Photo: Vicent Sanchis, director of Television Catalonia (Cdreit: Albert Salamé)
By Josep Rexach Fumanya
January 2nd, 2018
2017 has closed with TV3 leading the news ratings for the eighth straight year, news which the channel prides itself on, having broken audience records. But not everything is joy. Yesterday the director, Vicent Sanchis, explained to Catalunya Ràdio that TV3 is in a critical situation. The new contract law of the public sector has changed the criterion regarding to accounting for VAT deduction, and the Spanish tax agency claims there are thirty million euros outstanding from TV3, an amount that will greatly hurt its competitiveness. But above all, this is a harsh blow against the Catalan audio-visual establishment: Sanchis has announced that if cuts are to be applied it will be have to be on external productions. “By June we will no longer have money to buy “APM?” Or “Polònia” or anything”.[What follows is an interview with Sanchis, by Josep Rexach Fumanya, of Vilaweb]
- To help people understand, how much money does the Spanish tax agency claim TV3 owes?
First of all, €168 million, which is the product of a change of criteria in the deduction of VAT for the past five years. And that amount is currently subject to an administrative dispute. When the Tax Agency changes its criteria compared to what was previously white, to say it is now black, you can file an appeal against it. And that is what we have done. Therefore, these €168 million, at least for now, don’t need to be paid. When we have to pay them, if we do, this will be because the courts have decided that we do, and that time we will have to figure out how to do so. But I’ll tell you now it is already almost impossible to pay for the public media of the Generalitat.
- So what is this money that TV3 might have to pay, for?
The proportional part of VAT of the past year and all that of this year. Not because of the change of criteria, but because of a change in law. The law of contracts in the public sector was changed on November 10th and here it is already said that what was previously a simple criterion of the tax agency, is now legislation.
- And how much does it add up to?
It’s difficult to calculate, like any tax, but we believe that summing the proportion corresponding to last year, and what we will incur next year, we come to around €30 million.
- That’s a lot, given that TV3 has a public contribution of €227 million. What consequences can this have on the existing model of TV3?
The problem is that, since the crisis began, we have been cutting things, which in turn has lowered the public contribution from the Generalitat. Last year we didn’t even make it to the end of the year. I asked for seven million euros to be able to reach the end with the possibility of leading the ratings, which is what we managed to do, and the government approved only an extraordinary contribution of three and a half million. We now say that this year we have the same budget last year, because it has been extended and, therefore, not only do we not have these seven million that we asked for, but we must subtract, from the very start, the thirty million I just mentioned.
- So, you start this year with even less budget than last year.
You still need to subtract more because last year’s advertising forecasts were not met. That is to say, we had predicted income from advertising which did not come through. You could say, that if we came out as ratings leaders, we should have had the most advertising [revenue]. But there isn’t any additional revenue. The advertising this year will likely be lower than last year and are already facing a cumulative deficit from last year.
- Why is there less advertising?
On the one hand, because there is an oligopoly formed by Atresmedia and Mediaset, and they are very effective in the field of advertising. On the other hand, because there is a lot of advertising going to the internet. And this is increasing. On the other hand, although we have made a spectacular increase in audience numbers, there are many companies, and some very large ones, from outside Catalonia, who now think twice, when considering advertising or investing in TV3.
Well, because the campaigns [against us] work. Campaigns that say that we are a politicised television, or that we are a biased network, in the end, they work. If they say we are dangerous people, in the end there are companies who believe it. There are people who think that only those from Madrid are to be believed. It’s clear that those from Madrid believe this, since the biggest advertising is undertaken there, and it has massive effects. Among other things, the CCMA will have a budget, this year, of forty-three million less [than last year]. And of these, thirty-three million correspond to television. If last year we needed 7 million more and this year we have 33 less, what does that mean? Well, if we cannot touch the staff, we have to adjust other areas, which are associated productions and external productions. And we will have to make adjustments to them all. We will end the year having to make everything ourselves, however, the big programmes made with external producers will simply not be able to continue.
- Are we talking about any of the most watched programs on TB3? For example, ‘APM’?
So “APM” will be contracted until the month of May or June. But in June we will no longer be able to continue paying for its production, since we will not have any money.
- and Polònia?
We will not have any money to hire ‘APM’ or Polònia or anything. We will not have money to fund external productions.
- You alluded to this possibility in an interview with Catalunya Ràdio and they were very surprised. People are really interested in knowing what the solution to this impasse is.
There is only one. If the next government is able to cover the part of the VAT that has already been debited. I believe that there is a clear, clear intention to destroy us. Therefore they [the next Catalan government] must be able to contribute this amount. Of course though, it is not an ideal remedy. In the end you end up contributing money to the state, simply in order to have a solvent national television channel. Now, the problem is that this coming government will have to find the money. Where will they get it from? I do not know. Maybe they will not be able to.
- But, regardless of the government, the state will intervene with your finances?
Yes. This is the second step. The first step is that, as there will be a budgetary extension, we will have to find the money from other parties. And the second step is that if we find it, the Ministry of Finance will have to give us permission. And I do not think that right now Madrid is willing to help the CCMA (Catalan AudioVisual Media Corporation). This leaves me with the impression that there really is nothing.
Photo: The new director of TV3, Vicent Sanchis, behind the logo for Catalan public television, soon after his nomination in March 2017 (Credit: Vilaweb)
- And if it a coalition government is not formed, and elections are anticipated at the end of May or early June?
