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New reins for Spain

Cabanillas, Birules tapped for gov't posts

MADRID — In a surprise move, Pio Cabanillas, the energetic CEO of Spanish pubcaster RTVE, is ankling his post to become government spokesman and minister without portfolio in Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar’s new Cabinet.

Aznar led his conservative Popular Party to a crushing victory and second term of office at general elections March 12.

While industryites had speculated over the RTVE future of Cabanillas, a government appointee, few had predicted a political career for him.

While his successor has yet to be named, Cabanillas’ departure may prove a big loss for RTVE. A former exec at News Corp. and Sogecable, the 41-year-old Cabanillas won a reputation at RTVE as a conciliatory top exec, transforming its newscasts from a ministerial catwalk into far more neutral coverage.

Ironically, his appointment by Aznar can be seen as a thank you for Cabanillas’ help in distancing RTVE from governmental control and contributing to a far less hawkish image for the Popular Party.

Cabanillas’ successor will face two challenges at RTVE: establishing a stable, medium-term financing structure for the debt-laden pubcaster and completing RTVE’s move onto the Internet.

Cabanillas’ presence in the new government may help advance the first cause.

New ministry

Aznar’s new government will have to make some tough decisions regarding telecommunications and TV, including the adjudication of two terrestrial TV licenses. Underscoring its concern for these sectors, the government has created a Science and Technology ministry. Anna Birules, the former CEO of Retevision, the telephony arm of telco and TV holding Auna (now the main rival to Telefonica in Spain), has been named to head the new ministry.

Her appointment is bound to fuel speculation that she will attempt to create a more competitive TV and telco landscape in Spain. That may not be good news for Telefonica.

Pilar del Castillo, a moderate former head of state research company the Center of Sociological Investigations (CIS), has been appointed minister of culture. She is unlikely to make many changes to the government’s film policy, whichhas helped power a renaissance in filmmaking in Spain, raising local pics’ market share to 14% in 1999.

(John Hopewell contributed to this report.)

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