Coronavirus: Funds arrive for broadcasters, but many are cutting costs

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Several countries have allocated funds to support broadcasting stations suffering from the drop in advertising.  However, some are reducing salaries or putting their personnel on holiday leave. The USA has allocated 75 million dollars to the American non-commercial radio and TV stations.

President Donald trump signing mega financial package for economy during coronavirus state of emergency
President Donald Trump as he signs the mega financial stimulus package worth  2,000 billion dollars to support the economy during the coronavirus state of emergency
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Included in the act, passed by the House of Representatives on March 27th, 2020  to support the American economy during the state of emergency, there are also 75 million dollars allocated to the public radio and TV stations. This is in addition to the annual 445 million dollars, managed by the CPB – Corporation for Public Broadcasting, an independent non-profit corporation that distributes the funding to about 1,500 radio and television stations. President Trump wanted to cancel the annual funds in 2017, even though, according to the President of CPB Patricia Harrisins, the cost to each American citizen was only 1.35 dollars a year. 

Spain:  15 million for television, cuts for Cope

Spanish Government press conference
At the post Cabinet meeting press conference held on March 31st, 2020.  Those present (from the left): Pablo Iglesias, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Social Rights and the 2030 Agenda, Maria Jesus Montero,  Spokesperson of the Minister of Finance and the Government, and Nadia Calvino, Minister of Economic Affairs and Digital Transformation
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President of Spanish radio station Cadena Cope
Fernando Gimenez Barriocanal, President of Spanish radio station Cadena Cope
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On March 31st, 2020, the Spanish government allocated 15 million euros in support of television stations provided that they guarantee identical territorial coverage for the next six months. The funding will take advertising income into account in order to give greater help to stations with lower revenues.
A Spanish radio station is cost cutting: The President of Cadena Cope, Fernando Gimenez Barriocanal, has written to the staff suggesting a 20% cut in salaries. They are currently negotiating with the trade unions.

France:  National networks economising 

Facebook page of Radios du monde
Radios du monde on Facebook
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Aiming to limit the consequences of a considerable drop in business caused by the epidemic, the Lagardere group has decided to lay off journalists in Europe 1, RFM, and Virgin Radio.  This went into effect for Europe 1 on April 1st, 2020. The group, in reply to President Macron’s appeal to not pay dividends to their shareholders, has set aside 5 million euros. The group is present in over 40 countries, employing more than 30,000 people and had a turnover in 2019 of 7,211 million euros.
The Radio France management, according to the national trade union centre CGT,  have encouraged their employees to take at least five days holiday by the middle of May.

UK: Sport news station ‘tightens the belt’

Love Sport Radio, Website
Love Sport Radio, Website
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Due to pausing sports transmissions because of the pandemic, Love Sport Radio, broadcasting nationwide on DAB, has streamlined its programming schedules.  Listeners were informed in a pre-recorded announcement  by the owner,  Kelvin MacKenzie, who had also furloughed a large number of staff.

Broadcasting stations and authorities join forces against pandemic fake news

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A great deal of fake news circulated at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, but now media and regulators seek to firmly counteract it.

telephone repeaters
Virus mutated by telephone repeaters and strange bird deaths. Two topics linked to Coronavirus these days, while chemtrails and wind generators fade away.
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Alongside the battle against the Coronavirus, another front has opened up to counteract fake news. It was realised early on how much damage misinformation could cause by favouring the spread of the pandemic, so much that the media started increasing checks to counteract it more firmly. We can see what happened in China where strict Chinese censorship created a void of information which led other countries to underestimate the problem (today experts are even questioning the official number of deaths in China). And when the number of cases in Europe began to multiply, fear and a thirst for news favoured the spread of media hoaxes. These were generally limited to the social networks and chats but there were also programmes put on air that gave credit to odd theses and thus reinforced their credibility. This caused some people to really go around burning 5G telephone repeaters, accusing them of having created the epidemic. This resulted in the necessity for the British Government to intervene. In addition, President Trump’s press conferences could have also created confusion and misinformation when he tried to minimise the impact of the pandemic.

