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PUBLIC BROADCASTING

PP decree allows party to name state broadcaster RTVE chief

Government ends Zapatero-era consensus on nomination Cabinet moves to allow privatization of regional stations

Rosario G. Gómez

The conservative Popular Party government on Friday broke with a consensus regarding the state broadcaster RTVE by approving a decree allowing the administration to directly name the head of the organization.

Currently the nomination of the RTVE president requires a qualified majority of two-thirds of the lawmakers in Congress. The decree undoes a reform of the laws governing RTVE approved in 2006 by the then Socialist administration to keep the broadcaster at arm’s length from government control. Both the PP and the Socialists have accused each other of trying to sway the RTVE’s news coverage when in power.

The head of RTVE can now be approved by an absolute majority in parliament, a situation that the PP currently enjoys. This was also the case prior to the 2006 reform if two-thirds of Congress failed to reach a consensus on the candidate.

Speaking at a news conference after the regular Friday Cabinet meeting, Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría said the change in legislation was need because of the “serious” problems in the management of RTVE.

“The designation will continue to be parliamentary, but adopting the solution of 2006,” she said.

Since Alberto Oliart resigned as president in July of last year, RTVE has been managed by its board of directors as a sort of assembly.

No deviations in spending or revenues will be allowed in local channels”

The decree also cuts the number of board members to nine from 12 in keeping with the austerity drive. They will lose their status as full-time employees and, as such, will be entitled only to expenses. Board members currently have an annual salary of 110,000 euros.

The current board only has nine members after the resignation of Oliart and departure of representatives of the CCOO labor union and one of the four PP representatives. The mandate of several of the current members expired two years ago because of a lack of an agreement on their replacements. Already in serious financial difficulties, loss-making RTVE saw its budget cut by 204 million euros this year.

The Cabinet also approved plans to allow the regions to privatize their television stations. They can farm out some of the services they currently provide themselves or hold a public tender for the license itself.

If a region opts to continue to run its television channel, it will be subject to the balanced rule that applies to the public administrations. “No deviations in spending or revenues will be allowed,” Sáenz de Santamaría said. The government wants to push the legislation through Congress before the end of this year.

Thirteen regions have broadcasters accounting for 20 television channels. Their combined budget for this year amounts to 1.4 billion euros, three-quarters of which comes from the state’s coffers. The government hopes the new legislation will help make regional broadcasters more efficient. Some of them have built up hefty debts.

Castilla-La Mancha and Madrid have already indicated that they plan to privatize their broadcasters. Madrid premier Esperanza Aguirre said that television was better left in the hands of professionals rather than politicians.

In a parallel development, the decree also calls for radio stations to be given access to soccer grounds to broadcast matches. Since the start of this season, radio stations have been denied access to stadiums because of their refusal to pay a new fee demanded of them by the LFP Professional Football League and Mediapro, which has the broadcasting rights for matches.

The government ruled that radio stations will only have to pay the costs arising from their being allowed to broadcast from grounds. The amount will be decided by common agreement among the country's soccer clubs.

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