Allan Alaküla on the Baltoscandian TV Channel – an Estonian view

December 2, 2008 at 10:44 pm 4 comments

BaltoscandiaDuring the last Baltics’ Prime Ministers meeting in Tartu Lithuanian acting PM Kirkilas has suggested to create a Pan Baltic TV channel.  Previously, Lithuania’s president Adamkus suggested the same during his visit to Tallinn.  The Baltic Prime Ministers agreed to create a working group, which would discuss the idea.I touched upon the idea in 18 Feb post.  Few days ago the post received a very interesting comment from an Estonian Mr Allan Alaküla, who actually expanded on idea and suggested to create a Baltoscandic channel.  Allan Alaküla is currently working as a as Head of Tallinn EU Office in Brussels and kindly agreed that I would post his comment as a separate post.  Lets hope that the working group from the Baltic states will manage to generate some ideas and will achieve something concrete results.WHY BSR NEEDS CHANNEL?
BBC World, al-Jazeera, Russia Today, China´s CCTV9, Spain’s TVE International, France24 and other global reaching TV channels are a challenge to the media-rich Baltic Sea Region (BSR). The countries around the Baltic Sea have strong public service broadcasters and well developed private media with the world’s highest readership of written press and very high Internet usage. There are some pan-Baltic media and pan-Scandinavian media cooperation, but there is none remarkable media outlet which addresses the entire BSR or present the region to the outside world.



The EU BSR Strategy should set a target of founding a central media channel with remarkable share inside the BSR. The Baltic Channel would serve as a vibrant tool for building an internal identity of the region and for presenting the image of the region to the outside world. The Baltic Channel should be a multimedia outlet built on the latest technique for TV, web and mobile.

Such a BSR channel could serve as a model for European Union identity-building. Unless there are no effective media targeting the entire Baltic Sea Region, there are very small chances to form an identity of the region as such. The same is true of the EU as long as Euronews or any other pan-European media outlet does not compete with major national channels over the share of viewer ship.

1. The BSR is media-rich. It has probably got the world´s strongest public service broadcasters (PSB) in terms of share in respective nation states. But it has also got a very well developed private media sector with the world´s highest readership of written press and very high Internet usage. This would serve as a perfect environment for an extensive use of media with the aim of forming a common identity for a relatively diverse region of nine countries.

2. Private media is already highly integrated in the BSR with regard to ownership structure. Norwegian Schibsted and Orkla, Swedish Marieberg, semi- Swedish Viasat (MTG) and German and Finnish multinational media companies already operate in large scale in Scandinavia, in the three Baltic states, in Poland and even in St Petersburg (Dagens Industri´s sisterpaper Delovoi Peterburg). BSR multinational media companies already control the tv and press market of the region.

3. There are quite a few Pan-Baltic media outlets, with newsrooms regularly sharing content between countries. This applies to the news agency BNS (Baltic News Service belongs to Finnish Kauppalehti group of Alma Media) and the Estonian online media portal Delfi, both of which operates in the three Baltic states. The weekly newspaper The Baltic Times covers politics and business of the same area. In Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark the national news agencies extensively cross-use news content.

But the region lacks a common channel, The Baltic Channel.
In an initial phase in-depth research of potential viewers would be needed and a group of communicators should be formed, who could take the lead in developing the idea of a BSR central media channel?

The next phase would be extensive exchange of content between Public Service Broadcasters of BSR countries, also inside and between multinational media companies of the BSR. EU and national governments should subsidize such an exchange.

In this phase efforts should be made also to make existing TV-channels more easily accessible between different countries. This applies especially to the Nordic countries, where language is not a big barrier but where the idea was never realized in spite of lengthy discussions.

The final phase would see the development of a central international PSB channel/media platform of the Baltic Sea Region: tv, web, mobile. It would be unique in today’s world with an international Public Service Broadcaster, which would be based on national states stakes. In order to set up management and program structures thorough research of Euronews failures and advantages would be necessary.

The PSB channel should have a strong orientation towards business – not only for complimentary funding but getting business streams involved also into forming the channel agenda.

Not paradoxically, economic crisis serves well for exposing the need for cooperation in common marketing of BSR in global scale.

