What will remain of RTBF?

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As mentioned in our previous edition, the new management contract of RTBF, which regulates its public service missions and its financing for the next five years, came into force on January 1, 2013. Several positive developments had been raised in Kairos Number 7, including the appearance of a monthly society program, a monthly mediation program, improved access to programs for sensory impaired audiences, a ban on product placement in entertainment programming beginning in July 2013.

REACTIONARY ADVANCES?

These points are positive, although it must be emphasized that, with the exception of the measures to improve access to programs for the sensory impaired, which are new, it is really a matter of partially compensating for what had been destroyed in the previous management contracts. A few years ago there was a mediation program: « Qu’en dites-vous » with Jean-Jacques Jespers, and even « cartes sur table » (daily program) with Jean-Paul Procureur. There was also a program dealing with major social issues: « l’écran témoin ». It was a weekly program, not monthly. The return through the small window of this kind of program, whose new formulas have yet to be estimated, are therefore not really great advances, but rather a partial recovery of what made the success of the RTBF. It seems that among the negotiators of the management contract there are dangerous reactionaries who think that not everything was rotten before the total colonization of advertising.

The ban on product placement in entertainment programs from this summer has been described in the mass media and by the government majority as a « stop » to advertising pressure, the beginning of a rescue from the marketing perversion of the late public service. It is a bit quick to forget that it is the same PS, CDH and Ecolo who introduced product placement on RTBF in December 2009. Before that, there was no product placement. Note also that Article 36 of the new management contract(1) provides for « …media education programs or sequences of programs specifically devoted to the deciphering of advertising (including product placement)… ». Or, in the words of the late Marc Moulin, how to teach a chicken the point of view of a fox…

RATINGS AT THE TOP OF THEIR GAME

Still at the end of 2009, the same PS, CDH and Ecolo authorized the cutting of films by advertising, which was until then forbidden at the RTBF. This was to be a one-time measure to compensate for the freeze in the indexation of the subsidy due to the crisis. The exception becomes the rule as the new management contract extends the possibility of interrupting films with advertising until December 31, 2014. At that point, the ban may be reinstated, provided the grants are no longer frozen, if the budget situation is better. It is therefore assumed that the government is hoping for the return of 3 annual growth points by the end of 2014 to reinstate the ban on advertising in films. A scenario that does not convince even the Planning Office, which predicts the return of growth in 2015 (but it is true that it already predicted it for 2009, 2010, 2011 .…).

We cannot say that commercial advertising is decreasing at RTBF. In fact, it is rather the opposite: the advertising logic, that of the audience (index of the number of stations connected to a program at a given time, calculated by the advertisers, for the advertisers)(2), is now part of the editorial line of Reyers. Thus, article 5 states that RTBF must be « (e)credible in its choice of programs as well as in its journalistic, educational and cultural approaches and in its professional practices, with regard to the results of audience ratings and program attendance as well as the results of user satisfaction surveys, it being understood that the attention paid to audience ratings expresses a requirement in terms of legitimacy and respect for the public rather than a desire for commercial performance. Knowing that the satisfaction surveys have never been made public either by Minister Laanan or by the RTBF management despite the requests of the public, and knowing that the calculated « audience » is in fact the ratings established by the advertisers, one may wonder how the legitimacy of the RTBF should now be built. Let’s just say that a priori, this does not reassure especially for the future of the late public service.

PRIVATIZATION, YES YES, WE ARE GOING THERE

The Respire association has repeated for several years that the invasion of public service advertising was the disharmonious prelude to its privatization. It seems that this new management contract will not contradict us. Article 46 states that « With the authorization of the Minister, the RTBF may transfer all or part of the real property rights it possesses over all or part of its broadcasting and terrestrial transmission sites and infrastructures to third parties (…) ».

In other words, the RTBF can sell the masts, which are used to bring the radio signal from Reyers to your home. If this happens (why else would it be in the contract?), she will have to lease the use of it to a company. Privatization is well underway, and with it the loss of control of a public tool, bought with taxpayers’ money.

RTBF, A NEW TECHNOPHILE OPERATOR

Perhaps the most challenging point of this text is that RTBF is presented as a central technical and financial actor for media convergence (i.e. the possibility of broadcasting programs on a maximum of different audiovisual supports) in the French Community. Hold on to your seatbelts to read Article 44, which reads: « …the RTBF is actively interested in and uses the means made available within the framework of its public service missions, through the convergence of digital media, digital terrestrial television, hybrid television (HbBTV or Hybrid broadcast and Broadband television), connected television (or « smart TV »), hybrid radio (Radio DNS) connected radio and radio broadcasting or filmed radio, and all developments in fixed or mobile Internet, regardless of the linear or non-linear broadcasting or distribution methods used and the reception devices used, whether fixed, portable or mobile (such as computers, personal video recorders (or PVRs), telephones, smartphones, tablets, consoles or any other reception device).

RTBF must now « be a vector of technological watch and development », and we see here another famous file that interests the Walloon and Brussels majorities: 4G! While the WHO has just raised the risk of cancer linked to GSM waves(3), the French Community mobilizes the RTBF to make it the champion of mobile television.

Imagine the scene, in the bus: everyone in front of their pocket-sized carcinogenic TV! Famous public program.

JBG

Notes et références
  1. Disponible sur: http://csa.be/system/documents_files/1703/original/gvt_20121226_rtbf_con…
  2. Voir Kairos n°1 et 2.
  3. Voir Kairos n°5.
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