Unfortunately, 2021 has also been a year of pandemic, and the prolongation of this difficult situation, beyond health problems, has entailed a deepening in the various areas of damage and/or consequences that were detected in 2020. In the area of digitisation, for example, according to some experts, in eight weeks of 2020 there have been changes in the world that would normally take five years.
Processes such as digitalization that were causing profound social change have accelerated greatly and all this has consequences, among others, in the world of communication and, of course, in the Basque media of popular initiative. But the starting point for all the media is not the same, for different reasons for many years, all too often, the media in Basque have had to develop subsistence strategies that have made it extremely difficult to adapt to the profound changes that are taking place in the field of communication. And yet, in general, the media in Basque are trying to adapt to the new context, despite the fact that on many occasions these steps do not occur with the desired speed.
Well, the pandemic of recent years has added an added difficulty to this path that was actually being difficult. The production process has become very difficult, and in the case of paper distribution, the management of work equipment has not been easy either, insofar as, from the very beginning, the monitoring of workers" health has been an absolute priority and, of course, effects have also been seen on sources of income, especially in advertising at first, but then also in sales or subscriptions. If we add to all this a strong increase in the last year of electricity, fuel, technology or paper, we must conclude that 2021 has been a difficult year for the media in Basque.
Although the context is difficult, the sector is on its way. If in the Yearbook 2020 the pandemic focused on the media in Basque, it should be noted that in this year 2021 new steps have been taken, especially in two areas, financing and innovation.
New calls for grants 2022-2024
As for funding, the new grant model has been three years old, so throughout 2021 we have been working on the new calls for the years 2022-2024 at the Basque Media Bureau, the main public bodies and the Araba, Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa sector. As you know, a few years ago the sector began discussions with public institutions to reach a new financing system and the new subsidy system was announced in early 2019.
The media sector in Basque valued the new system as a first step in the right direction, as it generally reflected the main demands that have historically been made by the sector, but also underlined the need for further steps in the same direction.
In this context, there was a need to maintain and strengthen the dynamics of meetings between the sector and public institutions to develop the new grant model, and in 2020 the Basque Media Bureau, with representatives from both sides, was launched. The Bureau emerged with the aim of discussing the problems and challenges of the sector and seeking solutions as far as possible, and in the last two years issues relevant to the sector have been addressed, such as the new calls 2022-2024.
The new subsidiarity model, which has now reached three years, has been a major step forward for the stability of the sector as a whole, but has not yet met the real needs of the sector, so a particular effort has been made by the sector to overcome these shortcomings in the new calls for tender for the years 2022-2024. In this regard, the Basque Media Bureau has worked intensively to try to reach agreement on new calls with public institutions, and although there have been some progress, there is still room for improvement, since the various basic demands of the sector on the table have not been taken into account.
The constitution of the Bureau itself has been an important step in talking and reflecting on the sector, but it has only just begun its work. The sector and public institutions have embarked on a path that must continue to take further steps, among others, in the area of innovation. This will be one of the most important lines that the sector will have to address in depth in the coming years. As in other sectors, the media sector has major digitisation and innovation needs. In other words, if the sector wants to reach the target audience, it has to make a digital transition, it has to delve into innovation, and that path certainly has to be supported by public institutions, because we have at stake an essential service. In this respect, we call on the administration to make a total commitment to this issue. Because we inevitably need the impetus of public institutions to adapt our projects to the new reality, to offer the best possible offer to our community and to reach new recipients.
Basque media on the road to innovation
Together with the new call for grants, the most important line developed by the Basque media sector in 2020 has been innovation. Following the path set out in the strategic reflection, Hekimen launched a new line of work in which the day that was held last fall at the innovation pole Orona. The Basque media on the road to innovation took the word Carmina Crusafon, Genís Roca and Jordi Font i Morató, experts from the Catalan countries, with the aim of deepening the different peaks of innovation in the media.
Institutional representatives were also present, highlighting the agreement reached by the Minister for Culture and Linguistic Policy of the Basque Government, Bingen Zupiria. He made a broad location of the transformation process that the world of communication is experiencing and explained how they see the process of media innovation from their department. In particular, the advisor committed itself, among other commitments, to facilitating access to resources for new projects.
In Orona, however, it has been a first step in the field of innovation from the sector, a first attempt to better understand the particular context we are in and help to identify the main challenges facing the sector. The sector has defined a general approach to innovation and has carried out a second reading to define and adapt this general approach. Furthermore, within the partnership, the Innovation Committee has been set up to define which projects will be promoted from the sector in the three main areas defined at this second reading: the innovation projects of each media, the services that can benefit the whole sector and the projects that can be developed jointly.
