Idea of 'TV toll' unanimously rejected by lawmakers

  • 2006-01-04
  • By Milda Seputyte
VILNIUS - Parliament shrugged off the idea of financing public radio and television LRT via a subscription fee collected from Lithuanians. Lawmakers passed an amendment to the Law on Lithuanian National Radio and Television, withdrawing the subscription fee idea, which was first envisaged five years ago but never implemented.

Parliamentarians applauded the results of the final vote.

The universal subscriber fee on services rendered by the public broadcaster to the population was set out in the Law on Lithuanian National Radio and Television passed back in 2000. However, the date for the financing model to come into effect was postponed each year as the scheme for fee collection had not been established.

The public broadcaster is currently financed through the assignations from the national budget, program sales, advertising, publishing, assistance and revenues on commercial and economic activities.

But media analysts concluded that the subscription fee system, which is used in Great Britain, was unlikely to become a panacea for financial independence. The fee would provoke bitterness from Lithuanians, who psychologically are unprepared for the idea of paying for television programs.

"The subscription fee could guarantee financial independence, but we are very late in introducing it. In other European countries the subscription fee was introduced when there was only one public TV channel, and people paid the fee without resentment. Now it's paid due to the tradition," Zygimantas Peciulis, professor at Journalism Institute in Vilnius, previously argued in an interview to XXI amzius.

"People here are right pointing out that they don't have to pay for commercial channels, but are asked to pay for public services."

President Valdas Adamkus had previously stated that he would approve the financial model, which would guarantee LRT's independence from commercial and political structures.

In recent months Lithuanian media have been used to spread accusations of one political faction against another 's most notably during last year's epic row between Labor Party leader Viktor Uspaskich and Vilnius Mayor Arturas Zuokas.

Previously, it had been suggested to collect 4-6 litas per month from each household equipped with a TV set, or simply to add the fee to the electric bill.

The latest version of the legislation would have reduced the maximum airtime of advertising on public radio and TV to 10 percent of daily airtime. Until now such advertising cannot exceed 15 percent of daily broadcasting.

However, the later provision provoked the loudest discussions in Parliament. The new project suggested minimizing advertisements to 5 percent of daily transmission; however, the final amendment read only 10 percent.

Conservative Edmundas Pupinis said that as long as there is no subscription fee for national broadcaster's programs, no advertising restriction should be applied.

"We'd be insane if we were to exclude LRT from involvement in the advertising market," Pupinis said in Parliament. "Why should we in this way favor a private company? What's needed is a gradual transition toward noncommercial television."

In 2005, LRT received 38 million litas from the budget. Its annual income from commercial revenues is estimated to amount some 22 million litas.