In this regard there is only joint interest, no rationale for external competition, as in global scale all of us are marginals.

1. The peoples of the BSR and of the EU.

2. Businesses, operating on BSR and Global level and needing a BSR brand.

3. BSR and EU political elite, which stands for the idea of forming a BSR identity.

That is of course if there is a political consensus not only to move in the direction of BSR identity-building, but an honest will for achieving it.

Naming of the Channel derives from the naming of the Sea.

Estonians are the only ones in the world who call it The Western Sea (Läänemeri), our Finno-Ugrian mates Finns and north-neighbours call it The Eastern Sea (Itämeri), and Scandinavians and Germans use the same name. For Russia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland it is The Baltic Sea. For centuries it is known to the rest of the world as The Baltic (the term Mare Balticum was coined already by the Romans), including the two major languages of the EU, English and French.

We Estonians could seize the opportunity to recover the name Baltic Sea in our own language, as it was used in the first decade of the Estonian Republic, which celebrates its 90th anniversary 2008. That would encourage also other nations to use the same name under which the Sea is known to the world.

The major language of The Baltic Channel would be English. However, all participating countries (up to nine) would be able to have their voice-over option (along with linear channels also via web and mobile) in the national language. For external promotion there could be provision also for language options like Spanish, French, Arabic, Chinese etc (German and Russian would be involved already).

Competition is not only global. It is also with the Mediterranean region inside EU. If Benita Ferrero-Waldner says that `The Mediterranean was the cradle and will be the future of Europe`, the Baltic Sea Region has to take up its Hanseatic legacy, where the language was Niedersaxen only for the elite. Now the elite in BSR businesses (banks, media, shipping) has already largely shifted to English. The same language is also widely spoken in services on the ground level – you can by ice-cream in English in almost every village around The Baltic Sea.

In the BSR English more and more replaces the previous Nordic and Russian region languages. It could be seen as an advantage for regional cooperation – it will be equal for all partners around the Sea (there is no native English-speaking nation) and the language is the most used in the EU and on a Global scale.

Like former Niedersaxen or Latin, English is just a modern lingua franca, a practical tool with no deep ambitions, and perhaps not even abilities, to abolish the use or hinder the development of national languages.

Almost 1,5 million people in the three Baltic States are Russian speakers (plus Kaliningrad enclave with over half million Russian inhabitants). It is vitally important to involve them into the BSR information space, not less because PSB media in the Baltic States have failed to reach them. So far the Baltic Russians have been mostly under a Russian info-space. Originated from Moscow (Ostankino First Channel) but translated and edited from Riga to the three Baltic states PBK (First Baltic Channel) has for example from this summer in Estonia bigger share compared to PSB Estonian Television.

In these times of heightening tensions between Russia and EU there is an increasing need for building of bridges within the cultural sphere and the information space. A Baltic Channel broadcasting even in Russian would not only reach the Russians in the Baltics, but it would be possible to access even into Russia itself. This could be seen as an asset for the entire region, where the Russian minority in Eastern Baltic could become a bridge, not to say a window, to Russia. Saint Petersburg 300 years ago was built as a Russian window to Europe, and in our time it might be gaining the role of a European window to Russia.

In Helsinki Radio Sputnik operates in Russian, subsidized by the municipal administration, mostly for promotion of Russian visitors, i.e. tourists. Also Russian newspapers are published in Finland and Germany.

So the issue is not only of Estonian and Latvian interest in the BSR.

May be even more important than language is the technical platform (medium is the message). As linear TV is at its twilight, most content will be duplicated and delivered via Internet, mobile and also exposed on public screens at ports, stations and hotel lobbies and in many kinds of public transport.

The multimedia channel would make the best use of the world’s highest levels of Internet usage and skills among the peoples of the BSR. The channel would become a platform for developing cross-border e-services, which would have an impact for regional integration that could be compared only to that of a single currency.

There should be a massive development of TV-based services, starting from what reminds of text-TV and common Internet sites:
First level information services – where to go, who is who.

Second level interactive ticketing – all kinds of e-ticketing services brought together, from tickets to be printed out by customer to full e-ticketing (for example like ID-ticket in Estonia).