In the same vein, the industry’s efforts to identify existing European programmes or grants to promote innovation in the media should be highlighted. On 29 October we organised the workshop “Possibilities of financing in Europe for the development of innovation in the media” at the Centro Cultural Bastero de Andoain, organized by the consultant Zabala, and we were able to conclude that there are opportunities for certain projects (minimum, developed in collaboration, with the participation of agents from different countries, etc. ). Blanca Rodríguez presented us with the programs and calls that may be of interest to the Basque media in Europe and Ángel Etxeberria who may be in the Spanish state. Of course, it was a first approximation, but it was an interesting session to begin to become aware of the possibilities that exist in this area beyond the border.
Conclusions of the pandemic and institutional (non) support
Last year’s Yearbook reported the survey to measure the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the media in Basque. According to the data we collected at the beginning of the pandemic among partners, the main conclusion was the decrease in advertising, but we also noticed that other damages begin to be noticed, such as the reduction in subscriptions and/or sales. The pandemic has also continued in 2021 and, unfortunately, the consequences observed at the beginning have increased. Moreover, other consequences have been added to those cited, as the increased role, electricity, fuel or technology caused by the pandemic has further hampered media activity in Basque.
The damage caused by the pandemic has been suffered not only by the media in Basque but also by the other media, and in order to alleviate this difficult situation, by the end of the year the Basque Government announced direct subsidies to the media: EUR 5 million, but only for some media, most of them fully in Spanish and with more resources to address the difficult situation due to its size. Among the beneficiaries of the aid, only two media outlets in Basque were taken into account and 6.6% of the total was allocated. This unfair distribution, of course, has been a discontent among the media in Basque and from the partnership we have tried to get the Basque Government to spread this aid to the other media in Basque, something that we have not yet achieved.
In Hekimen we gather over 50 Basque media that develop 133 communication projects. In total, more than 500 people work in these media, many of them in newspapers, magazines, television and national radios and many other countries and regions. A network of 600 employees and 1,000 volunteers must be added to this direct staff. In fact, the media supply in Basque is varied, broad and rich, allowing thousands of people to live every day in Basque.
Hekimen media website traffic has tripled in the last eight years, from 12 million in 2013 to 36.6 million in 2021. In other words, today all these websites have more than 100,000 sessions a day. With weekly readers, the Basque national press exceeds 120,000 consumers and the local press exceeds 200,000. The media in Basque guarantees thousands of people the possibility of living in Basque. Well, despite being hit by the pandemic like the rest of the media, as you can see, they do not deserve public aid to mitigate the damage caused by Covid-19.
The new Spanish audiovisual law
Now that we are reviewing the year 2021 from the point of view of communication, we cannot fail to mention the draft reform of the Spanish Audiovisual Law. Not only did we know these intentions of the Spanish Government before the summer, we also corrected a first draft, taking steps to bring these proposals to the main Basque parties. Aware that the Basque Culture Council was trying to influence in the same direction and cooperated with the institutions of other linguistic communities, we have cooperated with them throughout these months. The overall objective of the partnership has been to assert the need for a proposal that is more respectful of linguistic diversity, in particular by making it possible to increase the current scarce presence of minority languages in audiovisual media and by ensuring their presence through quotas.
As has been pointed out, the Council of Euskalgintza is collaborating with other linguistic communities in the transmission of amendments to the different parties so that minority languages are taken into account in the bill, but in general the proposals have not been accepted by the parties of the Spanish Government. The future law remains to be seen, as by 2022 the ERC party, which supports the government in the context of the budgetary negotiations in Spain, announced that agreement was reached on a number of measures. In any case, and according to the latest news, it seems that what has been agreed between the parties will be far from the demands of the associations of the different linguistic communities and, consequently, the future law does not guarantee the rights of minority language speakers in the audiovisual field either.
However, in the audiovisual field, other news was received last year. Although different initiatives had already been launched to increase Basque content on different streaming platforms, last year’s initiatives were unified and the Euskaraz Screens initiative was launched. The media sector in Basque participated in the presentation of the joint initiative and in the presentation of the manifesto that took place at the end of the year at the fair in Durango.
According to experts, by 2022 audiovisual media will account for 82% of internet traffic and, unfortunately, the offer of audiovisual media in Basque is very scarce, only drops of water on the high seas. While in recent years the offer available in other languages has grown exponentially, at best, the offer in Basque has remained, if not reduced, leaving the future of our language, of our community of speakers in a very vulnerable situation. The intervention of public institutions is fundamental to start to reverse the situation, multiply the contents in Basque and take important steps in accessibility. This is the main objective of the Euskaraz Screens initiative and in this way the momentum of the sector will also be important.
