Spanish Government plans to halve the Catalan Public Television Broadcaster’s channel frequencies


Barcelona (ACN).- The Catalan Executive raised the alarm on Monday: the Spanish Ministry of Industry is planning to take away 1 of the 2 multiplexes run by the Catalan Public Television Broadcaster (called Televisió de Catalunya, TVC). By halving the spectrum available for Catalan public TV – which is traditionally the leader in Catalonia by audience share – the Spanish Government will oblige the broadcaster to reduce its number of channels to a maximum of 4 (since there are 4 channels in each multiplex). The Spanish Government’s decision would mean a reduction in TVC’s channels, making the broadcaster either cut out its HD emissions, decrease the presence of cultural content, eliminate its sports channel or no longer offer TV channels from other Catalan-speaking areas, mainly the Balearic Islands and Valencia. This would decrease TVC’s audience and therefore its influence, as it would lose content and competitors would continue to broadcast in HD. Therefore, this might also bring a reduction in advertising income and a consequent weakening of public service broadcasting and the presence of Catalan language and culture in the media landscape. The Catalan Government sees “an undoubted” political motivation in this decision, aiming to decrease the influence of Catalan-speaking media by rendering TVC “residual” in the current self-determination debate. In fact, Spanish nationalists have been criticising Catalonia’s Public TV Broadcaster for years because they say it fosters Catalan national identity. However, TVC had been for many years the only television in Catalan language and it played an essential role in normalising Catalan after the Franco Dictatorship’s repression.

The Catalan Government sees a political motivation behind the decision

In the current debate about self-determination and independence from Spain, the Spanish Industry Ministry’s plans are far from being “a technical matter”, according to the Spokesperson for the Catalan Government and Minister for the Presidency, Francesc Homs. The decision is, “without any doubt”, politically motivated, he stated. Homs emphasised the fact that the current TV offer in Catalan language in Catalonia represents between 22% and 24% of the entire free-to-view offer. By including pay-per-view platforms, satellite and international TV channels this share is much smaller. Therefore, the reduction of TVC channels will reduce this share even further.

For this reason, Homs sent a message to the political parties who claim to defend “bilingualism”, which are the Spanish nationalist parties that are criticising the use of Catalan as the language of instruction in schools, following the linguistic immersion principle. Ironically, Homs asked for their support to defend TVC, knowing beforehand they will not do it. He was referring to the People’s Party (PP) – which runs the Spanish Government – and the anti-Catalan nationalism Ciutadans (C’s). Homs’ call was a way to underline the contradictions of those claiming to defend bilingualism but supporting to reduce the presence of Catalan language in TV below 22%.

Unions criticise the decision, while the Spanish Government argues technical reasons

Trade unions and representatives from TVC workers have demanded that the Spanish Government allow them to keep the 2 multiplexes, as they are “essential” to preserve a quality TV offer and to maintain the public service. In addition, the union of journalists has declared that this is a “political and ideological decision”, and not a technical one. The Spanish Industry Ministry argues that it needs further space in the TV radio-wave spectrum to grant mobile phone companies more frequencies to strengthen 4G technology, following European Union instructions.

However, experts point out that there are other ways to provide 4G network and, if the Spanish Government insists on using TV multiplex, there are many other frequencies available, occupied by other television channels, or it could re-allocate TVC’s second multiplex in a lower frequency, not used by phone companies. On top of this, they also criticise how the Spanish Government has managed the TV and mobile phone spectrums over the last decade, with many technical changes, obliging consumers to reset their antennae on several occasions (with the corresponding cost), and with a grey allocation of TV licenses.

TVC, essential for Catalan language and culture

Since its foundation in 1983, Televisió de Catalunya (TVC) has been an essential tool for normalising the presence of Catalan language in society, after its persecution and marginalisation during Franco’s dictatorial regime. For many years, it was the only TV station broadcasting and creating content in Catalan, since the presence of Catalan in other stations was totally marginal. In the last decade, smaller private and local TV broadcasters have also been offering content in Catalan, but TVC continues to play a prominent role, leading TV audience share in Catalonia and being an essential actor in Catalonia’s audiovisual industry.

TVC has been running 2 multiplexes

With the economic crisis and budget cuts in the public sector, TVC axed two of its channels two years ago. It merged the cultural Canal33 and the children-focused Super3 channel into a single one, allocating different time slots to culture and kids’ programmes. In addition, it cut a channel for TV-series. By doing this, it kept its main channel TV3, which is TVC’s flagship, and its HD version. It also broadcasts the Canal33/Super3 channel and a 24-hour news channel called 3/24. In addition, it kept its all-sports channel called Esports3.

Therefore, TVC is currently using 5 channels from 2 multiplexes. 1 channel would be reactivated in a better business environment, as by not using it it saves some €6 million per year. The 2 other channels were reserved for Valencian TV and the Balearic Islands channel, following previous reciprocity agreements between the 3 territories having Catalan as their native language. However, the regional governments in these two Autonomous Communities, which are run by the People’s Party, are undertaking anti-Catalan policies, reducing the presence of this language in school or in the public administration. On top of this, the PP decided to shut down the Valencian Public TV Broadcaster (RTV), which was broadcasting in Catalan language, and to cancel shared emissions with Catalonia for the Balearic Islands’ IB3 public broadcaster.