Public broadcaster to continue escaping bias

MADRID On March 9, when Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s ruling socialists won a second term, much of Spain’s film and TV industry breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Neither film nor TV will be high up on Zapatero’s agenda as he settles in once more as Spanish prime minister: his major priority will be kick-starting a slowing economy and battling the Basque ETA’s terrorism.

But a second socialist mandate will, in some ways, be a boon for Spanish TV and film. The most positive impact may come at pubcaster RTVE.

For years, RTVE has been a problem — probably the problem — in Spain’s showbiz. Its newscasts were hugely biased in favor of the ruling political party. Dependent on advertising, it abandoned a public service brief to chase ratings, airing “Fame Academy.”

With the socialist victory, RTVE Corp. prexy Luis Fernandez, a former journalist and producer, has a chance of serving out its six-year mandate. Under Fernandez newscasts have observed a fastidiously balanced political coverage, so much so that — and this is a near miracle for Spain — allegations of RTVE bias weren’t a major election issue.

Fernandez’s overhaul of RTVE TV production may also be allowed to run its course. It’s already seen one major triumph: fall newbie “Desaparecida,” a gritty, paced crime suspense/family drama, show-run by Ramon Campos for Ganga Group. “Desaparecida” notched up 15.9% and 2.8 million viewers.

“Professionally, the change in RTVE management, has had a large impact,” says producer Manuel Cristobal at Perro Verde. “In TV production and film, the goals are far clearer, they’re far more ambitious, and they’re successful.”

March 7 ratings for the preem of Diagonal TV-produced “La senora” (19.8%, 3.6 million viewers), a retro across-the-tracks 1920s romancer, suggest RTVE’s putting through this revolution without alienating more traditional, older-skewing demos.

In film, says producer Gerardo Herrero, the new government can be expected to announce regs implementing tax breaks in Spain, and to continue hiking central ICAA Film Institute subsidy fund.

“The crucial innovation is that the new regs contemplate 18% breaks on investment from outside the film sector,” says producer Ibon Cormenzana. “The crucial question’s whether non-film investors will be attracted by the breaks.”

The socialists have promised to raise ICAA subsidies, worth $100 million in 2007, to a maximum $151 million with a few years. ICAA incentives are set at $126.5 million in 2008.

For better or worse, Zapatero has generally delivered on his promises.

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