Spanish broadcaster RTTV gets new lease of life as end looms

Station transforms itself from being government puppet to outspoken critic

Employees of public broadcaster Radio Television Valenciana protest on November 6th after the regional government announced the closure of its TV and radio stations. Photograph: Heino Kalis/Reuters

Employees of public broadcaster Radio Television Valenciana protest on November 6th after the regional government announced the closure of its TV and radio stations. Photograph: Heino Kalis/Reuters

Sat, Nov 9, 2013, 01:00

It sounds like a dream for any TV journalist: working for a network whose ratings have soared and having absolutely zero interference from corporations, politicians or even the directors upstairs.

For the past few days that has been the situation at RTVV, the public broadcaster of the Valencia region on Spain’s Mediterranean coast.

This week it has transformed itself from being the local government’s tame political mouthpiece to its angriest, most outspoken critic. And it has tripled its viewers in the process.

But for RTVV’s workers, it will be a short-lived golden era. Its new attitude follows Tuesday’s announcement by the premier of the region, Alberto Fabra, that the broadcaster will have to close following a legal wrangle over lay-offs his administration wanted to implement.

All of the firm’s 1,600 staff will be unemployed within weeks if the closure goes ahead.

“I’m not going to close a school or a hospital just to keep RTVV open,” Fabra, of the conservative Partido Popular (PP), said, pointing to the company’s €1.1 billion debt.

On Wednesday, the company’s board of directors resigned. Journalists, technicians and administrative staff then took control of RTVV’s two television channels and two radio stations.

“Fabra dodges his responsibilities”, was the headline of the midday news that day, which gave generous coverage to ongoing protests on the streets of the city of Valencia against the broadcaster’s closure.

“Right now we’re self-managed and uncensored,” Xelo Vicente, a journalist who works in the RTVV newsroom, told The Irish Times. “Ever since the PP arrived in power in 1995 there has been enormous manipulation of information and squandering of money [at RTVV]. They’ve behaved as if this were their own private property.”


Emergency decree
The company’s status was unclear yesterday after Fabra attempted to recover control of it by approving an emergency decree that opposition groups said was illegal.

But with the audience share of the broadcaster’s news channel soaring to an unusually high 9 per cent, the people of Valencia seem to be enjoying its new, unfettered style.

Vicente said there was a host of issues that the local government had not let RTVV, which opened in 1989, explore on air because they were seen as politically toxic.

One example was an accident on the Valencia city underground train system in 2006, which killed 43 people but which campaigners say has not been investigated despite evidence of a cover-up. In recent days RTVV has been looking back at the tragedy in detail.

Other testimonies have painted a vivid, sometimes bizarre, picture of the control the local government exerted on the company for almost two decades.

“I remember . . . the millions of times when they wouldn’t let me broadcast comments made by members of the opposition – or any person who criticised the PP or the regional government,” wrote RTVV journalist Iolanda Mármol on her Twitter account.

Journalists were also banned from using phrases such as “spending cuts”, she added.

Mármol said cameramen were instructed only to film former PP regional premier Eduardo Zaplana from his “good side” and initiatives by the Socialist central government, such as a €2,500 hand-out for new mothers, were not allowed to be included in news reports.


‘Ashamed’
Mármol also recalled how the company’s directors would celebrate PP electoral victories with bottles of champagne upstairs, “while we journalists ate salami sandwiches”.

“One day you start to feel ashamed of working for them,” she wrote. “Now it’s over.”

The imminent closure of RTVV has fuelled speculation that other regional broadcasters could soon go the same way.

While the premiers of regions such as Galicia and Andalusia insisted their companies had a future, in Madrid, whose regional broadcaster has debts of €80 million, the horizon is less sure. “We can only maintain public media, as the law says, if they don’t carry deficits,” said Madrid premier Ignacio González of the PP.

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