Ràdio Televisió Valenciana (RTVV), public broadcaster in the Spanish region of Valencia, was forced to shut down on Friday (29 November) by the regional government.
The move by the government, which provided the majority of RTVV's budget, followed a court ruling that a cost-cutting plan published over the summer which envisaged laying off of 1,198 of its 1,660 employees was illegal. Spanish police were called in to end transmissions of RTVV on Friday when station staff ignored an order to shut down and continued broadcasting.
RTVV is one of 13 regional public broadcasters or autonomicas in Spain mainly funded by regional governments. Despite Spain's continuing economic recession, a downturn in advertising and falling share for the autonomicas, RTVV is so far the only broadcaster to close down, though most are facing budget cuts. The Government of Valencia said it could not afford to pay personnel costs of €72 million a year to keep RTVV going on its current level.
According to reports in the Spanish press, RTVA in Andalusia, RTVM in Madrid and CRTVG in Galicia all face budget cutbacks next year. The largest of the autonomicas, Televisio de Catalunya, will buck the trend by receiving a slight increase in its 2014 grant from the region to €209 million.
The autonomicas accounted for a combined 9.8% of national viewing in 2012, according to Kantar Media data, placing them fourth behind public channel TVE1 and private channels Telecinco and Antena 3 TV. Forta, the organisition which handles ad sales and programming acquisitions on behalf of 12 of the 13 autonomicas, reported that TV3 was the only one of the autonomicas to be rated top in its region in October with a share of 17.6%. Public stations were ranked second in Aragon and third in Andalucia, the basque region and Galicia. RTVV was placed fifth in Valencia.
Last Friday's scenes at RTVV are reminiscent to the Greek riot police clearing the headquarters of defunct public broadcaster ERT last month. ERT is due to be replaced by a new, streamlined organisation called NERIT as soon as legislation is approved by the Greek Parliament. The new Greek broadcaster is expected to employ no more than 1,200 staff compared to ERT's 2,600. (See our commentary, Greek government closes public service broadcaster ERT.) It would be an exaggeration to claim that Europe's public broadcasters have been unscathed from the current period of economic downturn and austerity, but so far RTVV and ERT are the only organisations to suffer closure.
Nevertheless, public broadcasters are facing cutbacks in a number of countries.
Government funding for Spain's national broadcaster RTVE has fallen from €580 million in 2010 to an expected €282 million next year.
The Netherlands coalition government elected at the end of 2011 has substantially reduced its expenditure on public broadcasting as part of a €200 million reduction in its media budget. The number of public broadcasters will be cut from 21 to no more than eight (in the Netherlands, broadcasters supply various amounts of programming across three TV channels and several radio stations). In January next year, six public broadcasters will merge to form three: AVRO with TROS, BNN with VARA and NCRV with KRO.
Norway's centre-right government has submitted a plan for the public broadcaster NRK to parliament which would reverse a proposed increase for 2014's budget by 25%.
France Televisions is discussing a plan to lose 361 staff though voluntary redundancy having already trimmed 300 jobs since 2012. The staff reductions are part of a programme to reduce costs by €275 million a year by 2015, with programming budgets also being reduced.
Public broadcasters in Germany and the UK are also having to adjust to zero increase in the annual licence fee. In the UK, Welsh-language broadcaster S4C will see a 25% reduction in its budget by 2015, with a share of the licence fee replacing a grant form the government of Wales by then.
These budget cuts - traumatic though they are for the organisations and the personnel concerned - appear unavoidable at a time when governments are making savings on public services like health and education. Most European countries still have prominent public broadcasters, and few can genuinely claim to provide vital services that are not already supplied by private competititors. Despite signs of economic recovery in Europe, public broadcasters are likely to remain under pressure to show that they offer value for money and quality equal to or better than the private sector.