• 2000-01-27
At long last, Lithuanian MPs have promised to initiate the law about the subscription fee for Lithuania's public television and radio.

The resulting revenue should go directly to the public broadcaster. It would be just 4 litas ($1) monthly per flat, said Vaidotas Zukas, interim head of Lithuanian Television. This kind of direct fee for public broadcasting exists in all countries of the EU. The exceptions are Portugal and Spain, where public broadcasts are financed from the state budget as in Lithuania now.

This new fee will enable Lithuanian public TV and radio to be really independent from politicians wishing to stay in power. Until now the government could say it has no money for public media at the moment.

Who can deny that such statements stem from the will to bring political pressure on journalists working in public TV and radio: You will say what we want to hear, then we will pay.

To the credit of Lithuania's public TV journalists, they have never become the servants of ruling parties. In 1996 it was public TV, not private, that reported the case of Adolfas Slezevicius, then prime minister of then-ruling Democratic Labor Party, who withdrew his savings from Lietuvos Akcinis Inovacinis Bankos just two days before it closed. Parliament dismissed Slezevicius after this public TV report.

Last year, it was public TV, not private TV, which first reported former minister of administrative reforms and municipal affairs Sigitas Kaktys' failure to declare all his property to tax authorities. Despite the defense of Parliament Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis, Kaktys had to resign because of public opinion.

All European countries have their public TV and radio. It is a European tradition. Lithuania also must preserve its public broadcaster.

Lithuania established a private TV channel earlier than most Central European countries. There are three national private TV channels and dozens of local TV companies in Lithuania.

These channels naturally care only about income. It is business. They are not committed to programs on culture, history or classical music because the audience is smaller than that for soap operas, for example. Intellectual programs are the priority of public TV and radio. Lithuanian TV broadcasts regular programs for ethnic minorities to help them cherish their traditions. Private TV channels never will: They attract no ads.

Public TV and radio must survive. Competition with public broadcasts forces private broadcasters to create public interest programs. To privatize public media would be wrong. Elite culture has the right to be heard. Privatized public TV and radio would give viewers and listeners no choice. They would be left with the popcorn of private TV and radio.