KUOW-FM no longer broadcasts Trump live

Press conference American President, Trump, health emergency, coronavirus
One of the American President’s press conferences during the health emergency
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Even playing down the risks of Covid-19, as the Americans have tried, can cause damage and open up immense prairies to the virus. In April 2020 they can boast of winning the sad prize of being the first in the world for the number of cases. Since March 25th, 2020, a national public radio station in Seattle has suspended all live press conferences of President Trump.  It was not a political policy, the KUOW editorial board clarified, but deontological and will be reconsidered from day to day.  After the first two weeks they realised that the statements being issued needed to be verified first (an arduous task with the time limitations of live broadcasting) to avoid spreading false or misleading information.  Among examples cited is the statement issued on March 19th, 2020: ‘Nobody knew there’d be a pandemic or epidemic of this proportion’ despite warnings given by the secret services at the beginning of the year. Then on March 20th, 2020 ‘You’re seeing very few empty shelves,’ while on television one could plainly see that the shops had run out of basic necessities including hand soap. 

FMScan KUOW-FM USA
The KUOW coverage area displayed on the FMSCAN website using data from the worldwide FMLIST radio station database

KUOW-FM, owned by the University of Washington, is operated by a non-profit community organisation. They transmit in Seattle on 94.9 fm with 100kW, power that enables them to cover a wide area, as you can see on the FMScan map above. It is a member station of  NPR (National Public Radio) that has about a thousand non-profit transmitters.

British radio station forced to rectify

Ofcom, the UKs communications regulator, has imposed a sanction on Uckfield FM for having breached the Broadcasting Code. The community radio station that transmits on 105.0 MHz from Uckfield, a town 80 km south of London in East Sussex, on February 28th, 2020, had broadcast potentially damaging and misleading information by linking the explosion of the epidemic in Wuhan to the launch of 5G technology, one of the pieces of fake news going around the globe. It is a sensitive geopolitical topic (the UK has started launching 5G in Britain and hence ‘are betraying’ their American ally), but if people start believing the hoax, trouble will follow.  At the end of March several vandals destroyed repeaters in Birmingham, Liverpool, Melling and Belfast with the shouts of ‘f**k 5G’.
The PDF of Ofcom’s decisions can be viewed here or downloaded below.

Italy is studying the phenomena and sets up fake news unit

Antonio Di Bella, director of RaiNews Italy
Antonio Di Bella, the director of RaiNews, leads new specialist unit
of State broadcaster to undermine fake news.  
Image directly received from RAI press office

On March 31st, 2020, RAI appointed Antonio Di Bella, the director of RaiNews, to lead a new unit to enable the public broadcasting service to avoid spreading misleading or fake news.  A scientific committee will be set up to check the deluge of information that arrives for the editorial staff.  Di Bella will be assisted by Gerardo D’Amico, in charge of scientific information at Rai News 24.  One episode a week of the programme, Tutta Salute, will be dedicated to the fake news that is circulating about Coronavirus.  





Report on online disinformation
Report on online disinformation
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Agcom, the Authority for Communications Guarantees, has increased its usual monthly monitoring of the media by producing a special report on Coronavirus. Apart from online sources, they have also studied the amount of time dedicated to news about the pandemic on radio and television networks. You can find details of the research about national radio stations here. In order to counteract misinformation, the authority is involving research centres and academic institutions to set up teams to carry out advanced studies into the phenomena. 

Coronavirus weakens Radio

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The slowdown or lockdown of businesses has led to a decrease in advertising on radio and television. The national broadcasters are increasing their programmes, but those not receiving state funding are suffering. Networks are cutting fixed costs and broadcasters are closing their less important frequencies.  And if a transmitter breaks down … the risk is it’s not going to be fixed.

The BBC flexes its muscles

Headquarters of BBC in London, United Kingdom
BBC Headquarters
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‘We need to pull together to get through this. That’s why the BBC will be using all of its resources – channels, stations and output – to help keep the nation informed, educated and entertained’ declared, Tony Hall, Director-General of the BBC. The many measures the BBC is implementing, include their commitment not to discontinue any of their most listened to programmes on Radio One, to bring listeners up-to-date information on the Coronavirus through 5 Live, and the launching of Make a Difference, that will see every local radio station joining up with volunteer groups to help, co-ordinate and support the elderly by informing them of what help is available in their area. Their full package of measures can be found here.

