“… the Technical TV Plan approved in 2014 addresses various judicial decisions that could force the reversal of some of the measures taken by the government. In the coming months, the Supreme Court should rule on the appeals submitted by different autonomous communities that believe that the government failed to comply with the audiovisual regulations…”
Javier García*/ November 2015
On April 3, 2010, two years later than originally scheduled, the analog TV blackout occurred in Spain. This signaled the end of a roadmap designed in 2004 by the Rodríguez Zapatero administration. Since then, a series of developments has unfolded that shows the defects and contradictions of the Spanish process.
One of the first hurdles came about because of the international agreements on the allocation of the band of frequencies to the digital dividend (790-862 MHz). This forced Spain to relocate some of the signals assigned to TV by 2015. The changes in government following the 2011 elections meant a change in relations between the government and TV entities, which were at odds over how to resolve the issue. The situation became more difficult following the November 27, 2012 ruling issued by the Supreme Court which questioned the process of adjudicating signals to private TV operators that were already established and nullified the adjudication of nine of the 24 national signals made during the Zapatero administration.
The reassignment of the band and application of the ruling have been handled by the Rajoy administration as follows:
- The new Technical Plan for Digital TV was not approved until September 2014. Its purpose was to free up the frequencies that were allocated for the digital dividend. The entities were given just three months to complete the complex process, which forced the government to delay the implantation of new 4G telephony services.
- The government went beyond assigning the TV frequencies that operated on the digital dividend band. It also took the opportunity to reduce the spectrum allocated for TV. The main cut involved public TV, with the decrease in signals set aside for RTVE and removal of one of the two multiplexes that had initially been dedicated for autonomous communities. The government also avoided the mandate contained in the 2010 Audiovisual Law regarding the allocation of part of the spectrum to non-profit community TV stations.
- In regard to the Supreme Court ruling, the government took two years to comply with the resolution by holding a new competition in order to assign the vacant signals. This took place in April 2015. Following the Technical Plan, the nine available SD signals became three HD signals and three SD signals.
Last October, the decision was made to distribute licenses with the following results: the three HD signals were assigned to Atresmedia, Mediaset, and Real Madrid. The three SD signals were awarded to 13 TV, which is owned by the Episcopal Conference, Radio Blanca (Kiss TV), and Central Broadcaster Media (Secuoya). The groups Vocento, PRISA, and the El Corte Inglés department store company were left out.In this way, three new national operators came aboard because 13TV already had a presence through a rented channel. But it also consolidated the TV duopoly comprised of the Atresmedia (result of the merger of Antena 3 and La Sexta) and Mediaset (Telecinco and Cuatro) conglomerates, which hold about 86% of the TV publicity market and nearly 60% of the audience share.Controversies and New UncertaintiesThe day before the announcement of the adjudications, the digital newspaper “ElDiario.es” disseminated an internal Ministry of Industry document that revealed “how the PP administration’s audiovisual strategy was cooked up,” which has inspired criticisms and questions regarding the political nature of the distribution of licenses.The process of adjudication of channels has coincided with a key year politically. With elections in Cataluña and just months before the December 20 general elections, the existence of government pressure on the main TV stations’ editorial lines has been mentioned in various media. Noteworthy events have occurred this year, including the abrupt departure of journalist Jesús Cintora from “Las Mañanas de Cuatro” despite his high ratings and the programming changes made at La Sexta during the summer. La Sexta ceased broadcasting some of the shows that were most critical of the government, including “El Intermedio,” “Salvados,” and “La Sexta Columna.”On the other hand, the measures taken by the government following the 2012 ruling by the Supreme Court have not clarified the situation of legal uncertainty of digital TV in Spain. In 2015, there were speculations about the possible annulment of another eight signals adjudicated during the Rodríguez Zapatero administration. According to the press, the stations affected paid the complainants over 20 million Euros to drop the appeal submitted to the Supreme Court and thus avoid a possible unfavorable ruling, which illustrates the magnitude of the situation.In addition to this, the Technical TV Plan approved in 2014 addresses various judicial decisions that could force the reversal of some of the measures taken by the government. In the coming months, the Supreme Court should rule on the appeals submitted by different autonomous communities that believe that the government failed to comply with the audiovisual regulations by avoiding participating in the spectrum planning process. The court also will have to respond to allegations by community stations regarding failure to apply the audiovisual law that requires that the radio spectrum be activated for these broadcasters.
*Master’s degree in Fundamental Rights with a focus on Freedom of the Press. Member of the Working Group on the Right to Communication of the Community Media Network of Spain.
España: Sentencia del Tribunal Supremo obliga a reordenar la Televisión Digital Terrestre.
Real Decreto 805/2014, de 19 de septiembre, por el que se aprueba el Plan Técnico Nacional de la Televisión Digital Terrestre y se regulan determinados aspectos para la liberación del dividendo digital.