The change that RTVE undertook last year with the election of a new management leadership and a renewed board of directors has not reversed the slope along which the corporation has slipped in the last five years. To the little success in the programming proposals made under the umbrella of José Manuel Pérez Tornero, there is a governance model that has generated internal tensions, a worrying drop in audience and a financial system that threatens to compromise the future of the public entity. With more than 6,400 workers and a budget of over 1,000 million euros, the corporation is rapidly losing weight in the Spanish audiovisual scene.
A conflictive coexistence with the board of directors and a strained relationship with the news committees, entities that represent journalists, have marked the beginning of the mandate of the new stage. The group’s management body is split in half. Pérez Tornero unanimously set the search for agreements as a goal, but that goal has been blown up. The first big gap occurred with the end of Jesús Cintora’s program and has had other key moments such as the dismissal of Amalia Martínez de Velasco as director of general content and the appointment of her replacement, José Pablo López, and the appointment of Josep Vila as head of News for RTVE.
The dismissal of Martínez de Velasco was agreed upon by the board of directors by a vote of six to four. In favor of his departure, in addition to Pérez Tornero, the three councilors of the PP, one of the PSOE and the one appointed by the PNV manifested themselves. Against, two socialist members and the two endorsed by United We Can, convinced that “there were not enough objective elements” for a cessation that the company justified by “not having met expectations.” The division into two blocks is staged in the relevant decisions of the council.
Francisco Manuel Campos, professor at the University of Santiago, considers that RTVE navigates “without a strategic compass” and perceives that “it works by inertia”. He does not believe that it is a problem of people but of structure. The fundamental challenge is how to approach the digital transformation to adapt to the new scenario, with changing accesses and different consumption. “The system is clearly broken. It has been intended for diffusion in the 20th century. Appropriate strategies must be devised for the way in which citizens consume products and how they access them”, he explains.
The change in the presidency created a new organizational structure that has dynamited both the management of RNE and that of TVE to create a transversal area on which falls the responsibility of defining the grids and launching the contents. The reform, however, has not promoted great synergies between the radio and television units. It has not stopped the audience bleeding either. The RTVE group signed in April 13.9% of the television share, well below Atresmedia (27.8%) and Mediaset (25.6%). There are no far-reaching measures on the horizon to reduce the gap between public and private television.
One of the evils that afflicts public television, according to the professor of Journalism at the University of Castilla-La Mancha Juan Luis Manfredi, is their tendency to clone the contents of private television and to copy the commercial model (talk shows, media stars) . He maintains that, without their own identity, public media cannot differentiate themselves in the audiovisual panorama. “It is tragic because RTVE —and the regional ones— could create more value for the audience through the provision of leisurely information, analysis and context (not just breaking news). The talk show format – with media figures that go from one channel to another – dilutes the identity of RTVE”, Manfredi maintains from Washington, where this course is Prince of Asturias Professor at Georgetown University.
Especially significant is the collapse of the newscasts. Despite the great potential, both in technical and professional resources, TVE has been widely surpassed by Antena 3 and Telecinco. In the desktop edition, even La Sexta gathers more followers. Not counting the simultaneous broadcast with Canal 24 Horas, the Newscast 1 In April, it added 1,066,000 viewers (9.7%) while La Sexta scored 1,076,000 (10.6%), Telecinco closed with 1,558,000 (14.2%) and Antena 3 monopolized 2,338,000 (21.4 %), according to data from the Kantar Media audit compiled by the consultancy firm Barlovento Comunicación.
The ups and downs at the command of the news have contributed to the deterioration of the situation. The recent resignation of the director of Informative Content, Esteve Crespo, has exacerbated the crisis in an area in which many editors are still interim after 15 years. “Cohabitation was proving impossible,” say RTVE sources, who are concerned about the increasingly intense tensions between the presidency and the news councils. The first clash dates back to the “non-formalization” of the appointment of Mamen del Cerro at the head of RTVE News, a fiasco that was followed by the veto of the trip to Tindouf. And that month the journalists have confronted Pérez Tornero for the protection request requested by Anna Bosch for an alleged intimidation of the president after the publication by the journalist of a critical tweet.
Manfredi observes that one of the problems that afflicts public television is that the newsrooms do not have the instruments to exercise their freedom. “Senior management appointments,” he explains, “depend excessively on the government agenda. Seniority in the house is not respected. Media personalities are signed, but without connection with the Editorial Office. The statute of the Editorial Office is not strengthened. On RTVE or in the regional media, the newsroom is systematically mistreated. This must be a priority to recover the credibility of the public media”.
The disaffection of citizens towards public television is also on the rise. Governments, of all stripes, have colonized public media and have not ensured their financial and economic autonomy. “Without economic freedom”, proclaims Manfredi, “there is no editorial freedom. This perception permeates the audience, who understand that public television is preconditioned by the ruling party. To change that perception, be it fair or unfair, it is necessary to provide business autonomy. That’s where any improvement in audience perception begins. It is a pity that a year later, business autonomy has hardly advanced”, adds Manfredi, who opted for the presidency of RTVE in the contest called in 2018.
Given the transformation process in which the audiovisual ecosystem is immersed, the key is how to rethink public television on the Internet stage. They are necessary? “I think so,” reflects Campos. He emphasizes that they are an instrument of the States, but they have to coexist with the rest of the audiovisual operators, “without engaging in unfair competition and being allies of the audiovisual industry.” He assures that Spanish public television is constrained by having to manage according to a very inflexible legal framework, something that hinders competition, innovation and creativity. Faced with the digital challenge, Manfredi argues that RTVE must offer close and quality programming. “It is not programmed in bulk with hours of content of little value and interest to the audience, but to undertake the mission of public service.”
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