Ministry sees no problem with extra terms in radio licenses competition

Radio. Source: Karin Koppel

The conditions of a recent radio license competition includes terms by county regarding what styles of music license recipients should play and how many talk programs they should air — and these terms coincided with radio stations already operating in Estonia. The Ministry of Culture says that such terms are standard practice and that the competition isn't biased.

On May 16, the Consumer Protection and Technical Regulatory Authority (TTJA) announced 13 regional radio license competitions that should provide both current and new radio operators with the opportunity to expand operations.

The TTJA organized the competition in cooperation with the Ministry of Culture, which imposed a host of secondary conditions on the radio license, including the proportion of talk shows in the station's programming, the language they broadcast in, their target audience as well as the proportion of music by Estonian authors.

The terms of the competition, which concluded on May 31, laid down what listeners a station should be targeting, seemingly giving radio stations already operating in Estonia an advantage.

In coverage area number 5, i.e. Jõgeva County, for example, the terms of the competition prescribed that the radio program's primary target audience should be radio listeners who prefer older pop music-centered programming, and it is precisely in that part of Estonia that Raadio Elmar is not currently broadcast. The competition terms included other such coincidences as well.

Ministry of Culture Undersecretary of the Arts Taaniel Raudsepp told ERR that the terms of the radio license competition were targeted, but not biased.

"These were targeted at results, and this practice doesn't differ from previous practice," Raudsepp said. "There is nothing exceptional in the radio licenses process — neither in how the terms were drawn up nor in the terms themselves. They're always drawn up using a similar procedure, discussed with various stakeholders and terms are drawn up accordingly to ensure a diverse media landscape."

According to Raudsepp, radio license competition terms always include expectations regarding musical genres, and considering the overall totals — more than 30 applications were received for 13 regions across the country — it can't be said that there is exceptionally low competition.

He acknowledged that the ministry certainly has work to do in explaining the process, but no major changes to the process itself are currently planned.

According to the undersecretary, there were no breaches or foul play involved: no one is being favored over the others, nor is anyone being deprived of opportunities due to someone's malice. The terms of the competition were drawn up taking a balanced repertoire and media landscape into consideration.

"This is a very complex task, as there is a limited number of these regions, and radio broadcasting is a limited resource," he explained. "If we were to sell these licenses at auction, which may seem very transparent, we'd most likely very quickly achieve a situation in which radio stations end up in the hands of a single owner with the most money."

Raudsepp added that the goal is a diverse media landscape and various radio stations, ensuring an informed population. "This isn't exactly a typical public procurement or auction situation — at least, that is not what legislators have ever meant for it to be," he said, nonetheless adding that the process could surely stand to be improved.

The TTJA, who is responsible for deciding whether to cancel the competition or allow it to move forward, does not intend to hit the brakes on it.

"The TTJA is not currently aware of circumstances that would require the cancellation of the competition," TTJA representative Aap Andreas Rebane commented succinctly.

Association of Estonian Broadcasters (EKL) managing director Hanno Kindel said that in order to assess the competition, it must first await the convening of the committee that will decide on the radio licenses, which has yet to be done.

"It's early yet to talk about even a single decision, let alone fundamental decisions," he said.

According to Kindel, the Ministry of Culture has to pursue some kind of policy and has submitted certain positions of its own, but thereafter the committee will take note of them and then make its decision.

"What the committee decides is 100 percent within our jurisdiction," he said.

The convening of the committee has not yet been scheduled. The committee is headed by Ulrika Paavle from the TTJA and also includes  Andres Jõesaar from the Ministry of Culture, Mati Kaalep from the Estonian Authors' Society, Hanno Kindel of the ERL, Ragne Kõuts-Klemm from the University of Tartu and Helen Rohtla and Peeter Sookruus from the TTJA.

The new radio licenses will be valid from August or September of this year through November 16, 2024, the same date as all other previously issued radio licenses.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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