The process now underway to appoint a new president of Spanish state broadcaster RTVE, and to make changes to its board of directors, is a clear example of the deterioration of the democratic nature of our institutions. The two major political parties, the Popular Party (PP) and the Socialists (PSOE), have been unable to agree on a replacement for Alberto Oliart, who stepped down 11 months ago. This has been the perfect excuse for Rajoy to change the rules of the game, and go back to the old model of a governmental television system.
Just four months after coming to power, the government approved a decree allowing it to appoint a new president without any inter-party negotiation, and has now completed this move in the worst possible way. On Monday it put forward the name of its candidate to Congress, state lawyer Leopoldo González-Echenique, just before the deadline for doing so expired, thus dramatizing the absence of negotiation with the principal party of the opposition. In protest, the Socialists will leave two seats empty on the board, as well as appealing April’s decree before the Constitutional Court.
The moves being made by the government with regard to RTVE are not well suited to ensuring that public news media retains its independence. There is no perfect system for doing this; but the statute of 2006, which made inter-party consensus obligatory for top appointments, has made RTVE news broadcasts the most neutral, and widely viewed and respected in recent decades. It is deplorable, and alarming, to see how quickly Rajoy has wrecked this historic, and now ephemeral, achievement. But the consequences of this move reach even further. Because apart from the results of the change within the corporation, it has strained the government’s relations with the Socialists. This is no doubt going to affect the functioning of — and the much-needed changes that are needed for — other institutions of the state, such as the Constitutional Court, which are already much the worse for wear.
It may well be asked, however, whether the PSOE’s reaction, leaving two of its three seats vacant on the RTVE board, is the right one. It is hard to understand a move that will make it even more difficult for the Socialists to oversee the performance of the new managers, just when supervision is most needed. Being on the board will help facilitate the change of these unpopular rules, but at the same time keeping a member on it whose mandate is yet to expire seems to devalue this questionable means of applying pressure.
RTVE is suffering financial problems that the new president will have to deal with. The technical know-how so prized by the PP would have been a ticket to consensus with the PSOE. To rule out this possibility is to disdain democratic practices that are normal in other countries. Meanwhile, the desired managerial competence, and respect for plurality, will become evident only in the concrete teams formed by González-Echenique, a lawyer without experience in the audiovisual industry. But he arrives bearing a burden of original sin that will be hard to live down.