Socialists unblock logjam over RTVE public broadcaster

PDECAT's Carles Campuzano (L) barters with PSOE's Adriana Lastra & Rafael Simancas. Photo: Jaime Villanueva / El País

Spains Socialist party (PSOE) on Wednesday cobbled together enough votes through the same alliance of parties that last month removed President Mariano Rajoy from office to unblock a logjam stopping the renewal of the board of directors of Spain’s RTVE public broadcasting corporation.

The move by the Socialists was sparked by the statutory end of the four-year term of conservative broadcasting journalist José Antonio Sánchez from the RTVE presidency at end-May, which followed weeks of stonewalling by Rajoy’s conservative Partido Popular (PP) in Congress to block an accord reached in March between by the PSOE, left-wing rival Podemos and centre-right Ciudadanos party. That agreement established a process for selection of a new RTVE board of directors that was designed by the three parties to be less politicized than previous practices.

Outgoing RTVE president José Antonio Sánchez, who was appointed by Rajoy in 2014 to serve a four-year term at the helm of the pubic broadcaster and had previously served as director general of RTVE from 2002-04 during the PP administration of then-Presdent José Aznar, had been widely criticized for political bias and meddling in the editorial independence of RTVE radio and television news reporting.

The allegations had reached such a level that RTVE’s own internal Consejos Informativos committees on editorial integrity filed a complaint with the European Parliament over censorship and manipulation of news programs. Since April, women journalists at RTVE have been wearing black every Friday to protest both gender discrimination in pay practices at the public broadcaster and the continued blockage by the PP of the renewal of the RTVE presidency and board of directors.

The legislation passed Wednesday in Congress with a simple-majority vote of 177 deputies approves a list of six new directors of the RTVE proposed by the PSOE, Podemos and the Basque nationalist PNV party. The legislation calls for the new RTVE board of directors and its president to serve in a transition period until such time as new reform legislation can be agreed to revamp the process for selection of RTVE directors.

The PP voted against the legislation and have threatened to challenge it in Spain’s Tribuna Constitucional (Constitutional Court), while 32 Ciudadanos deputies walked out of the Congress in protest before the vote was held.

Had the PP previously not used its power on the executive Mesas of both the Congress and Senate to block the process, the prior accord reached in March between PSOE, Podemos and Ciudadanos called for agreement by Congress before the 2018 summer recess to designate a committee of 15-17 experts to decide on the suitability of candidates for the RTVE board, then confirmation hearings before Congress and a full vote of the Congress and Senate to confirm the candidates.

Aware that the PP’s continued absolute majority in the Senate could be used to block Wednesday’s deal reached in Congress, the PSOE inserted a clause in the new legislation that will allow Congress to override any defeat in the Senate with a second simple-majority vote by congressional deputies, if necessary.

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