Statement of closure of RTI on FM in Slovakia and the Exchange Agreement.
December 2008 - From the outset RTI has always been a service to encourage Europeans to look favourably at the Slovak Republic. In fact some moved from highly paid positions to enable RTI to exchange views, ideas and send positive messages about Slovakia from The Heart Of Europe to The World.
At the beginning we were encouraged by the open comments by made in a report by the Slovak news agency TASR 9 April 2005. The report states:
Poprad: Radio Tatry (from Poprad) on Saturday [9 April] relaunched its broadcasting, after the break lasting several years.
Adjusted licence gave the former local radio the right to broadcast as an international radio station, being a part of the network Radio Tatras International (RTI). Broadcasting will be bilingual, Slovak-English.
"The licence will enable Radio Tatry to exchange the programmes with the RTI," said Valeria Agocs, head of the Committee for the Broadcasting and Retransmission.
Radio Tatry Director Igor Ludma told Slovakia that the radio will broadcast information and music in Slovak language between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. [0600-1800 gmt] After 7 p.m. [1800 gmt] they will broadcast special programmes taken over from London.
Around 40 million listeners will be able to listen to Radio Tatry on the frequency 94.2 FM.
(Source: TASR web site, Bratislava, in English 1820 gmt 9 Apr 05 via BBC Monitoring)
This news item was so widely used it even became part of Radio
Netherlands MediaNetwork report. In addition the same TASR report can be
found and was used in the Slovak Spectator (Bratislava).
All the reports were clear that RTI-UK would be able to exchange programmes with the Slovak associated company, the single most important reason for accepting the project in the first place. Had we not been granted the approval to do programme exchanges then we would not have invested in the Slovak company; that would have meant the Slovak company Radio Tatry sro would have been forced to close as they had no other investment to launch with. In fact so short was the time to rescue the Slovak company that just one more day of not broadcasting and the license would have been taken back by the Slovak Regulator, representing the regulator through all of these phases was Mrs Valeria Agocs.
Doing a programme exchange means swapping programmes as they are. Many radio stations do this and have done so for many years, we point this out as anyone with a long history in broadcasting, which Mrs Valeria Agocs has, would certainly understand the words she used or be in a position to clarify her words before releasing them.
Had Mrs Valeria Agocs stated that programmes could be exchanged with RTI-UK only if they were translated after, or during, the show or dubbed during the show then as we have stated many times the project would not have commenced and the long time issued license to Mr Ludma's company would have been revoked.
We also like noted that Mr Ludma has been granted several licenses for Poprad that prior to the current Radio Tour license have all failed.
Mr Ludma stayed with what became RTI-SK for some time after the launch. It is true to say that his over-staffed station needed professional help as it was operating on costs higher than most station of the same scale.
When we held a team meeting in Poprad almost 40 people arrived. These 40 people were making just a few hours of new programming a day with the majority of hours being automated or coming from the UK.
This position was not sustainable, many Europe-wide stations would like the staffing levels proposed. Therefore, we took the decision to explain our position to Mrs Valeria Agocs so that she would understand this was not sustainable. Her reaction was to explain that part of her remit was to ensure jobs were not cut and we had to find a way to use the people, clearly we could not do this as the station would need to generate more revenue than comparable stations.
Following a combination of re-training and up-grading our staff to more qualified people we reduced the staffing levels using mainly technology that had been available to radio stations for around five years. Today RTI-SK generates more programming from it's Poprad studios than the old Radio Tatry. It offers the same level of spoken news, if not greater, and offers on-line news that is read by people around the world.
During the re-training period it was decided that it was best for Mr Ludma to leave the company. This happened at the same time that many technical tests took place to establish why at certain periods of the year the hometown of RTI-SK, Poprad, was not able to tune into the
station. We established, after significant time investment, that this was not a new situation for stations using the frequency we had purchased; although this was not made clear at the start.
Whilst we could have decided, at that time, the frequency was not fit for the purpose we purchased it for we decided to invest further time in coordinating a relay frequency to resolve the problem for the citizens of Poprad.
A fabulous team managed to find a new frequency for Poprad, a low power relay, and we were advised that the only issue remaining was to ensure that Mrs Valeria Agocs gave the frequency to RTI. However, that did not happen and the frequency was given by Mrs Valeria Agocs to Mr Ludma.
