09:31 GMT23 October 2020
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    As spending plans for the upcoming year start to dominate government agendas, one domain that increasingly invites scrutiny is state, or public service, media and its finances. 

    Across Europe, the most common way of financing such media, which is commonly referred to as national or public service broadcasters, to make it sound different from state or state-controlled media, is through collecting obligatory public fees (read: a hypothecated tax slapped on all households and institutions using a particular type of equipment).

    Public fees, which mostly co-exist - to this or that extent- with targeted governmental spending and advertising revenue, are believed to distance the government from exercising direct control over state media, as suggested on the BBC’s website.

    However, it is universally common practice that the government actually collects and accumulates, largely through a state-affiliated structure, the television or/and radio fees (read: tax) before distributing the money between public broadcasters. 

    Naturally, the more taxable individuals are listed, or in other words, the more populated the country is, the heftier are the ultimately collected media budgets.

    Here is how Europe’s top prominent state media get their funds, in a nutshell:

    Germany (population: 82 million)

    German state media titan ARD, a national network that operates Das Erste ("The First”), the international outlet Deutsche Welle, and myriad others, collects a lion’s share of their revenues from citizens through licence fees, with every household, company or social institution required by law to pay these, while students and pensioners are eligible for exemptions.

    So does another major German network, ZDF, which, jointly with ARD, generates overall eight billon euros every year, in the western European country. 

    The fees are not collected directly by the ARD, but by the Beitragsservice (formerly known as Gebühreneinzugszentrale GEZ, or Fee Collection Center of the Public Broadcasting Companies), a common organisation of the ARD member broadcasters, the second public TV broadcaster ZDF, and Deutschlandradio. Beitragsservice in its turn collaborates with German civil registration offices to enforce the duly collection of the fees.

    Deutsche Welle, one of the structures under ARD, is funded by tax revenues with its budget controlled by the Federal Commissioner for Culture and the Media. According to its website, its 2019 annual subsidies climbed up, as compared to 2018, by €33 million euros, and amounted to roughly €360 million in total.

    UK (population: 66 million)

    Moving on to the UK,  the revenues of the top media giant BBC over the past year are comparable to those of German outlet ARD (including ZDF) - £3.7 billion (about €4.1 billion). It is also a public licence fee that accounts for the bulk of BBC’s income, including that of BBC World Service, the iconic British international network broadcasting in 40 languages. The service has also been recently guaranteed £289 million (€322 million up until 2020) from the UK government.

    Denmark (population: 5.8 million)

    DR -  the major Danish media network, the viewers of which are obliged to cover an annual 258-euro licence fee, with the bulk of these fees from millions of viewers – an estimated 562 million euros - flowing directly to the outlet based in the not so populated Nordic country.Since 2007, with the onset of the Internet era, the licence fee is charged to all Danish households with television sets, computers, but also smartphones and other devices with Internet access.

    However, starting in 2019 all through 2022, the media licence will be replaced by general taxation, as announced on 16 March 2018 by a majority in the Danish Parliament.

    Austria (population: 9 million)

    In German-speaking Austria, Österreichischer Rundfunk, or ORF, is the main state media network, financed through licence fees and in part  through advertising. There is a special federal law, Bundesgesetz über den Österreichischen Rundfunk, which regulates ORF and sets licence fees, the coverage of which is also enforced by governmental structures. 

    There are no official numbers regarding the media company’s revenues in open sources. However, taking into account  the weekly outreach of around 5.6  million, which the company reported on the website arguing it continues to rise, and data on the licence fees (the average €20 per month), it is possible to arrive at approximate figures. Potential annual revenues reach €1.34 billion, at the very least.

    France (population: 67 million)

    The major state-owned media outlet is France Télévisions, which currently reports a revenue of roughly 2.8 billion euros  well comparable with other state European outlets. The income is largely generated through licence fees and in part, through state subsidies.

    According to the 2020 legislative initiative, the state subsidies to FT will go down by €61 million euros to €2.48 billion, in line with the country’s reforms on audio-visual platforms set to put greater emphasis on newly-emerged streaming services like Netflix.

    France 24: since 2008 the channel has been wholly owned by the French government, via its holding company France Médias Monde. The annual budget of France 24, which bought out the minority share of the former partners Groupe TF1 and France Télévisions, stands at around €100 million.

    Russia (population: 144 million)

    The income of state Russian media are made up of government subsidies and advertising revenue, not licence fees.

    Earlier this month, Russian Ministry of Finance introduced its new open-source budget plan that outlines among other aspects next year’s subsidies for state Russian media operating in the most populated country on the European continent.

    VGTRK, which is short for the “All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company” and is an umbrella company for a bunch of radio and TV channels targeting the domestic audience, will receive €339 million in funds.

    RT, meanwhile, will enjoy the second biggest subsidy rate amounting to €324 million “for the creation, development and maintenance” of its journalistic hubs outside Russia. The media holding Rossiya Segodnya, which includes RIA-Novosti and multilingual news web outlet Sputnik, is set to receive roughly €106 million.


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