Digital Broadcasting Threatens Eastern Europe’s Media
WASHINGTON, May 27, 2014 – Broadcast media throughout Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union stand to suffer when the transition to digital broadcasting takes place in 2015. Although digital broadcasting promises new channels, the way several governments are implementing the switch may result in fewer broadcasters able to reach audiences, and therefore create a more restricted news environment. These findings were published in IREX’s 2014 Media Sustainability Index (MSI) for Europe & Eurasia. See www.irex.org/msi for the full text of the report.
Many consumers have been kept in the dark about transition plans. Some audiences are unlikely to receive clear directions or subsidies for set-top boxes or new receivers required to continue enjoying free-to-air television.
Media professionals in these countries served as the main source of information for the report’s findings. The frustrations they voiced in Ukraine about the switchover were but one example. “The unfair distribution of frequencies,” according to one study panelist, “led to a situation where digital licenses were denied to regional television channels and radio stations with 10 to 20 years of history. In 2015, when the country transfers to digital television, they will lose access to their viewers.”
In other cases, conglomerates close to the government—or the state itself—will assume monopoly control of the multiplexes carrying digital signals.
The MSI measures the health of a country’s media sector by scoring five component parts, including the legal environment, quality of journalism, and media management practices.
Ukraine experienced significant upheaval over the past year and its media faced continued pressure. Its score fell just slightly but still part of a negative seven-year trend. Whether or not Ukraine’s media will be allowed to rebound by the new government and oligarch-owners will be scrutinized in next year’s MSI.
Elsewhere, the most dramatic change for the better was seen in the Republic of Georgia as political developments have eased pressure on the media. Bulgaria, however, continued its negative arc, aggravated by a digital transition plan challenged by the European Commission and a concentration of media ownership that has stymied critical voices.
The U.S. Agency for International Development funds the Europe and Eurasia MSI in 21 countries. The MSI is a trusted evaluation of global media health, providing donors, media advocates, local professionals, and scholars more than a decade of rich data.