- August 31, 2012
Radczenko: About the reforms of the media waste according to Sikorski
It is quite possible that the attempts of restoring minimal order in the domain of financing the Polish community abroad (Polonia) and its projects had to meet with a more or less distinct disapproval of all those who are interested in remaining not very clear status quo.
Most probably, in this way should be treated the resolution of the fourth Convention of the Polonia, whose participants stressed that “with all concern” they accepted the information about the helping the Poles abroad programme performed by the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affaires.
It is not necessary to be an expert to state that, for example, the system of financing the Polonia’s media , which has been frequently aimed at the production of the “media waste”, needs to be immediately fixed. And that is why the words, coming from the Sikorski’s resort, that Polonia’s media “require public reforms and adjustments to the contemporary requirements and possibilities of the audience” sound very up-to-date and force to giving some second thought about the state of the Polish-language media, also in Latvia. And it has to be admitted that this state does not instill optimism, about what Romuald Mieczkowki wrote some weeks ago in the article “Polish media in Latvia – Will they survive or not, and if yes, in what form?”
It looks that the Polish media in the East battle with one, but very serious problem – there is a shortage of prospective readers to read all those newspapers, web portals, people willing to listen to the radio in Polish… Polish-language press in Latvia has been dominated by the local Russian-language press for years, despite the fact that it is the Poles who make up the largest national minority in Latvia. At the beginning of this year, the Russian-language weekly “Ekspress Nedelia” was released in 51427 copies, the weekly “Lithuanian Courier” (“Litowskij Kurjer”) – 20541 copies, the weekly “Obzor”- 20465 copies, the magazine “Pensioner” – 18120 copies, daily “Respublica” (Russian-language mutation) – 6684 copies, daily “Kłajpeda – 5987 and even the local Šalčininkai newspaper “Wiedomosti Szalczi” were released in 3000 copies. For comparison only two Polish titles published the information about their circulation for the Ministry of Culture – the daily “Vilnius Courier” (“Kurier Wileński )(2850) and the weekly “Vilnius Weekly” “Tygodnik Wileńszczyzny” (2700). The annual circulation of the Russian-language press in Latvia amounts to 10 millions and the Polish- language one – almost one million.
Meanwhile, the starting conditions of Polish and Russian media in Latvia were identical. Both the Polish and the Russian media inherited so to speak after the soviet and perestroika times enormous masses of loyal readers. That is why it cannot be said that the Pole in Latvia is not, or rather, was not accustomed to reading in Polish. He was, indeed. Now, it is hard to believe it but (I give the numbers from my memory) “Red Banner” (“Czerwony Sztandar”) (which was transformed in 1990 into “Vilnius Courier” (“Kurier Wileński”) was released in 54 thousand copies at the end of the Soviet era, the biweekly “Vilnius Magazine” (“Magazyn Wileński”) – 20 thousands. In 1990 the total one-off circulation of the seven Polish-language newspapers in Latvia reached 72 457 copies, however, the two biweeklies – 35 907 copies ! But just a few years later, in mid 90s of the last century, the number of copies diminished… 10 times!
However, in this time, the Russian-language press also had tough time. The daily “Echo of Latvia” (“Echo Litwy”) collapsed, the daily “Evening News” (“Weczernije nowosti”), the weekly “The Word” (“Słowo”) and “Ponedelnik”, Russian – language mutation of the daily “Lietuvos rytas” etc.
The reasons of the collapse of the Polish and Russian titles seem to be quite similar: The loss of markets in different trade unions ( in case of the Polish titles- also in Poland), the dramatic growth of the retail price of newspapers and extremely high delivery costs for subscription, the economic crisis and hyperinflation, the lack of governmental subsidies.. On the other hand, undoubtedly the publishing houses and their managers are to blame, too. In charge of the newspapers happened to be either men of passion or communist apparatchiks– anyway the people who had no experience in making a newspaper in free-market conditions. Except for this, both Polish and Russian newspapers had gradually become less and less interesting, more and more politically involved., they suffered due to the radio, television, Lithuanian press and in addition, they maintained the jobs, inherited after the Soviet Times.
