OLAF investigating how Euronews lost free cable slot to Andy Vajna's TV2

September 19, 2016

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“We do not care how many propaganda channels the government creates (but it would be nice if that was not done with public funds), we only ask that Antenna Hungária Zrt. (AH) return Euronews to its package of channels!”

The following article appeared in the September 15, 2016, edition of the Hungarian weekly Figyelő (pg. 17):

  • OLAF, the European Anti-Fraud Office, is interested in how it is that Andy Vajna’s television stations were included in free channel listings and Euronews was not
  • Euronews is preparing for a renewal, and its main competitor may be a V4 television station

“We do not care how many propaganda channels the government creates (but it would be nice if that was not done with public funds), we only ask that Antenna Hungária Zrt. (AH) return Euronews to its package of channels!” This is the sentence that can be found at the end of an internet petition which demands that the free television broadcaster MinDig TV return the free news channel it removed in early August.

Euronews disappeared from Hungary’s free television package because, many suspect, room was needed for Hungarian state media’s new television channels and those belonging to Andy Vajna’s TV2.

Of course, official statements do not support these suspicions, but there is no refuting the fact that Europe’s most widely watched television channel is no longer available for MinDig TV viewers ever since Antenna Hungária Zrt. proudly announced that it would expand its listing of free channels.

When the announcement was made, there was no information about the names of Vajna’s new channels (statement released by AH only referred to “a new channel belonging to TV2 group”), but the decision was already made that viewers would get to watch these channels for free.

Because there is a limited capacity for these channels, somebody needed to go, and that somebody was Euronews. The petition makes a whole lot of sense if one looks at the actual channel offerings. Currently, of the 12 channels offered, six belong to public media and four belong to the TV2 group.

With EU funds

Of course, it is another story entirely that the petition has not reached many people. The petition has only been seen by 60 people, despite Euronews – which until now was available in 1.3 million households – losing several hundreds of thousands of viewers because of AH’s decision.

Nothing is known about how much viewership of Euronews has decreased since the decision was made because daily statistics broken down by country are not collected, Euronews’ Hungary CEO Attila Kert told Figyelő.

Because of the type of content provided on the channel, the majority of viewers did not access the channel’s international news programming through standard television transmitters, Kert added. Earlier, Euronews would be watched by as many as 800,000 viewers.

Kert says that people in Hungary, as well as at Euronews’ France-based parent company, were not happy that the channel was not included in the offering, despite the low cost of producing the Hungarian-language content. The parent company is financed by the European Union.

Euronews operates somewhat like a Star Wars DVD, where viewers can select which language they would like. There is an audio channel, in which viewers can absorb programming in their native tongue and context. This is not a simple translation because that would suggest there is an original language audio channel — which there isn’t. Every editorial board is given a finished picture foundation and that is what they generate audio for, and the end product can differ significantly from country to country.

While an Arab or Persian reporter does not have to explain who is the Sunni or Shiite in a piece about the Middle East, the editor in Europe will have to provide that information.

Similarly, a report about Transylvania will not have to explain to a Hungarian audience that Transylvania once belonged to Hungary, but the same report being shown in other countries may have to.

The EU provides funding precisely for this reason, so that as many EU citizens as possible have access to news in their own language, even in countries where the market is so small that it would be difficult for the local affiliate to sustain its own editorial board.

Competition is coming

Currently, the same programming is being provided everywhere, albeit in different languages and different context. But this may change. Attila Kert tells Figyelő that Euronews is working on a way to bring international news to certain countries in a much more consumable format. Kert did not divulge details, but he did say that aside from balancing internal editorial issues, the programming may expand to include special local programming.

While there is no information about what it is that the V4 wants do with a common television channel, it appears to be clear that a renewed Euronews might be the competitor to a new shared channel dreamt up by the V4.