Following the issue of the new Poprad license by Mrs Valeria Agocs to Mr Ludma, we contested the decision in the highest court in Slovakia. The court, papers available on request, decided that the decision was wrong and that the council should not have given the license to Mr Ludma. Even after the chain of events Mr Ludma's Tour Radio was allowed to continue to broadcast by Mrs Valeria Agocs and further she did not revoke the license. In fact Mr Ludma continued broadcasting at a time when many would have said he had no license - in some countries he would have been treated as a pirate station. Furthermore, the case still isn't over. It is now in court in Presov. However, how long can a business wait for a court to decide, this is clearly what the Council were hoping for. The time of our listeners not being about to tune in around Poprad would mean we would give up and go away. Actually, they're right. We cannot continue without a solid signal and this begs the question, who knew about the lack of signal in Poprad when the license was issued to us?
Whilst continuing with attempts to improve RTI-SK for the listeners, other activities took place, RTI then clearly became the focus of attention. The first outright ban of programmes took place in the first half of 2008. Had we taken the words of Mrs Valeria Agocs as they were said and reported that would have constituted a breach of our original agreement. However, we chose to use a diplomatic route and began dialogue with many in the Slovak Republic.
Throughout the summer of 2008, whilst also being a significant resource to the team bringing Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to Poprad and the Slovak Republic - with Poprad gaining worldwide coverage of the State Visit, we continued to lobby for the reinstatement of the English shows in the spirit and words of the original statements issued by Mrs Valeria Agocs and Mr Ludma.
In September of 2008, just ahead of the State Visit, we wrote to Mrs Valeria Agocs stating that we would re-start shows due to the State Visit.
The response was interesting as it stated that we had a time period to resolve the matter, which expired just after the State Visit, or the station would be sanctioned and our legal team advised that Mrs Valeria Agocs could actually revoke the RTI-SK license. Therefore, for a second time we removed the English "exchange" shows that Mrs Valeria Agocs was so keen on at the beginning of the project.
Following the State visit RTI was forced to end the English shows and this again impacted on our revenue stream. Every time we removed the English programming we saw a significant reduction in advertising revenue.
However, what we also saw was a massive growth in people tuning into RTI via the digital services owned and operated by RTI-UK. Therefore, throughout this catalogue of changing positions RTI-UK honoured it's agreement to continue broadcasting the Slovak language programming which was part of the original agreement.
Mrs Valeria Agocs also complained about the jingles (or idents) of RTI. Yes it is true the jingles do use the English language. May we point out that it is perfectly acceptable, under Slovak law, to play music not in the Slovak language. Playing Madonna is not a sin and therefore playing extracts from a song called RTI24/7GO! (especially the extended remix) available on iTunes with proceeds going to charity cannot be wrong either.
In the case of the RTI jingles they are extracts from the song, which happen to coincide with the station name and European registered trademarks, and the author will be more than happy to confirm that.
Therefore, far from breaking the law, RTI went to great lengths to ensure everything was done well within the law, whichever law you wish to apply.
To date we have established that RTI has done very little wrong and yet it is being penalised for the following, just some activities within the local community:
1. Launching the first ever radio appeal to help children living in homes in the area, the former Poprad stations never bothered.
2. Coaching a German citizen in Slovak so that he could ask his fiancée to marry him in Slovak live on air.
3. Assisting in the launch of the Country Wide Cycling Proficiency scheme following the death of a toddler on his bicycle. RTI gained all the sponsors and the local Poprad Police commended RTI, in writing, for all its efforts.
4. During the tragic fires in the Tatras RTI cancelled it's English programmes to broadcast informative messages in Slovak and English to ensure as many tourists as possible did not make a HUGE mistake by visiting the danger area. Just broadcasting those messages in Slovak would have meant that non-Slovak tourists (German, Russian, Dutch, English speakers) would not have remained in touch with the latest news. In fact the English broadcasts were monitored as far away as Washington D.C. and Stockholm both of whom called to offer assistance to the Slovak
5. No other stations has ever entered into projects to generate new investment in the region by virtue of using its English language broadcasting, please lets respect that foreign companies do not learn a language before investing in a country - they simply look at what the country can do for them. They can only establish these facts in a language that is unlikely to be Slovak. The RTI initiative known as Welcome To Slovakia has encouraged companies to come to the Tatry region and make jobs available in, one case, an industry that lost over 14,000 jobs in five years within the Slovak Republic. The RTI projects have already generated 250 jobs in that sector and the signs are that the investor will expand its operation in the region producing even more new jobs.
6. An IT company has purchased capacity in Poprad purely due to the very same initiative.
7. The world famous Ministry Of Sound didn't contact a number of stations when it was ready to book its 2009 special. It contacted RTI, primarily because they could communicate with RTI and that the station has a good reputation - that reputation, and even more important the reputation of the Slovak Republic as a good European partner, is now under threat purely because of the position RTI has been placed in.