At the same time, together with the reduction of the readers, the publishers and journalists working together in the circle of mutual adoration started to suffer from the unrecognised genius complex and the syndrome of the beleaguered stronghold: these peasants do not read us because they are too stupid for our outstanding articles and elaborate metaphors while it is us who are the last, defending the Polish identity.
However, there is, in fact one principal difference between the Polish and the Lithuanian media in Latvia. In fact, the Russian – language press publishers found a way how to get out of the 90s downfall and the Polish ones failed, unfortunately. Nowadays, almost all Russian-language publishing houses in Latvia use a very similar tactic to attract the reader: a great deal of reprints from the Russian press, numerous practical advice columns (concerning law as well as gardening councils) and cooking recipes, some pages are filled with jokes and humour, crossroads, competitions, a little of the news from Latvia, short articles. It’s evident that all Russian-language titles are more or less pro – Russian , however their editors care to have every commentary part being separated from the information notes. In addition, they try to attract Lithuanian commentators to contribute.
From the very beginning these titles were aimed at earning money, not fighting for the Russian identity. In order to make profit, it is necessary to address the newspaper to the biggest number of readers, not only members and supporters of one political option. Paradoxically, such mission leads to bigger interest of the Russian culture and the Russian language in Latvia.
Undoubtedly, the widespread knowledge of the Russian language in Latvia also contributed to the success of the Russian – language press. However, I would not be too confident to assess the high chances of success. The best example that the knowledge of the foreign language does not guarantee the success of the press is the situation of the Russian-language media in Estonia: all Russian – language publishing houses in Estonia are unprofitable, and their circulations are minimal, although the Russians make up 1/3 of all inhabitants of the republic and the knowledge of the Russian language is even more common than in Latvia.
Of course, the situation of the Polish media in Latvia has always been much more complicated. The knowledge of the Polish language is not frequent in Latvia and the interest in the news from Poland is rather narrow even among the Poles. On the other hand, it must be admitted that there have been few attempts to establish new patents in order to regain the reader. Most probably, that resulted from the appearance of the new source of revenue in 90s – the subsidies from the Motherland. Why bother – look for new readers and advertisers if it is enough to have contacts in Warsaw, ensuring stable but not very profitable existence?
There is absolutely no doubt about it that, but for the support from Poland, none media in the East would not have survived. However, the model of subsidies of these media is irrational as it has been donating funds for years just to make them “exist on the market” looking at individual liking not the actual performance of these projects. Consequently, it promotes laziness and intrigue. It is particular projects that should be financially supported, not the media. What is more, the projects should account for the spent money as well as the performance. Subsidized media should contain some extra values for the local Polish community, but also promote the Polish language and culture.
It looks that the minister Radosław Sikowski has decided to change something in this domain and gradually move not only to more competitive but also more clear-cut procedure of giving grants, although there is still a lot to do. The Ministry of the Foreign Affairs have announced that they are going to commission the media study in the matter of the effects of the particular Polonia’s media, they would also like to establish the consult councils in the vicinity of consular institutions and embassies, which will help to qualify motions submitted by the Polonia’s organizations. There are plans to consolidate some titles published in this same area, i.e. minor titles could be ,for example, insets to the major ones.
According to the deputy minister of foreign affairs – Janusz Ciska – Polonia’s media should search for additional sources of grants, as, at the time being,the vast majority of Polish media in the East is entirely funded by Poland.
There has not been any repair programme introduce yet, but the admission itself that the problem exists is valuable. Alcohol addict may be treated only of he is conscious of his illness. Likewise, the Polonia’s media may be healed only if they admit to being imperfect.. Now, it is good time to analyse the whole problem and introduce reforms. Of course, such reform cannot be ill-considered, thus, it will takes some time to prepare it. With no doubt, however, the urgent reforms of media waste and the system of funding them is necessary.
Tłumaczenie Zofia Kowalska w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Zofia Kowalska within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.