The consensus has been broken. Leopoldo González-Echenique, a state legal counsel who was part of the previous Popular Party (PP) administration, has been put forward as the government’s choice to chair Radio Televisión Española (RTVE), the embattled public broadcaster.
The choice of a technocrat to pull RTVE out of its slump illustrates the lack of agreement between both majority parties on broadcasting issues. The Socialists have refused to come up with a candidate of their own in protest over the government’s decision, a month ago, to change 2006 legislation establishing that the winning candidate needed a two-thirds majority in Congress. Now, nothing more than an absolute majority is required, and the PP already has that, meaning it no longer needs to negotiate with anybody.
“We will not be accomplices or participants in this farce that the PP has orchestrated, and which allows the party in power to choose whoever it likes, once again,” said the Socialist organization secretary, Óscar López. The Socialist group in Congress said it will appeal against this legislative change in the Constitutional Court.
González-Echenique, 42, will be the third president designated by Congress since 2006, when Luis Fernández was voted in by two-thirds of the chamber, followed by Alberto Oliart in 2009. In both cases there was an agreement between then-Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and current Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who was the opposition leader at the time. Both RTVE presidents resigned before concluding their mandate, adding confusion to the public broadcaster’s situation. Since July 2011, the position has remained vacant, and the president’s job has been carried out by the members of the board, under a rotating presidency.
The government said it was precisely this limbo that led it to change the rules. The Socialists say that Mariano Rajoy’s recent reform is a step back that undoes the attempt to make public television more independent from the ruling party.
The new president will find a public broadcaster on the brink. RTVE is a complex organization, with 6,400 employees and an annual budget of 1.2 billion euros, and it has a government mandate to slash spending by 204 million euros. González-Echenique will also have to put together a new team quickly, since the contracts of both the director of the television division, TVE, and the corporate general director, are up at the end of the month. But if there is one position that the PP is anxious to fill as quickly as possible, it is the director of news services. Fran Llorente, who has held the post since 2006, has often been targeted by PP leaders for what they call a “lack of neutrality and plurality in the state channel.”
The new director's contact with the TV world until now lasted just 10 months
Those who know Leopoldo González-Echenique agree that the PP has chosen him for his financial skills rather than his knowledge of the broadcast industry. A graduate of law and economics, his contact with the world of television up until now lasted just 10 months, when he was director general for the Development of the Information Society from October 2002 to June 2003 under the administration of former PP Prime Minister José María Aznar.
The story of Spanish public television is one of constant controversy and struggle to keep its leadership position. It began 22 years ago, when the arrival of the private networks ended RTVE’s monopoly over television broadcasting. Competition ate into its revenues but its habits did not change, and debt started building up, reaching nearly eight billion euros. The decision to eliminate advertising has also eaten into the broadcaster’s budget.