It is clear that we will suffer a lot in the first half of the year. And if in the second half things do not settle down, the television we will see will have nothing to do with the TV3 we have seen so far, during our thirty long years of history we have. However, there are those who will feel this pain more than we do, and that is the audiovisual production sector in Catalonia. We, by law, are meant to promote and impulse that sector, and they will now be left wanting – with absolutely nothing. That is what gets me down most about what is happening.
- Is it a ploy to strip TV3 and drive it to close?
-Yes, I believe this is the case.
- What is the ploy?
What has been done is identify weakness and fragility, to foster a lack of competitiveness in TV3. Without these funds we cannot compete with the large Spanish television channels, public or private. TVE compared to us, have huge means, and can do almost anything they want, whilst we are more and more limited. Personally, I think it’s a maneuver to liquidate TV3.
- To cut costs, have you considered dismissing staff?
No. We have not proposed this because we have just come out of a very tough period where there were confrontations between the CCMA and staff around reduction of personnel and salaries. We know that if we propose this now, we would cause an even beastlier conflict. And if there are strikes, we will be worse off still.
- At first, it seemed that TV3’s autonomy was going to be intervened with, by the application of article 155…
It’s happening now…
- But, at least formally, this is not how the intervention has taken place. However, do you think that the threat [of 155] curtailed the freedom of expression of workers?
We are being intervened with now. And whilst the election period and the election campaign lasted, yes [freedom of expression was curtailed]. There were provincial electoral boards and the central electoral board and we received thirteen complaints from the PP and Ciutadans (Citizens Party). Whatever we did, the provincial electoral board ruled against us, and when the appeals came to the central electoral board, it ruled in favour of the provision board. A moment came when we knew that, no matter what we did, if someone presented a complaint, we’d lose. This feeling was very strong during the campaign. You made not have heard that there was one arbitrator who, whenever he got a complaint from our opponents, always accepted them. A case of the referee playing for the other team. And that scared people.
- Can you elaborate on this?
On television, if you call [ex-President] Artur Mas ‘president’, nothing happens. If you call a councilor who has now left the Generalitat ‘councilor’ nothing happens. If you, call ex-President Montilla ‘president’, then nothing happens. But there are people who when such a complaint comes up, say no, that this cannot ever be done, with absolutely no nuance. And, they, if it takes place, will make sure that this has criminal consequences. So our workers, of course, are afraid.
- And this has led to self-censorship?
Of course. It has led to large scale self-censorship. There was also a case where this backfired on us, which was the rally in favor of the political prisoners called by the ANC and Òmnium. We broadcast, during the electoral period, the assembly by Catalan Civil Society [Ed: far-right civil society organistion]. We thought that this had informational interest, and that if we had relayed that demonstration throughout its course and dedicated two hours to it, that we ought to do the same [for the ANC and Omnium event]. Then comes a Citizens complaint and we are told ‘no’, that the broadcast of this demonstration has harmed them. Then, we go to the central electoral junta and we argue that we had done it in the interest of balance. But they tell us ‘no’, that there is no justifiable reason for broadcasting it. ‘But we covered the SCC’, we told them. And they told us that the other could not be considered because no one had filed a complaint regarding that. It is an outrage because they ignore the theory of equilibrium. We have experienced absolutely insane situations.
- TV3, in recent months, has been in the eye of the hurricane and many media and politicians have been calling it “impartial”. How do these accusations affect the channel?
People as sensible as Mr. Eduardo Mendoza, who is a person that I respect a lot and that deserves all human consideration and is of great literary importance, has written a book explaining the situation in Catalonia, and also said that TV3 manipulates. Even intelligent people, people with their own criteria who are not intimidated or conditioned, have become influenced. I do not know if Eduardo Mendoza watches TV3, because if he did he would not reach that conclusion. This talk of animosity has been created, and it says that we are the worst thing in the world. But this criticism, which has historical precedent, is used to justify subsequent repressive measures. Of TV3, it has been said that it is not neutral, does not report well, that it is biased, to the point of saying that it supports a coup. I have seen it many times in the digital and non-digital newspapers of Madrid. But if you want to undertake a coup, the best way to justify it is to say that a coup is being undertaken by your enemy. This way, nobody will be annoyed or angry at the repressive measures you apply, since they are deemed proportional to the offender’s attitude. That’s what is happening.
- When you read opinions by people of the intellectual reputation of Eduardo Mendoza, do you come to question the television model and your work?
Sometimes. Of course. You have to. When you read comments by sensible people, who don’t think like you, and say that you have done bad things, then you do wonder, perhaps I am mistaken. This is terrible, because it is the victim who, following the accusation of the executioner, reconsider everything. They make us doubt ourselves.
- Can any parallel be established with Channel 9?
No, because the situation in Channel 9 was different. It was a television channel which, I think, when it was inaugurated, the Socialists made a few mistakes which the PP later blew out of proportion. In the end it had an audience of 3% and a staff of a thousand people which the government could not pay. In the end, the same people who had created that huge problem were unable to resolve it and decided to close it. But TV3 does not have this situation. TV3 has a budget comparable to any public television channel in Europe, it is a channel with a huge audience and it is, above all, a credible channel which, by public opinion, is the best news reference. Of course we are talking about a model created in 1983 and, like any corporation it has been accumulating problems and defects. As time goes by, the audience will continue to become fragmented, due to the Internet and the more than seventy or eighty options that a person watching television has. Of course, we must reformulate the television model, and I mean that this must be done from the ground up, wholesale. But its one thing to say that the parliament, the CCMA or the workers are considering this. It is a very different thing to say that we are participants in a coup, and that we are embittering people’s lives. These are two very different stories.