by CHRIS GRAEME
The Portuguese government says it can no longer support the costs of a hugely bloated and expensive public broadcasting service in its present form.
In the most significant shakeup of RTP since the 1974 Revolution, the State-owned broadcaster is to be slimmed down with fewer channels, more advertising, less news content and fewer regional programmes.
The reform model being suggested is the one used in the United Kingdom for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
The move comes after it was made known last week that the State had finally decided to pay off RTP’s massive debts to a German bank – Depfa – to the tune of €344.5 million.
The broadcaster underwent significant reforms around six years ago when many of its studios and staff spread over different sites were amalgamated at one prime site at Lisbon’s Avenida Marechal Gomes da Costa.
At that time the estimated debt from the former RTP 1, 2 and 3, Africa, Azores and Madeira and RDP 1, 2, Antena 3 had been close to €1 billion.
Now the PSD Government has shipped in a controversial rationalisation team under conservative economist Dr. João Duque to oversee the company’s further slim down.
Under new rules, both RTP Azores and Madeira, which employ around 300 staff, will be funded directly out of those autonomous region’s budgets.
In a report from the government think-tank presented on Tuesday, it was stated: “As to RTP-Azores and RTP Madeira, we consider that their historic mission is terminated” with João Duque, an economist arguing that “the channels don’t justify the investment.”
Last year RTP Azores cost the tax payer €13 million and RTP Madeira set the State back €11 million.
In presenting the board’s Sustainability Plan, RTP President Guilherme Costa said that both could not set the State back €20 million by 2012.
The rationalisation means that the company will undergo top-to-toe restructuring with financial autonomy and management whereby lump sum monies will be agreed yearly as part of the country’s State Budget.
Now broadcasts from these two regional channels will be slashed to four hours per day, between 7pm and 11pm.
RTP closed 2010 with profits of €15.1 million but has an accumulated debt built up over many years which still stands at around €500 million.
At the end of the year RTP will hand over the €50 million it made in advertising to the State to pay off some of the accumulated debt.
A large group of journalists have sought the support of their unions and a lawyer’s office with a plan to take the Government think-tank members to court for “defamation and slandering their good name” after it was suggested that the State-run service lacked critical and dispassionate independent news reporting.