Political control over state-owned broadcaster in Spain gives cause for concern, says Reporters Without Borders
"All the movement of personnel under way within RTVE seems to confirm the worst fears of a reassertion of political control that were voiced when the method of appointing its directors was recently changed. It is sad to see the state media again being turned into a political battlefield at the expense of the public's right to diverse and balanced news and information.
"RTVE is abruptly turning its back on the progress achieved in recent years as regards independence from the government, progress that had been reflected in increased viewing figures,"Reporters Without Borders said.
Ana Pastor, the well-known host of TVE's morning programme "Desayunos", was fired on 4 August, even though the number of viewers watching the programme, around 5 million, was very high for that time of day. According to TVE, she left because she turned down a proposal from management that she should switch to an evening programme. But Pastor said she was offered no concrete alternative and was told to "wait a few months."On her Twitter account, she said she was "fired for doing journalism."Pastor is known for her uncompromising interviews and for responding when PP accused TVE of a left-wing "bias."
Pastor's ouster is one of a series of such moves since June involving RTVE staff critical of the tough austerity policies being pursued by conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's government. The first to go were several people in senior management positions. They were recently followed by Alicia Montano, the director of the current affairs programme "Informe Semanal", and Canal 24 Horas journalist Xabier Fortes.
The head of news at TVE, Fran Llorente, was accused of "political bias"and replaced in June by Julio Somoano, the former head of the local TV station Telemadrid, although nearly 70 per cent of the staff at the local station expressed their opposition to Somoano in a vote of no-confidence.
All these personnel changes have taken place since Leopoldo González-Echenique, a senior official in a previous PP administration headed by José María Aznar, took over as RTVE's chairman in June, becoming the first person to be appointed to the post since a change in the method of naming the heads of state radio and TV stations was adopted on 20 April.
Previously, two thirds of the members of parliament had to approve the appointment of RTVE's chairman, but now only a simple majority is required. This gives PP a lot of leeway. The government said the change was needed to end the paralysis at RTVE since July 2011, in which RTVE's chairmen were rotated every two months because PP and its main rival, the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE), could not reach an agreement.
"The state broadcaster has to be able to function in a sustainable manner, but guaranteeing its independence of the government is no less crucial,"Reporters Without Borders said. "The politicization of RTVE currently under way must stop at once and a new reform must be adopted in order to eliminate any suspicions about the independence of those in charge. Such issues are far from being a matter of concern in just Spain. Several other members of the European Union, including Slovenia, Portugal and France, need to rise to this challenge."