so many others before. And it never works. Because the public have no reference to measure whether the claims are true.

The antiquated Dutch system with over 22 separate public-funded production companies finally broke in 2011, more than 5 years after independent analysis warned that it was all unsustainable. 127 million was shaved off the national public broadcast budget then, the balance being found by virtually eliminating the Wereldomroep (Radio Netherlands), some orchestras, and very bureaucratic organisations like the Media Commission. So the cuts to national broadcasting then was 127 not 200 million as is being claimed now.

Then along came another cut of another 100 million. And that will kill off a lot of creative productions that once gave the Netherlands a production edge in Europe. Now, that talent has vapourised, I would argue that only the VPRO is left as a public broadcaster in the way that it adds value to society and social discussion. The rest are doing their best to fill airtime. But even the VPRO has been decimated recently. And, of course, the wrong people were forced to leave. Dutch public broadcasting is notoriously bureaucratic and a lot more needs to be chopped away before the young tender shoots have a chance to recover. It's going to take time, and Hilversum doesn't have much time left.

Organising a day of action in the Hague, with free buses from the provinces, smacks more of a rally the government might organise in Iran. Not of this century.

Mind you, the political parties are not being clever either. Instead of ignoring such a protest campaign, the right-of- centre VVD has tabled questions in the Dutch parliament. Was public money being used to finance such a campaign, which has so far raised 130,000 signatures? Probably not - build a few pages on a website and grabbing a few relevant quotes can't cost that much. And all this might raise the question as to why there is still guaranteed airtime for political parties in a 500 channel universe.

What the government should have done is set aside a budget for public broadcasting and ensured that the current incumbents could only get access to half that amount. The balance would be open to new production guilds who could create programmes without the current legacy perspective. Fewer programmes of a much higher production value are desperately needed in this market.

I believe in a healthy public broadcasting system. But I also demand it to be far more transparent. That is definitely not the case at the moment. Holland is well behind other countries in working out what public broadcasting does to maintain and grow public values. And then explaining it to the people that foot the bill. Us. 
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