Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Changing faces on public television: a look at impartiality in Spanish public broadcasting

Ana Pastor, removed
'Impartiality doesn't exist because no human can be devoid of feeling' Anonymous
MADRID Loosely modelled on the BBC, as are so many broadcasting services all over the world, Spanish radio and television holds one very major difference (as do so many others, too): politics is a large part of its internal machinations. Radio y Televisión de España (RTVE) is a public company; that is, it is owned by the public - in other words, by the taxpayer. In Spain, however, it has always been the playground of the party in power. Freedom of the press and objectivity are one thing, this is another.>>>SOON YOU WILL BE UNABLE TO READ THE REST OF AN ITEM SUCH AS THIS UNLESS YOU HAVE SUBSCRIBED. Subscription information wil be available soon.>>>
Management, departmental heads and presenters at RTVE are susceptible to 'renovation' on the basis of their perceived political leanings - hardly ever anything to do with retirement, early or otherwise.

The party in power doesn't like Ana Pastor, one of television and radio's most incisive journalists and presenters, until recently, of Desayunos TVE, the morning news analysis programme. Her way of questioning the questionable irritated many a politician, so out she went. They don't like Fran Llorente either, a brilliant journalist who headed the news department at the same time as he was the prime time presenter, but felt he was flooded with too much administrative work and asked to be given the plum but tricky job as correspondent in Washington. Llorente didn't always wear a tie on air, which may be one of several reasons he's gone, too. He has been substituted by Julio Somoano, who headed the news department at Telemadrid.

Juan Ramón Lucas, radio man,
Pastor was also a feature  on the afternoon/evening radio news/analysis/entertainment show so well presented by Toni Garrrido (who was dismissed while on paternity leave); another brilliant radio personality, Juan Ramón Lucas, has also been shoved out after years of careful audience build-up for his morning version of the Today show (Called Un Día Como Hoy, or A Day Like Today), a dismissal that caused  much useless complaints. They and several more are no longer on air because they were appointed by the previous party in power, PSOE, and the new lot - especially the newly appointed head of the corporation, Leopoldo González-Echenique, who among other things, wrote a 'programme for the victory of the PP' before the last General Election and has until now been the General Secretary of the NH Hotels Group, owners of Sotogrande and a large chain of hotel - don't see eye to political eye with any of them. One can't expect much objectivity from someone who comes from a regional station, Telemadrid, that is renown for quite the opposite. Madrid, of course, is governed by the PP.

Leopoldo González -Echenique.
new boss
Certainly the new management have every right to have a team around them they can trust, but they are not, or should not be, invested with the 'right' to chop off the heads of everything that is good in terms of audience size and demographics, of recognition and, principally, of credibility.

Credibility takes years to build up and achieve, which they and plenty of others, including behind-the-scenes personnel, had done in unprecedented measure, at least by the standards of Spanish media. If we look at this in economic terms, to dismiss the best after all those years, is to throw money away, a lot of money. As the Spanish saying goes, el horno no está para bollos. Or, this is not the right time to throw money away, in an non-literal translation.

It is true that the Zapatero government laid down plans for what is fast headed for obsolesence. The 24 hour news channel, excellent though it is, is drowning in the TDT (digital terrestial) flood of programming. The PSOE also banned advertising on RTVE, a very risky proposition in these risky times, so the network's only income is by subsidy. The idea may well have been modelled on the BBC, but there is no licence fee in Spain to finance it even in part.

The future of radio and television in this country was decided by political consensus. The Board of RTVE is made up of politicians of different parties, only some of whom have any experience in journalism or the media. It is the same with regional broadcasting: as every region has its own network. Andalucía, for instance, has two TV stations and two radio stations. And it is the same, believe it or not, with every municipality: each can have television and radio broadcasting stations, although many of the very smallest ones gave them up with the advent of TDT. The grants for these dried up around 2007, depending on who was in power in which region.

At present, there is much ado about eliminating regional networks as too expensive. They 13 regional TV stations cost a total of €1.6 billion in 2011, though budget cuts mean that the budget for this year is 'only' €1.2 billion. The debt incurred by them all is around the €2 billion, despite the fact that they have received subsidies and grants worth €2 billion.

At local, municipal level, only the large cities can pay for TV and radio stations any more - whether they can afford them these days is debatable, which is exactly the debate that has been held in the corridors of Moncloa.

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