Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Who are these people?

Above: Corner of ul. Sikorskiego and Sobieskiego. Cycling past this, which must be Warsaw's largest billboard (the fence along the bottom is nearly two metres high, and the billboard goes round both corners), I realise how out of touch with Polish TV culture I am. I cannot name a single one of the people advertising TVN's autumn schedule, headed by dreary talent shows. Come on Poland! Don't spend your weekends comatose in front of the box! Read a book! Go for a walk! Spend time talking to your children!

I do miss quality British TV though. Decent documentaries, comedies, current affairs, BBC2, Channel 4...

The reason that Polish TV is of poor quality compared to that in the UK is directly linked to the hybrid status of state broadcaster TVP. On the one hand, like the BBC, TVP receives a licence fee from viewers. On the other, like the ITV, it takes in advertising. This bizarre system means that the 'true cost of broadcasting' is unknown; TVP can sell ads to make up for shortfalls in licence revenues (paying the fee is not universal, as it is in the UK, many Poles don't bother). But licence revenue shortfalls can be made up for by selling airtime at low, low prices. This means that private TV stations, like TVN and Polsat - and indeed the press - have to compete with a subsidised broadcaster that charges arbitrary prices for advertising. Reaching 1,000 consumers is cheaper via TV than via the press! This means that quality suffers.

Poland needs to adopt either the British model - state broadcaster, no advertising, everyone paying a highish licence fee, but in return for unbiased broadcasting excellence - or the American model - no licence fees, no state broadcasters. I must say I favour the latter; Poland still lacks the political maturity to do the former. The current hybrid model (which the French and Italians have - hardly paragons of quality viewing) hurts and distorts the entire Polish media market.

And TVP is as political as can be. Currently run by a former neo-fascist called Farfala, it's 'public mission' is God knows what. Whenever there's a change of government, the entire management board of public TV and radio is changed. Out go 'their people', in come 'our people'. (Can you imagine the BBC's Board of Governors, Chairman and Director General, as well as the board of OFCOM, all being changed when the nice David Cameron becomes PM?)

Poland's previous government was a coalition of Law and Justice (PiS - reasonably sensible party), with two silly parties - Samoobrona (populist potato-throwers) and LPR - the League of Polish Families (Oi!). Part of PiS's coalition deal was to hand LPR and Samoobrona control of the public media. Which is why an LPR chappy with a very dodgy past is now running TVP. It's in PO's interests to leave him there - the situation is so messy, so political, that many Poles say - "To hell with public (read: party) TV and radio - I'm not paying my licence fee."

And this is why TV (public and private) is mediocre in comparison with Britain. In any case, TV is a medium in decline; Moni and Eddie and their contemporaries at school rather consider TV as something watched by dziady (a Polish word implying both poverty and old age).

UPDATE: October 2009. Frafala and his Populist-Nationalist mateys have been expelled from state TV and replaced by a bizarre alliance of people with links to the ex-communists and the Catholic-conservative Law and Justice party. In sweeping out the old order, financial irregularities were discovered, TV funds going to cronies and cronies' foundations etc.

7 comments:

DC said...

Wow. I could not recommend more to stay away from the US model. The state of _real_ news and investigative reporting on TV has dwindled down to nearly nothing. Did you ever wonder why we have no clue about the outside world? The things that work well in US broadcasting (not cable) are, in my opinion, mostly found on PBS, which pretty much does not sell advertising, but instead begs money from viewers to survive.

I think it would be fantastic to have a cultural icon for Poland (even on a smaller scale) like the BBC.

Michael Dembinski said...

I take your point about American TV ("Television - the drug of the nation/ breedin' ignorance and feedin' radiation"). But the BBC has 80+ years of tradition in impartial reporting and quality broadcasting; the legacy of Lord Reith, 'Aunty Beeb' is a British institution. Poland has but 20 years of independence, during which time TVP changed management with each successive government. I watch zero TVN other than its news channel, TVN24 (also online) - now why it it that TVN does good TV journalism while US networks don't?

Bartek Usniacki said...

Don't worry, I also don't keep up with the new flash-in-the-pan "stars". Third from the left is Zbigniew Wodecki, rightwards stand Beata Tyszkiewicz and Kuba Wojewódzki. The two former have sold their good names to promote TVN and their hit of Sunday evening for the rabble, the latter one has his own cutting "gossip column" in Polityka and his clever but biting comments are my only source of information about the stars.

To call what we see in the box "culture" is a bit of overstatement. Culture means theatre, opera, decent rock,jazz, classical music, good films, some concerts, cinema, museums, but not the cheap entertainment for the masses.

I can proudly admit we have three TY sets in our household, two of them are checked once a month if they still work, the third is watched on average an hour a day. We have seven channel broadcast terrestrially, we haven't decide to put in a satellite dish, as nobody would watch those channels. I sometimes miss a few TV stations like TVN24, VH-1, BBC Prime, Discovery Channel, Planete, etc., but still I easily do without them.

I don't know whether the British or US model would be better. Probably I'd keenly pay for the quality comparable to the one BBC offers. Maybe if Civic Platform wins the elections in 2011 (preparations and unreasonable economic moves are getting under way) it will push through the media bill, twice rejected by the alliance of post-commies and twin-party pests, which, upholding the president's veto.

My parents pay the licence fee and ask themselves why are they such suckers - it is not enforced in any way...

After studying the TV schedule - public mission make up: crappy soap opera, quizzes, cabarets. They only watchable programmes are on air after midnight when people usually snore or toss and turn cause they have to wake up next morning to go to work...

Turn off your boxes, there are plenty of other interesting activities...

Marcin said...

Polish TV is not THAT bad...

You've got films on TVP1 every night (uninterrupted with ads). Admittedly B and C class films, but hey ;)

Also, TVN Warszawa is a great station.

pinolona said...

licence fee?! I never paid a licence fee...

White Horse Pilgrim said...

The term "dziady" is great. When I lived in the Balkans, there were special TV channels for such people, playing nearly non-stop folk music. But the average standard of TV was awful. In fact the folk music channels had their advantages - a least a bit of authenticity.

Island1 said...

The last three are the judges of "Mam Talent." I know this through bitter experience of having to watch the entire series at the insistence of my better half.

I wonder if this poster space makes more money than the building development?