Those depending on advertising are suffering

Transmission Towers
Transmission Towers
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The closure of businesses has led to a collapse in commercials and a rise in unpaid invoices. These are the complaints of some of the Italian radio producers we interviewed.  Some, after terminating their agreements with freelance staff and asking for government aid for their employees, are only playing music on air.  However, the electricity bills for their transmitters have to be paid.  In order to cut the bills, a group of broadcasters in Puglia, Italy, unable to lower radiated power (in Italy the authorisation process takes considerable time), have remediated by turning off their smaller sites. Tower operators are also having a bad time (they get paid rent for providing antenna space on their towers). Some have already received requests by some radio networks for hefty discounts on the rent. At the same time, given that the power of the transmitters are in excess, it would only need the authorities to allow radio stations to halve it. It would be a reform at zero cost and nobody would be disadvantaged.

In a breakdown, spare parts at risk

Elenos Group, Website, transmitter manufacturers
Website Elenos
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The lockdown of businesses has also hit transmitter manufacturers like Elenos, the internationally renowned company located near Ferrara.  Leonardo Busi, the Chief Executive Officer, stated in an interview on Radio Globo (Lazio, Italy) that they have had to stop production due to no longer receiving the components that are indispensable for assembling the structures. The supplies are down to the bone and a radio or TV station with a breakdown could have to stop their service.  

The Philippines: If this TV is inconvenient maybe I’ll shut it down… or maybe not

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News Release, Republic of the Philippines, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte
News Release: It’s up to Lower House to tackle ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal, says President Duterte
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After the Philippines President Rodrigo Roa Duterte told the press his intention to stop the renewal of the ABS-CBN TV station’s licence in March 2020, he accepted the apologies of the television network. It is considered being critical of the government after broadcasting a negative speech and not airing his campaign ads.

On February 26th, 2020, answering some journalists questions during an event held by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the President said that he’s going to leave the decision of the renewal entirely to the Congress.

‘We acted properly’

ABS-CBN grateful humbled by Duterte acceptance of apology, article
ABS-CBN News: ABS-CBN ‘grateful, humbled’ by Duterte acceptance of apology
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In a statement on February 27th, 2020, ABS-CBN took the opportunity of thanking the President and to explain their version of what had happened: During 2016, a video of Duterte swearing, and some children asking the President if his actions were right.

During a hearing on the franchising’s conformity in the Senate, Carlo Katigbak (CEO of ABS-CBN group) told that he has ‘only respected the laws and the broadcasting regulations for political ads’ and that the TV was unable to air Duterte’s ads due to the limit in broadcasting time, at a value of approximately 7 million Philippine peso (PHP) (approximately US $ 138.000). The TV station immediately gave back 4 million PHP, meanwhile the return of the remaining 2.6 million ($ 51.000) has been delayed by the President himself: Duterte, accepting the apologies, told the TV to give the money to charity.

A group that covers TV and radio (both AM and FM)

Homepage of Mor - My only radio, Philippines
MOR – My only radio, Philippines
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ABS-CBN is a multimedia group born in 1967 by the fusion of Alto Broadcasting System (ABS, founded in 1946) and Chronicle Broadcasting Network (CBN, founded in 1956). The company manages various TV networks such as ABS-CBN, which provides 50 to 60% of the turnover, and ABS-CBN Sports + Action. Radio includes regional stations like Radyo Patrol (medium wave) and My Only Radio, with 16 FM transmitters in the whole country. The activities of this group are manyfold: They include broadcasting of international TV channels and pay TV, a film production company, a record label and a publishing house.

Italy: Radio tormenting – someone uses the rosary

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If your neighbour is listening to radio at high volume, do you use earplugs or are you gonna start a watt-war?
It is also possible trying to solve the problem by knocking at your neighbours door or, in more serious cases, by calling the police. But when the noise occurs often and is intentional, it becomes stalking and thus a lawyer is necessary. 

Hard Rock or Radio Maria?

