Doomed Spanish TV station broadcasts protests

Doomed Spanish TV station broadcasts protests

Valencia (Spain) (AFP) - Stunned by news that the loss-making public television station in Spain's Valencia region faces imminent closure, workers have seized an immediately available weapon: the cameras.

Programmes from news broadcasts to the weather bulletins for the eastern Spanish region are now peppered with protest messages by television staff at the Valencia government's decision.

Valencia's regional government had tried to fire 1,000 of the 1,700 workers at Radio Television Valenciana (RTVV) but staff challenged the procedure in court.

On Tuesday, laid-off workers celebrated when the court ruled in their favour and ordered the television to return the workers to their posts.

But within hours the mood had changed.

The regional government said it could not afford to bring the laid-off workers back, arguing that staff costs alone would be 72 million euros for 1,700 people and it had to give priority to other services such as hospitals and schools.

Instead, Valencia announced it was shutting down the station altogether.

Now the staff are turning to their audience for support.

"Without RTVV you won't see this again," presenters repeat after broadcasting reports in Valencian, a dialect of Catalan.

In the upper-right-hand corner of the screen, a slogan reads: "#RTVVnoestanca", or "RTVV will not close" in Valencian.

Every news program is focused on opposition to the planned closure, with messages of support from posts on social networks or personalities such as football stars, analysts and musical groups.

When the weather is presented, alongside the map of Spain is a large photo of protesting staff brandishing banners against the channel's closure.

Journalists took control of the station on Wednesday to denounce the impending closure, the first shutdown of a regional television station in Spain, which alongside national broadcaster Television Espana also has 13 regional public television stations, some of which have several channels.

"We are going to maintain our radio and television programming because we are professionals," said Salud Alcover, head of the RTVV staff representatives' committee.

"If someone wants to come and cut off the antenna, let him come," she added.

The protest broadcasts seem to have drawn viewers to the station's Canal 9 channel, with RTVV's modest audience share tripling to 9.4 percent at certain times.

Spain's leading daily El Pais criticised the station's treatment at the hands of the conservative Popular Party that governs the region, saying it had been treated "as a toy, an expensive propaganda tool in the service of the powers that be."

"My lies on Canal 9," one of the station's journalists, Iolanda Marmol, said in a message on Twitter, recalling the items she said her bosses had forced her to broadcast.

"I remember when they told us to film Edwardo Zaplana (former head of the Valencia regional government) from his best side," she wrote.

Another time, she said, the station banned her from announcing that then Socialist prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero had announced financial assistance to the mothers of newborns, "as if that would stop Valencians from finding out about the news".

The television news was like "No-Do", the colloquial term for state-controlled news reels produced in Spain during the rule of General Francisco Franco, said Elpidia Bellver, a journalist at Canal 9 for 17 years.

"Lots of people were punished, sidelined by the channel for broadcasting criticism," she said. They were replaced by more compliant staff.

Alberto Fabra, the head of the Popular Party government of Valencia, the most indebted region in Spain, said Wednesday the station would close as soon as possible and the decision was "non-negotiable".

On Thursday evening, Fabra announced a new RTVV director, hoping to regain control of the station until its closure.

But staff seem unwilling to surrender.

"We are determined to stay in our jobs and work as always with professionalism and responsibility so that the Valencia government reconsiders its decision to close this public television station, said Vicent Montagud, head of the international service at Canal 9.

Despite the defiance, journalist Elpidia Bellver admits that she and her colleagues come to work "with fear in our guts".

"We don't even know if they will let us in on Saturday," she said.