- December 22, 2012
TVP Polonia faces collapse!
Just before Christmas TVP Polonia received a surprising “gift”:A decision to drastically decrease financial support of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.Last week the cooperation agreement between the Ministry and the TVP was to be renewed, however the Ministry backed out at the last moment and proposed one fifth of the initial sum instead.If we do not reach a new agreement, in all likelihood TVP Polonia will have to suspend production of its broadcasts from January, and if the TVP’s financial situation does not improve, programmes for Polish-speaking audiences abroad might entirely disappear from the ether! This means that Poles living in Lithuania will be deprived of the TVP, just as it used to be back in the Soviet times.
Years of the TVP’s deteriorating financial situation have led to its ever-increasing dependency on government funding. For the last six years the funds have been fixed at 11 million a year and the exact same sum was to be allotted for TVP Polonia in 2013. However, the Ministry had delayed renewing the agreement and eventually the management of the TVP was informed that the Ministry had decided that the fund would be decreased from 11 million to… 2 million zł.! The official reason behind this decision was poor reception of TVP Polonia in North and South America, Belarus, Ukraine and… Lithuania!
Indeed, on the American continent TVP Polonia has been geo-blocked for years as a result of a long-running legal battle between the TVP and its signal distributor and the final verdict which will clear the air is to be reached next year. As for the rest of the world, TVP Polonia broadcasts in the free-to-air system using two satellites – Astra and Hotbird. The latter provides signal for our part of Europe, from Estonia to Ukraine. TVP Polonia can be received by cable networks worldwide (it is particularly popular on the former USSR territory), its signal is also transmitted terrestrially – one television transmitter is located in Ukraine and three in Kazakhstan.
Until recently, a fifth terrestrial transmitter operated in Lithuania and was enabling easy reception of the Polish Television in the radius of 50-70 kilometres from Vilnius.
Baltijos TV (BTV) had provided analogue retransmission of Polonia for years until 29th October 2012 when Lithuania resigned from analogue television. Nevertheless, Polonia can still be received digitally as one of 12 free-to-air channels available in Lithuania, 10 of them being Lithuanian stations (LRT, LRT Kultura, LNK, TV3, BTV, TV1, TV6, Lietuvos Ryto TV, Info TV, Liuks TV) and the non-Lithuanian one apart from Polonia being BBC World News.
According to recent findings of LRTK (Lietuvos Radijo ir Televizijos Komisija – the counterpart of the Polish National Broadcasting Council) TVP Polonia is broadcast from the so-called fourth multiplex, whose operator is TEO LT. For six weeks after Lithuania’s decision to discontinue analogue signal Polonia could have been turned off any moment by TEO. Luckily, a new agreement was signed between TVP and TEO as early as 12th December 2012 guaranteeing that the Polish station will not disappear from the Lithuanian ether.
Digital signal is transmitted by six transmitters in main cities of Lithuania: Vilnius, Kaunas, Klaipeda, Siauliai, Panevezys and Birzai. Theoretically, the Vilnius transmitter, which is to provide terrestrial reception in the radius of 60 kilometres from the Lithuanian capital, is the most powerful (1600 W). Its scope would be the same as the analogue signal’s (if anyone previously enjoyed TVP Polonia with no distortions and now has problems with reception, they should contact TEO LT). In reality, however, Polonia has substantially increased its presence in Lithuania: Before 29th October apart from the Vilnius Region it was aired by several nationwide and local cable networks, while today it encompasses more than 70 per cent of Lithuanian territory, including all major cities and almost all areas densely populated by Poles. The residents of the southern (Druskininkai-Verena, Dieveniskes) and northern (Svencionys-Visaginas) parts of the Vilnius Region and of north-east Lithuania cannot watch Polonia, nor could they before, since TVP Polonia has never been received there even in its analogue version. Residents of the eastern borderland (along the border with Belarus) also have problems with reception. Notwithstanding, the overall quality of digital television is incomparably better than an analogue signal.
The fact that the Polish Television is one of the twelve free-to-air digital channels in Lithuania already triggered a stormy debate and anti-Polish comments on Internet forums last year. Some users defended the TVP by reminding that for decades TVP1 was gladly received in the south as far as Kaunas, that Lithuanians were installing the most powerful aerials to be able to watch television which, particularly in the times of USSR, was a true window on the world. The adversaries of Polish television might soon celebrate their victory – TVP Polonia may disappear in Lithuania because… it can simply cease to broadcast.
As a respond to the Ministry’s decision the chairman of the TVP, Juliusz Braun, refused to sign the new agreement, announced that it was unacceptable and expressed that its realisation would lead to the collapse of TVP Polonia. In recent years the aforementioned 11 million from the Ministry’s fund covered almost two thirds of the overall production costs of its own programmes. Programmes about the Polish and for the Polish around the world created individual image of the channel, which gave it quite a high position (22nd – 24th among 200 Polish channels!) on ranking lists and advertising revenues of 10-12 million.
The decrease in the fund to 2 million in 2013 means minimisation or downright cessation of the station’s own production which in turn leads to weakening of its market position and to decrease in advertising revenue. Taking into consideration the TVP’s hard and deteriorating financial situation it is impossible to “fill” this budget hole in Polonia with the TVP’s own productions. It is enough that the mere cost of transmission and satellite programme transfer along with its retransmissions by the aforementioned terrestrial transmitters amounts to over 10 million zł. a year. Payed from the ever-shrinking budget of the TVP of course.
TVP Polonia planned to celebrate its twentieth anniversary in 2013. It had begun to broadcast in 1993 as the third (after TVP1 and TVP2) channel of the public TVP, having been created for 18 million Poles living abroad. It was to bring Poland closer to Poles living in the East and West, and in turn to bring those Poles closer to the nation within the country. And it has fulfilled that mission despite its ups and downs. It sought its own ways, which gave it a unique image and a devoted audience from all over the world. In the current situation all this can be lost since as a rerun channel only, broadcasting its own compilation of archives and programmes made by other TVP channels (except for licensed formats of course), it will cease to be television for Poles abroad. Thus Lithuanian Poles will be deprived of the only television that speaks of their problems, describes their lives and shows their point of view. Will it serve as a better mark of Poland in the world? Will it in Lithuania? Very doubtful.
On the occasion of approaching Christmas and New Year 2013 I wish the audience of TVP Polonia peace and happiness, and should they decide to spend Christmas in front of the TV, may it be only sporadically and with interesting, creative and satisfying programmes (including TVP Polonia). And those who determine the future of TVP Polonia we would like to wish calm reflection, accurate long-term decisions and their successful realisation. Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!
Tłumaczenie Aleksandra Christ w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Aleksandra Christ the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.