Italian website of Radio Maria
Radio Maria Website
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Checking on the web, it’s possible to find a great number of people convicted of  tormenting their neighbours, using noise made by TV or radio programmes. It’s funny that, in Italy, people seem to prefer using religious programmes, such as the rosary (transmitted by the national and most famous religious broadcaster: Radio Maria), instead of music.
Here follows a brief list of the most interesting and funny cases:

2020, Divignano (near Novara, in Piedmont, Italy): A married couple persecuted their neighbour using various religious functions transmitted by Radio Maria
Read more

2019, Vicenza (Veneto, Italy): A man was trialled for listening to Radio Maria at high volume during early morning hours
Read more

2018, Biella (Piedmont, Italy): A night worker can’t sleep during the day because of its neighbour listening to Radio Maria all day
Read more

2012 Golfo Aranci (Sardinia, Italy): 8 months of imprisonment for the two sisters that persecuted their brother during his restaurant opening hours, using Radio Maria as their weapon
Read more

There are also people who use the rosary to defend themselves.
2013 Fiesole (Tuscany, Italy): A family listened to Radio Maria at high volume to drown out the noise made by the neighbours parrot.
Read more

Spain: the legendary “cupón de la ONCE”, the main character of Spanish radio commercials

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Everyone who had a chance to listen to Spanish radio programmes, especially the ones on Radio Nacional de España or the private stations Cope and Cadena Ser (on FM and medium wave), has noticed that one of the most common commercials talks about the “cupón de la ONCE”: a ticket of a very popular lottery managed by the homonymous organisation, managed by blind people. Created in the 1930s as a non state lottery, it was promoted by some blind people associations in Andalusia, Catalunya and Levante, which merged in 1939 in the official national organisation that started calling the ticket “cupón”.

The 80s boom

With the advent of democracy in Spain, also the organisation renews itself: the lottery becomes national (1984) and the prize reaches 100.000 pesetas (1987), multiplying by a million the ticket’s value, sold for 100 pesetas. Since then, the lottery took off, becoming more and more popular, and radio broadcasters started being flooded with commercials promoting the tickets’ sale. Lottery’s proceeds, from the 60’s, are invested in the opening of educational centers and libraries, to promote cultural events, and to finance fundamental services such as rehabilitation.

El Cuponazo
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TV Antennas resisting modernity

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Antennas on roof
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Despite technological innovations, the reception of television programmes transmitted over air (with an antenna on the roof) still remains the most used system for watching TV. This is what emerges from a report on TV audience made by Deloitte, the worlds biggest consulting company. Today, it is estimated that at least 1.6 billion people worldwide (450 million families) are watching traditional antenna TV. However, those numbers may be low: in fact considering the countries where it’s impossible having verified data, it’s estimated that this number could raise to 2 billion users, 50% more than pay-TV by cable, IPTV and satellite subscribers.

The advertising pie is still rich

Deloitte
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The study is based on data from 83 countries with a total population of 6.6 billion. The analysis included nations with a low level of digitalisation and audience maturity level. This is the case in India (130 million users of over-air TV), Indonesia (251 million) and Nigeria (127 million); Italy, with 42 million users is on place 42. The research analyses the trend of advertising investments (that will raise to 4 billion dollars in 2020, reaching 184 billion in 2021), on traditional TV vitality and on its resilience to new technologies.

Spain: A cyber attack blocks the Cadena SER’s computers – production returns into the 1980’s

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announcement of the cyber attack on SER on their website
Announcement of the attack on the SER Website

Ransomware, a software that prevents the use of computers (by blocking them or encrypting files until you pay pirates a “ransom”), has paralysed the Cadena SER production system on November 4, 2019. To prevent risk of further infection, the computers connected to the network were turned off. However, since the Redacta platform (which assembles audio and text) could not be used, the journalists wrote the articles on sheets of paper or used word processing apps on their smartphones. Only after four days the 202 radio stations of the network were able to take up their work with their usual facilities again.

Announcement of the cyber attack on SER on the Twitter account of SER
Announcement of the attack on Twitter by SER

Services skipped, but no interruptions

Among the setbacks, the services on the MTV Awards, held in Seville the night before, were not broadcasted. On the other hand, radio hosts could provide a summary of an important electoral debate, by recording the audio from the TV (reduced quality). ‘El Confidential’ dedicated an extensive report on the emergency.