Public Radio: Conference on Regions and the Brno Perspective

Public Radio: Conference on Regions and the Brno Perspective

The specialised radio magazine Svět rozhlasu published extensive material in issue 35 – responses of employees to a poll regarding the issue of regional broadcasting.  From it, we publish part of the critical text of Jiří Plocek which deals with the Brno station of Czech Radio. Based on the suggestions from the poll, the management of the Czech Radio decided to organise a conference on regional broadcasting and its perspective on 11 October. Both the professional and general public are invited.

1. A country that is not, yet it is

When thinking about the answer to poll questions, I eventually decided to answer with a comprehensive look "from elsewhere". A public medium paid by the residents of all parts of the country should be able to handle the stratification of its subsoil. I will therefore comment on the situation from the perspective of Brno or Moravia. I cannot begin with any else other than a historical summary because it is of the utmost importance and I dare say that it stands at the root of many painful areas that we feel in our region. When I speak in plural, in addition to my personal experience from the radio, I also mirror the reality that we objectively face when formulating long-term cultural policy in Brno – for example, on the grounds of the Brno Cultural Parliament. It is an apolitical forum of people active in culture and the media, which voluntarily prepares documentation for further development of the city and the catchment region in the field of culture for the city hall. The poor condition of the Brno public media is one of the major problems.

The "2014 Regions"Project is a sort of a culmination of long years of development of the radio that occurred in the atmosphere of quite a ruthless centralization and degradation of the oldest traditional stations - mainly in Brno and also in Ostrava (the situation in Bohemia is different, as Prague is the natural provincial centre). The aforementioned stations were full-fledged institutions of a provincial character for many decades because they were originally founded back before World War II largely based on the historical provincial arrangement. They were sort of like "small Pragues": they had libraries, the administration of systematically built and extensive archive funds and they had excellent production capacities for that time. It had its own historical, geographical, cultural and social logic, because the lands (Bohemian and Moravian-Silesian) reflected the natural development of our country – analogous to the neighbouring Austria and Germany.

After the Communist takeover, the lands were abolished in 1949 and replaced by a system of regions. Nevertheless, the new rulers preserved a certain hierarchy of radio stations because it corresponded to a deeper cultural and social reality. This was true despite the post-war emancipation of regions of a lower order than provincial when new studios were opened. The Olomouc station was established, for example, as a station reporting to Brno because it simply mirrored the potency of both natural Moravian centres. The gradual transformation of the system of regional stations began upon the non-renewal of the provincial system after 1989 and the introduction of a new artificial system of regions. Today, it is apparently of a centralised and deeply technocratic nature corresponding perhaps only to the formal wording of the law but it certainly does not correspond to the cultural, historical and social reality.

The lands with their individuality and catchment - whether on the cultural, social or geographical and historical level - did not disappear with the political and administrative measures. And they cannot disappear even with a purpose-built decision because their life and culture were naturally being shaped over centuries. Therefore, for example, some provincial functions have to be preserved even today regardless. The Moravian Provincial Archives, the Moravian Provincial Museum and the Moravian Provincial Library are also based in Brno. The Provincial Assembly (the seat of the Moravian government) has symbolically turned into the Constitutional Court and it also houses some of the other highest judicial institutions. Brno is the second most powerful, academic, scientific and research centre of the Czech Republic. This is due to the potency of Brno as a catchment centre of the region or other cultural institutions such as the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra and the National Theatre Brno, which are not merely municipal institutions, but they are a service and a representative of a much wider region (judged by the structure of visitors) and their outputs are on an international level. Yet, they are only funded by the city...

How does the real situation of public radio in Brno correspond to the reality? I will make it simple: In 1993, the Brno Radio had around 300 employees. In 2015, the number of people, who create the content of the broadcast of the Brno Czech Radio, was about 30 – including service professions. Other small groups of employees (news, a creative group) have had their leadership in Prague and largely serve the interests and priorities of the central institutions. Even if I counted all employees, then there is roughly one-fifth of the original number of employees in our old radio building. I understand that the purpose of all previous reforms was also "streamlining" and "economisation" but there is an obvious disproportion to the Prague headquarters and mainly the denial of the natural state of things. Everyone pays license fees, which includes listeners from Brno and Moravia.

I am convinced that a responsibly conceived public station in the case of Brno (and similarly at least in Ostrava) should have an expert editorial and production background with full potential, it should have a distinct and unique legacy of the entire region, which still has its provincial character. It should also provide space for the creativity of the Moravian regions, to fulfil their cultural potential.

When I started in the radio in 2006, there were three other music reporters (excluding myself, I started as a BROLN dramaturge and I produced some musical shows): one for jazz and popular music, the second one for classical music, and the last one for folklore and genres such as folk, country, tramp music. All of these categories were based on the richness of the range of music existing in our territory – ranging from several symphony orchestras, an extensive music education (including university level), to a jazz scene of nationwide significance, folk, peculiar Moravian popular music, to folklore, which was – simply put – represented, counting only south-eastern Moravia, by roughly two hundred ensembles and which firmly belongs to the regional and municipal identity. The Strážnice Festival has been a phenomenon at the European level for decades. In addition, folklore plays an important role for young people as a prevention of undesirable social phenomena on a large scale. Folklore is also one of our export cultural articles of nationwide significance. When the Czech Radio was deciding how to present the Czech Republic in the international edition of the published Ocor, it chose traditional music from the area of the Moravian-Slovak border. I helped build the dramaturgy of that title.

At the time, when I joined the station, the Brno Radio had one spatially and acoustically superior studio (we lost the other one prior to that) with long neglected technology and facilities, and one outside-broadcasting van.

2015: The music department does not exist. We do not have our own production studio in Brno any more. We produce in cooperation with the recording studio in the JAMU Theatre with limited space and capacity. The outside-broadcasting van is technologically outdated, it crashes. During trips to the field, we see it clearly: In comparison with any slightly established private sound expert, the "large company" Czech Radio Brno looks like a very poor and technologically backward relative.

To briefly conclude: In my opinion, the approach to regional stations is not differentiated as it needs to be, and disregards the relevance and potential of regions. It is excessively centralist and is heading towards a simply technocratic low-cost commercial approach which I see as a threat to the fulfilment of the complex role of a public medium. In the case of Brno, these tendencies are literally sticking out.

Jiří Plocek

The full issue 35 of Svět rozhlasu can be downloaded in pdf here, text by Jiří Plocek begins on page 25.

Detailed information about the conference:

Regional broadcast and regional verbal and musical production – that is the name of the public debate which will take place on 11 October 2016 at 10 a.m. in the Brno Radio Studio. The discussion will be attended by the management of the Czech Radio and the professional and general public.

The meeting begins at the Czech Radio Brno (Beethovenova 4) with a morning session which will take place from 10:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The speakers will include the Chief Executive Officer René Zavoral and other members of the management of the Czech Radio and guest speakers. They will talk, among other things, about the concept of regional broadcasting, news reporting, as well as programmes from the regions broadcast on national stations. In the afternoon session, which begins at 1:30 p.m., it will be followed by an open discussion with all participants.

Building of the Czech Radio Brno / Photo: Archive

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