Basque media activity in 2021
As can be seen, in 2021 the media sector in Basque continues with the difficulties and the pandemic. There have been many steps taken by the media in Basque throughout 2021 and it is not possible to collect all of them here. In the following lines we will cite a small sample of everything we are saying.
We started the year with the good news, among other things, because they announced an innovative project of collaboration between the different media in Euskera.The Heraldabide project involves the group Berria, Kanaldudek, and Hamaika telebista and Antxeta Irratia with the collaboration of Elhuyar, and its objective is, through artificial intelligence, to create new tools for the automatic translation of the Basque media.
At the beginning of the year it was known that the weekly Oarso Bidasoa Hitza acquired the magazine format, going from 16 pages to 32 pages and renovating its design. And of course, adapting the content and the background to the new journal format. The media sector in Euskera is alive and in continuous renewal.
On the other hand, in the first months of the year the new EITB management team was announced, which has in many cases led to the hope that the public communication group will take a new direction regarding the Basque Country, in the hope that it will regain the promotional role of the Basque who was legally recognized at the time of its creation.
Two months later, in April, the EITB Podkast platform was launched, and although the day of the premiere podcasts in Spanish were more abundant than in Euskera, according to the head of the platform, “the wager will be in favor of the Basque”.
In May, the Gasteiz Parliament discussed the bill for the creation of the Audiovisual Media Council at the request of EH Bildu and despite the fact that several experts and actors from the sector showed their support, the parties that support the government rejected the proposal and, unlike Catalonia, the audiovisual sector will continue without this institution.
In this context, in early June, the Screens initiative in the Basque Country was presented, with the support of citizen groups Netflix Euskaraz and Disney Euskaraz, the Euskera Tinko association and the Bieuse Folding Association. As mentioned above, the initiative is already supported by various entities of Basque culture, including the Hekimen association.
The light began in 2021 the use of the Matomo app based on free software instead of using the famous Analytics tool of the multinational Google to track its websites, taking a new step in recent years towards technological sovereignty.
At the end of June, as part of the UPV/EHU Summer Courses, we heard interesting sessions on audimetry systems at the Miramar Palace in Donostia, as well as following the interesting intervention of Libe Mimenza, coordinator of the Basque Media Observatory.
In autumn Tokikom made the annual awards ceremony under the slogan Tejiendo Comunidad, but it was not limited to it and invited international experts to address issues such as business model, collaboration between general and local media or digitalization.
Last November EITB"s intention to launch the Primeran streaming platform was known, but as with EITB Podkast, several professionals from the sector showed their concern about the presence of the Basque country in the new project and stressed that our language should lead the new platform of the public group.
Was it also presented at the end of the year with the help of the Martin Ugalde Eneko Bidegain, Ainhoa Larrañaga and Zuriñe Hidalgo Huhezi scholarship by professor Izan or not? The representation of Euskal Herria in the Basque media showed the existence of the book and the reasons for concern, since often the representation of our people is not what it should and, among other things, they highlighted the need for a proper agenda.
But we ended the year with the good news. On the one hand, we were familiar with the Adimir project in which Tokikom, Goiena, Codesyntax and Vicomtech are working, an innovative solution oriented to the advanced digital archive of multimedia content. On the other hand, Berria received the Emakunde Equality Prize for her commitment to feminism and equality. And finally, we also learned of the opening of the new headquarters of Hamaika Telebista in Gasteiz.The new group started work in December and the TV has also launched the foundation so that anyone can financially support the project.
New projects are always good news, such as news from the Basque media that are going on for years, because fortunately during the year 2021 the Basque media have celebrated their anniversaries, some are round and others not so much, but in any case I would like to take advantage of the last lines of this paper to congratulate all of them. Last year, twenty years of the Recognii.eus website were completed and two decades of travel were also carried out by the Rosa and Prest! radio network of Deusto Bilbao. journals. It was, without just twenty, the last year’s doubling, 40 years, of Plot Irratia de Lapurdi and Hey magazine. Congratulations to all of them and to all others.
And that is, the obstacles and pandemics, the media in Basque continue above all the slaughterhouses and below all the children. The Hekimen association itself will fulfill its first decade in November of this year and that is also something. We will see if we all do the same, the media in their indispensable action and the associations helping them. It is our mission to contribute to the development and dissemination of the media in Basque. One more year you will meet us next to you.