However a PSB-channel The Baltic Channel should publish adverts. This will add value for banks, media, transport (shipping, aviation) etc operating in the entire region and will strengthen their integrative messages.

As The Baltic Channel to a large extent will lay on non-linear TV, its advertising methods should be innovative too, mixing web, mobile, public screens and linear platforms.

Without media support cant be implemented BSR Strategy basic objectives of environment, prosperity, attractiveness, nor security. Nor internally, neither in Global scale.

„Thanks to” economy in crisis the need for joint marketing efforts of BSR externally should be recognised better. Channel would become one of few answers to the question – what can be done for expanding new markets (to make economy floating again).

Change of extent and modus of influence of US in the BSR will have impact to cooperation inside the region. Mostly in regard of Balts and Polish, but also in Scandinavian side of the Sea.


Entry filed under: Baltic States, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Northern Europe, Norway, Poland, Russia, Scandinavia, Sweden.

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Nerijus  |  December 3, 2008 at 11:38 am

    Most of people in Baltic States due to some historical reasons to greater or lesser degree use Russian as lingua franca.
    As far as I am aware figures for Lithuania are that about 65% Lithuanians can manage to communicate in Russian as oppose to only 27% in English.
    So taken that in mind the idea of using English as a main language for broadcasting is not at all that good.

    Secondly, cultural differences between 9 countries are extremely huge, meanwhile prejudices and arogance might be even higher. I can’t help the feeling that neither Norwegians
    nor Finds feel any proximity to Lithuanian culture and will express wilingness to know more about it in the near future. Once you on the top you do not want to disfugure your nice face with bounding
    yourselve with underdogs. So bringing that into consideration cultures will not be presented on equal footing either.

    But putting all that aside we might agree that someting can and must be done. Fresh start could be cultural interchange programme between media sources of 9 countries. The cost of produced stuff under this programme could be covered by national goverments and private funds and going even further administrative body can be established later on. I am deeply conviced that all the material must be presented in local languages.

  • 2. Allan Alaküla  |  December 4, 2008 at 11:37 am

    I am not proposing broadcasing only in English. I am saying – English is the only common language of edotorial office. Broadcasting should be done (usuing mostly voice-over option) in all languages, which Nations will take part from project. Like Euronews.
    Mental differencies of countries are indeed remarkable. Yes, we can just wait-and-see, if these gaps will disappear. But we could also consider pro-active role.

  • 3. Eero  |  December 4, 2008 at 1:04 pm


    Years ago I learned from experienced publisher that a broadcasting media as well as a newspaper have to fill two critical pre-requisites before they can even dream to be an independent profitable product:

    1) It has to have a “story”, a point of view.
    2) It has to have a audience that is interested continuously hear the “story”, the point of view.

    You suggest that the channel should be a PSB, with some additional revenue sources. However, I think the two above mentioned criteria should still be met to really reach the 3rd phase – an independent broadcasting channel.

    Is there really a Pan Baltic Sea point of view that would gather significant audiences in the region? Is there lack of some content type that is truly needed by the grand audience BSR? In my opinion the news are in our region available widely. In addition we don’t have BSR sports leagues that would gather huge audiences.

    Nevertheless, wide content sharing and co-productions that would be decided case by case, would be a relatively cost efficient way to increase understanding about the current issues as well as the cultures of BSR. The distribution could be via exixting public broadcasters as well as non-linear media as you suggested.

    Thanks, interesting suggestion!


  • 4. Allan Alaküla  |  December 5, 2008 at 11:43 am

    One might think that next Global No1 China just incompetent, while spending a lot for CCTV9 broadcasting in English. Russia, many balts do not doubt, is just burning its oil money with Russia Today. And Quatar emir is just one freak, who is pumping oil revenues instead of modern jet-fighters into Al-Jazeera, which broadcasts in English too. French were always in New Europe considered “very different from us”. But what about BBC World, made by British taxpayers money (to be fair – by domestic TV-fees)?
    Well, they all might be (often dictatorial) fools, burning their taxpayers money to promote those cpuntries and regions in global scale for global audiencies. May be, the BSR current approach not to aim global visibility via media devellopment is somehow very wise – at least avoiding soft spending. However, then we will ignore completely the major global strenghts of BSR – ability to cooperate and innovativeness.


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