Budapest, January 10 (MTI) – Much has changed in Hungarian public service media over the recent past, Miklos Vaszily, director-general of public-service media provider MTVA, said in an interview to MTI.
Vaszily, a former head of news portals Index and Origo who has headed MTVA since last August after a stint as deputy managing-director in charge of operations, said he came to public service media with the task of streamlining the organisation and making efficiency gains, and there is a still a way to go in this direction.
He noted that MTVA operates two new television stations, the M1 rolling news channel and sport on M4. Broadening the palette must be done within the existing budget framework, he said. Part of the efficiency drive involves renegotiating contracts with content suppliers, he added.
“We’re far from the point at which we can say that the transformation is complete, but we are making progress in creating a modern organisation from the market’s viewpoint,” Vaszily said.
MTVA’s annual budget totals 80 billion forints (EUR 254m), of which the state contributes just under 70 billion. At the same time, 37 billion forints must be paid back to the state budget and state sector in various forms, he noted. The budget is average in international comparison, though significantly lower than public media budgets in other countries of the region, he said.
“The media world has changed, and public service must adapt. But at the same time there are various services we provide which no one else undertakes,” he said, citing programmes for minorities and people with disabilities, as well as maintaining the Radio Children’s Choir and Symphony Orchestra. Further costs include managing various archives and technical developments such as HD. It would be misleading to compare MTVA’s budget with those of commercial broadcasters, he added.
“We’re not competing with commercial channels,” Vaszily insisted, adding that viewers and listeners expect different kinds of programmes when they tune into, say, Kossuth Radio, the main talk-based broadcaster. And people get this content, including news supplied by news agency MTI, free of charge. “We serve the whole of the media market.”
The director-general noted that the four public media companies MTV, Duna TV, MTI and Magyar Radio, were folded into a single company, Duna Zrt., last June, making it cheaper to run. Duna prepares public-media strategy and orders and receives content, while MTVA produces this content. Previously, there had been tensions between the various companies but now public service is running on a single track, Vaszily said.
He said the introduction of the rolling news channel had not gone without hitches, but since the autumn audience data has been excellent for this type of programming and both domestic and international events are covered “in sufficient detail and with thoroughness”.
Concerning viewing figures, he said that the portfolio as a whole, namely 6 television channels, must be taken into consideration, and in this respect public service now has the best viewing figures in the past ten years. Public radio captures 30-35 percent of the country’s listenership and the flagship Kossuth channel has between 1.5 million and 2 million listeners each day, while popular music channel Petofi has 800,000-900,000. The aim is to boost the latter to above one million, he said.
It is also important to rethink public media’s approach to online. In the recent past, developments have lagged behind in this area, he said.
Vaszily said that he keeps in mind the importance of the services of the MTI news agency, and that he is satisfied with its work on a professional level. “The news agency’s work is a very sensitive area. The world of politics, as a user, practises control on a daily basis, so we cannot afford any unprofessionalism; not even if we are attacked by, for example, the Democratic Coalition party, as we are now experiencing,” he said, referring to a lawsuit launched by the left-party, which complains that MTI does not always cover the statements that it sends to the agency.
As regards flagship content, Vaszily referred to the hugely popular A Dal song contest and Virtuosos, a showcase for Hungarian young talent, the latter of which is launching its second season after a successful first run. Virtuoso is important programming because these types of show best convey what public service in the media really means in terms of value.