State broadcaster Radio Televisión Española (RTVE) is losing clout in the industry. Its audience share is in free-fall, its newscasts are increasingly seen as irrelevant, and it is no longer a leader for in-house productions.
Less than a year after the Popular Party (PP) administration took over control of RTVE’s public radio and television stations, the main opposition parties have come up with a shared diagnosis: the organization has taken a step back to become, once again, a government mouthpiece. This, says the opposition, is the reason why the evening newscast, TD-2, has lost 800,000 viewers over that time, and is no longer the news leader. A majority of the audience has turned to Telecinco instead. Overall, however — including the noon newscast and weekends — TVE’s news programming continues to draw the largest audiences in Spain.
After RTVE was forced to issue an apology for its meager coverage of a massive Catalan independence march in September, the treatment by the vision division, TVE, of the Bárcenas corruption case that has hit the PP is now being viewed by the opposition as another blemish on the tenure of RTVE president Leopoldo González-Echenique. Audience figures also suggest there has been a shift in the quality of public television news. In January, the weekday evening newscast TD-2 had an average of 2.3 million spectators, while Telecinco had 2.8 million.
“Spaniards no longer trust TVE newscasts,” said Socialist politician Juan Luis Gordo during a debate in Congress over a proposal to repeal the recently introduced law that allows the RTVE chief to be elected through a simple majority, a system that favors the PP. “Manipulation” and “partisan” were the terms most frequently heard in Congress. Opposition members called TVE “a PP mouthpiece” and said there was “too much ideological symbiosis” among the members of the televised debate panels. A spokesman for the leftwing group Izquierda Plural said ironically that “the PP is doing its job by handing TVE over to private interests.”
The PP’s defense strategy was to go on the attack. Ramón Moreno Bustos said bluntly that under the Socialist administration “there was more manipulation of the news.”
In January, the Council of Europe released a report condemning “political pressure” on the state broadcasters in several countries, including Spain. TVE’s news council, the body representing the station’s journalists, said that this analysis confirmed what they have been complaining about themselves and requested that station managers undertake “measures to correct the bad practices” reported by the European agency, which aims to improve transparency and democracy in member states.