Nov 072013

Presenters take to air to denounce Valencia government’s decision to close publicly funded station RTVV

Anarchy has broken out at one of Spain’s public TV stations, with reporters and presenters broadcasting direct attacks against their paymasters, following an announcement of the channel’s closure.

This week the president of Valencia, Alberto Fabra, caused outrage in the south-eastern region when he said he planned to shut down RTVV. Fabra, a member of Spain’s governing People’s party, said the broadcaster was no longer financially viable.

The move will make RTVV the first publicly funded station to fall foul of Spain’s ongoing economic crisis.

Staff at RTVV are now in revolt against their own administration, a startling turnaround from a time when senior journalists suggested a climate of intimidation and political pressure existed there due to the station’s rightwing controllers.

RTVV broadcasts the Canal 9 TV station and Radio 9 in the Valencian language, but despite an annual budget of more than €60m Canal 9 had less than 4% of the audience share, and was seen as little more than a mouthpiece for the regional authorities. It was heavily criticised for its failure to properly investigate a train crash in Valencia in 2006 in which 43 people died.

The Valencian government is accused of trying to downplay the crash, which occurred just days before the pope was due to visit the region.

In an extraordinary moment on Wednesday night, reporters from Canal 9 apologised to the relatives of the victims for their coverage of the disaster, blaming political pressure.

Amid the turmoil, Rosa Vidal, RTVV’s director, said on Wednesday that she had quit, citing no confidence in Fabra or his administration, and accused him of lying.

The PP’s advisers at the station have also resigned, leaving it in the hands of the opposition.

But on Thursday, the Valencia parliament approved a last-minute change to the law, rewriting broadcasting regulation so it could name a new head of the company, and push on with its plan to close it down.

Earlier this week, the Canal 9 journalist Iolanda Mármol took to Twitter to launch an attack on the PP regional government, accusing it of censorship from the moment it came to power in 1995.

Mármol said reporters and presenters were prevented from criticising the PP. “When we wrote ‘resounding failure’ it would be changed to ‘modest success’.”

She said she had seen Canal 9 executives toasting PP electoral victories with champagne, and complained of being prevented from running statements from the opposition. “It got to the point where you were ashamed to work for them,” she said.

The TV channel’s viewing figures trebled this week, however, as presenters took to the air to denounce Fabra’s decision to close it, and criticise the PP’s running of the station.

Fabra described the closure as “non-negotiable”, blaming a court ruling that said the firm would have to re-hire 1,000 workers it had sacked to try to stay afloat.

Fabra said he was not prepared to spend the millions needed to keep the TV channel going, as it would entail hospital and school funding cutbacks.

Some have cast doubt on the rebellion being led by the journalists who have, for now, taken over the station.

Mariola Cubells, author of And What Are You Watching?, a book about Spanish TV, questioned their motivation. “Why are they fighting now, only to save themselves, when for years they were happy to work for a television station that lied and manipulated the truth? Why are they doing it now, to save their necks? They never came out before to defend their colleagues when they were sacked.

“Of course it’s good that the truth is being told, better late than never, but there are plenty of good journalists who were sacked before who might see things differently.”

But she is no doubt that the regional government is “ultimately responsible for the current crisis”.

Valencia stands accused of exploiting the TV and radio stations to push a political agenda, then killing them off when mounting debts made them unsustainable.

Valencia is in a full-scale economic crisis, with the heaviest debts of any region in Spain, having spent wildly during the construction boom that came to an end, with a shudder, in 2008.

Spain’s central government in Madrid has imposed harsh budgetary cuts on the country’s 17 regional authorities, demanding that they rein in their spending.

“The Valencian government was not prepared to … save [a station] that had served its purpose before, but now with just 3% of the audience, is no longer useful,” said Cubells.

The journalists’ union said that legal proceedings to shut down RTVV would take at least two months.