Local channels ignore government order

11th January 2008, Comments 0 comments

Local channels ignore government order to switch to digital.

11 January 2008

MADRID - The Spanish government wants local TV broadcasters to take the first step in the analogue shutdown. On 1 January, a thousand low-powered channels ought to have dropped the old broadcasting system to embrace digital technology. But the Industry Ministry's transition schedule is not being complied with.

The "Plan for promotion of terrestrial digital television," approved in December 2004, sets April 2010 as a deadline for the shutdown of all analogue television broadcasts, but puts that of local television two years earlier.

This is considered "discriminatory" by Francisco Pérez, president of G-9, an organisation of some 200 local public and private broadcasters. "The technical plan ought to affect all audiovisual services equally. But the local broadcasters, the weakest element, are supposed to shoulder the biggest load." He says that they have been the last to develop, and therefore face the greatest economic difficulties. To propose them as the driving force is, he says, "ridiculous." This is also the view of José María Iturrioz, of TeleDonosti in the Basque Country: "It sounds strange that the local stations should have to shut down before the national ones," he says.

As to who has to supervise local station compliance with the technological changeover decree, the Ministry of Industry says it is the regional governments, who grant the pertinent licenses. But lack of coordination between the different levels of government is obstructing regulation of the sector. Pérez maintains that the Ministry ought to have met with the regional governments to plan a "common strategy." Yet the regional authorities say they have powers to impose fines, but not to close a station down.

TeleDonosti, which is still broadcasting in analogue, points to the term set by the Basque regional government in its license concession. Like other stations in the Basque Country, this station's status is "pending processing" while it is decided how multiple channels will be managed. Indeed, the local channels are no longer regional when it comes to planning their broadcasting. Each multiple covers four channels, often handled by different firms. In the Basque Country, Madrid, Andalusia and Valencia, local stations are still broadcasting in analogue.

As with region-wide channels, local ones are adjudicated by the regional government. Some regions, such as Castilla y León, Castilla-La Mancha, Extremadura and Andalusia, have not even held public tenders. In the Madrid region there have been appeals against the process of channel concession. In 2005 Esperanza Aguirre's regional government, of the conservative Popular Party (PP), granted 30 licenses to private groups, heavily favouring the Catholic Church and media groups close to the PP.

According to Pérez, "the situation is chaotic. Some regions that have not called public tenders, other have not decided, and in others there have been appeals that will take time to resolve."

[Copyright EL PAÍS / ROSARIO G. GÓMEZ 2008]

Subject: Spanish news

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