A senior delegation of trade unionists from Belgium, Greece, and the UK today (12.07.2002) met the Chief of Cabinet of the Minister of the Presidency to discuss concerns about the future policies of the Portuguese government on Public Service Broadcasting.
The delegation included representatives of the International Federation of Journalists and the Media and Entertainment section of Union Network International.
Based on discussions with collegues from Portuguese unions who would be affected by proposed changes to RTP and RDP, the delegation raised the following issues:
1. Almost all other European public broadcasters operate at least two channels, and any closure of a TV channel at RTP would put Portugal at odds with the rest of the European broadcasting model.
2. Adequate funding is essential to allow public broadcasters to produce programmmes that would not be provided by private TV stations. The witholding of six month’s worth of public revenue, along with other government actions over several years, had exacerbated RTP’s financial crisis.
3. A merger of RTP with RDP would strain the funds of public radio in Portugal – public radio in Portugal is successful and should not have to carry the burden of financial problems in public TV.
4. In other EU countries unions covering public broadcasting workers would at this stage in the decision-making process have been received at ministerial level, but the Portuguese unions have still not had top-level consultation with government. Grave concern had been raised among public broadcasting staff by rumours of downsizing and channel closures.
5. While the government had expressed an urgent need to address financial problems at RTP, the process of reflection was being rushed through without adequate union or public consultation.
6. Governing structures in other public broadcasters in Europe had generally guaranteed the independence of the organisations, and freedom from political interference. Changes in the administrative board of RTP had raised legal difficulties, and was seen by some observers as a politically-motivated procedure.
The Chief of cabinet confirmed that the new administration would not be under instruction to close a channel, but their task was to solve the financial crisis, and closure of one RTP channel had not been ruled out. Any closure would be a decision for the new administration, and not the minister.
The minister “intended to meet the unions”, but was not available until the first two weeks of August, which the delegation noted could be later than the publication of the Reflection committee review of public service broadcasting.
Two more Reflection committees are due to be established, one to review the financing of public service broadcasting and the second on public broadcasting regulation.
Antena 3 was praised by the ministry as a valuable and successful channel which, the delegation was told, was not in danger of closure, but was being reviewed. Privatisation was not categorically ruled out, but it was emphasised that no decision has yet been taken.
According to the ministry, appointments to the new adminstrative board had been made on the basis of managerial competence, and the Opinion Commmittee had rejected the nominees due to fears about closure of a TV channel, and not because of concerns about political influence. Previous management of RTP were accused of incompetence, and were said in some cases, to have been linked closely to political parties.
While the minstry was anxious to achieve an urgent resolution to RTP’s crisis of finance and programme quality, the minister had been unable to find time for a meeting with Portuguese unions. However, it was confirmed that he had held audiences with a number of other interested parties, and the delegation expressed concern that an issue that had profound implications for staff in public broadcasting had not been discussed with unions at the highest level.
Observations on successful models for the funding and operation of public service broadcasting in Europe were welcomed by the Chief of Cabinet, and representatives of UNI-MEI and IFJ pledged to continue monitoring the situation in Portugal, offering all possible support to their union colleagues in RTP and RDP.