COMMUNITY RADIO–The Swedish parliament has eased the regulations for community radio. Originally intended as an outlet for organizations, from churches and trade unions to clubs for shortwave listeners and environmental activists, these groups were supposed to share transmitters, each granted time on a weekly basis. Under the previous center-right government, community radio was tacitly permitted to depart from its ideals, with organizations pooling their slots to a central entity which generally broadcast a single 24 hour program in their various names, featuring mainly rock music, and sometimes commercials, giving Sweden its first commercial radio.
Now that there is private commercial radio here, community radio has been in a kind of limbo. The new legislation in some ways legalizes what has been going on for some time. Previously virtually the only kind of organization not allowed to broadcast were those organized solely for the purpose of making community radio programs.
The new law permits such organizations to broadcast. It also makes it easier for organizations to pool and voluntarily divide up their time slots. Fees for broadcasting community radio have been removed. The new rules also permit networked programming, for up to 10 hours a month, if the programs promote education, local culture, or news. (TT)
COMMERCIAL RADIO–The government’s one-man study has recommended that the licences for commercial radio stations be extended when they expire in 2001. Instead, all stations would be allowed to broadcast until 2009.
The current 80 or so stations were set-up under the previous center- right government, which allocated frequencies by auctioning them off to the highest bidder, with no consideration or demands on content or format, and without even guarantees or checks that the bidders could afford the annual fees in their bids. Consequently, many of the more innovative or unusual stations have gone bankrupt and were forced to sell their licences to large corporations. Virtually none of the current stations broadcast anything except non-stop rock and pop music (the spectrum runs from oldies to dance music). Although the legislation was supposed to outlaw networks, several exist, and fulfill the requirements for local programming by playing a few CDs locally in the middle of the night.
The current Social Democrat government tried to stop some of the auctions in order to impose format requirements, but was blocked by a legal loophole exploited by the Conservative and Liberal Parties. The government had threatened to change the system as soon as the current licences came up for renewal (which the Conservative Party’s media spokesman distorted into claims the government was going to cancel existing licences).
Surprisingly, the government’s expert, Nicklas Nordström, wants to extend the current licences until 2009. The reason is the introduction of Digital Audio Broadcasting in Sweden. Nordstroem argues that the current stations can hardly be expected to develop DAB services if they believe they will lose their licences. On the other hand, Nordström also wants to change the auction system, and he proposes stricter rules to keep commercial radio local. His proposals will be formally presented on December 1, but Nordstroem says now that all current licences will be extended. (TT and Swedish Radio News)
DIGITAL TV–There were a few surprises when the Digital TV Committee presented its proposal for allocation of the first 6 national terrestrial digital TV licences. As expected the public Swedish Television received three spots, for its current two channels and the planned 24 hour news channel SVT 24. As we’ve previously reported, allocations also go to the current commercial terrestrial broadcaster TV4, the satellite channel TV3, pay movie channel Canal Plus, and a new educational channel called Knowledge TV. That makes 7 channels, one more than the system can handle, but the big surprise was when the committee also granted licences to satellite channel Kanal 5 and business channel TV8, plus an Internet/data service called Cell Internet Commerce Development.
All of the parliamentary parties except the Conservatives and Liberals are behind the proposal. The Conservatives and Liberals want to auction allocations, to let market forces decide (in the same manner that has provided such a “varied” format in commercial radio). (TT)
The critics also say the committee has wrongly taken economic circumstances into account. Johan Jakobsson, the Liberal Party’s representative on the committee, who we heard last time, says film channel Canal Plus has been chosen over rival TV1000 solely because Canal Plus is willing to subsidize set-top boxes. The committee secretary, Åsa Finnström has pointed out that TV1000’s owner, MTG (Kinnevik) won a licence for its TV3, which may motivate giving another licence to Canal Plus. She says committee was aware of the offer to subsidize boxes, but this was not important for reaching a decision.
EUTELSAT–Eutelsat, in co-operation with British Telecom, has demonstrated satellite delivery of digital TV, Internet, and multimedia services, using DVB technology. The demonstration was transmitted over Hot Bird 3, via the satellite’s steerable beam, which was aimed at South Africa during the Africa Telecom exhibition in Johannesburg May 4 to 9.
At the same time, the service was tested in Britain via another (undisclosed) Hot Bird. Pilot users in the UK accessed services via standard dial-up Internet accounts, and received the high speed data with an ordinary TVRO antenna and a PC satellite reception card. (Eutelsat)
ZDTV–Monday saw the long hyped launch of the 24 hour computer channel ZDTV. It may not feature the much-missed “The Site” and Soledad O’Brian (who sadly belongs to NBC and not Ziff-Davis), but it may fill the gap left behind. (“The Site” veteran Leo Laporte is Managing Director of Ziff-Davis Television, and gives on-the-air computer advice, which is a good sign.)
(We wonder why they don’t just use RealVideo instead? The video part works a lot better than the slide show approach on the ZDTV page.)
JUSTICE 1 RUPERT 0–US antitrust regulators on May 12 moved to block the USD 1.1 billion sale of a key television satellite slot by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp and MCI to a group of cable television operators.
Allowing the cable group, Primestar Inc., to gain control of one of only three satellite slots suitable for Direct Broadcast Satellite television could stifle the lading competitive threat to cable, Assistant Attorney General Joel Klein said.
The Justice Department has filed a 35-page complaint in US District Court in Washington seeking to block the deal. Murdoch’s News Corp and MCI acquired the satellite slot in a 1996 government auction. But the partners decided to sell the slot to Primestar last year, instead of offering their own DBS service. Primestar is owned by cable giants TCI, Time-Warner, MediaOne, Comcast, and Cox Communications. (Reuters and AP)
RADIO FREE NOBEL–A couple of years ago we noted that organizations and causes that had been honored by the Norwegian parliament with the Nobel Peace Prize (in Tibet and East Timor) had a curiously habit of getting their own liberation radio stations broadcasting by shortwave from Norway. Now the Norwegian organization behind this development has decided to go public.