8. A young music writer was confronted with the same message from other stations "Come back when you are famous". That young Slovak musician has since had a top-selling album, been included in a top selling Slovak CD compilation, and has been booked to play in Germany and the USA. It should be noted that the Slovak musician was trying to get his English language track on air to share with the world. RTI was honoured to be the first Slovak station to play his highly acclaimed material.
9. Since the start of RTI its profile has also seen other music artists benefit. This was totally due to English stations listening to the English shows that carry better quality Slovak music. RTI was honoured to put producers of English stations in touch with the Slovak artists so their material could be aired on UK only stations. Those producers spoke no Slovak and therefore the bands would have never had such contact without the English language shows.
10. And we leave this section to a listener who now has a high quality position with an international company who wrote "...Then I started to listed to them [RTI] regularly and I must admit that at the beginning I struggled to understand Eric and his quests even though I had been already learning English for 7 years. The difference in pronunciation between my Slovak teacher and him speaking English was huge!! However, thanks to these shows I gradually improved and improved... And I wouldn't be able to achieve any of this if I didn't speak English. And that's where RTI also played its role too. Thank you for that RTI!!... Please, people in the government of Slovakia be responsible for this, allow RTI's broadcasting in English!!"
In April 2005, the FM station in Poprad was described by a senior music executive as a station in "nowhere land". That same executive now describes RTI is a great international service. It should be noted that as the FM signal of RTI goes in Hungary and Poland it has to be considered as an international even though the regulator was against the term International being used to describe RTI on FM.
RTI at the launch of the FM service offered its listeners very little. It was a take it or leave it situation and if a Poprad citizen wanted to stay in touch with home the only way he or she could do that was by driving back to Poprad. RTI in 2005 had FM, a Web Site and a single Internet Stream. Yes it did have e-mail and an SMS service.
By it's third birthday RTI-SK, as it was now known, had access to all of the above plus added listener services including:
Skype Chat and Call, Live Video, Interactive chat, Internet Radio1 wi-fi, Reciva wi-fi, Imvite portal, Youtube, Netlog, MySpace, FaceBook, Twitter, RTI Spravy Blog and a live Internet news RSS service, RTI Job Spot, RTI On-line History and the Free English help service. In total RTI is on over 25 digital networks.
It has been mentioned by a number of people that the ability of RTI to create all of the above services made some nervous so much so that they believed the only controls that should be put in place were those of closing down RTI.
We would like to thank all those that have lobbied on behalf of Radio Tatras International and we are saddened that the breach of the original agreement, in no way created by RTI-UK, will now result is the closure of our FM service and of Slovak programmes being aired on RTI-UK. This will naturally impact on the very dedicated team who will now find there Christmas present from Mrs Valeria Agocs to be the end of their job(s).
Possibly a new regulator will avoid using two sets of rules for radio which means one station can flout radio regulations whilst another is doing good for the community. Or is it possibly because the former regulator was not interested in the region having well paid citizens with increasing opportunities to earn a good living? Maybe they preferred the minority retaining the pportunity to control the majority - surely that ended in 1989.
We sincerely hope the new team at the Slovak Regulator will encourage RTI to re-commence broadcasting at some time in the future. RTI would welcome the opportunity to discuss this at any time, as we know the only people being hurt by the decisions of Mrs Valeria Agocs are:
1. Those that cannot afford to pay for English language training courses and were using RTI to learn and listen via FM;
2. Those that will now be looking for a job at the start of 2009
RTI will end it's exchange programme and broadcasting on FM in the Slovak Republic on 31 December 2008. Tour Radio, at this time, continues to broadcast under the direction of Mr Ludma, even though there is still an unsettled court case pending about the legitimacy of the issued license, with the license issued by Mrs Valeria Agocs. So there is clearly one rule for a station owner who has received and failed with many licenses, even though he gets more and more, and the other one who has invested over £700,000 in a radio project to assist the future of the Tatry region in the Slovak Republic.
In closing we would like to remind the regulators that the Slovak Republic is now a democracy. This means as the numbers of younger people grow and they find there way onto the digital highways of the world, the closure of RTI will mean they won't be able to source programming with a global feel from Slovakia.
They will be listening to programming where the taxes are paid in a different country.
They will be listening to programming that doesn't care if the Tatry is on fire or not.
They will be listening to programming which doesn't give bright talented Slovak people the opportunity to be on global radio from their local town.
They will be listening to stations offering the wide selection of music that RTI offers, but from a different country in the world.
Yes we know there should always be a place for Slovak language programming, but the idea that a regulator in Bratislava can emulate King Canute, the man who tried to push the sea back as the tide came in, is as crazy as the notion that the Velvet Revolution can be reversed.
RTI reserves the right to share this information with the Court of Human Rights.