EBU urges Portugal to come to its senses over broadcast plans

The EBU (European Broadcasting Union) is lobbying the Portuguese government to abandon its plans for a temporary privatization of the country’s public broadcaster RTP. The proposed move, which led to the resignation of RTP’s entire board of directors, would be unprecedented within the European Union, and could lead to unresolved legal questions with regard to competition law, according to the EBU. It could also contravene the Amsterdam protocol covering public broadcasting within the EU, as well as recommendations by the wider Council of Europe embracing the whole continent as well as some neighboring countries such as Azerbaijan.

"You cannot treat a public broadcaster like an electricity company or a staff canteen," said EBU Director General Ingrid Deltenre. "Such a reckless move would add to the strain on Portuguese society during this time of crisis, and put at risk a public institution that has served Portugal well since the Salazar dictatorship. The citizens of Portugal should be worried. Editorial independence and pluralism will be endangered. Citizens could lose a trusted reference point forever."

In an open letter sent to Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Manuel Passos Coelho, the EBU condemned the proposed privatization as an unprecedented step that may end public broadcasting in Portugal. Although proposed as a temporary measure, in practice if it happened the Portuguese government may not be in a position to buy it back.

The privatization of RTP would not solve Portugal’s current financial crisis, the EBU contended, as Portugal is already one of the EU countries providing the least funding for its public broadcaster. RTP's current board has submitted a plan to slash the already severely cut annual budget by €55 million to just €180 million, as requested by the government. By contrast, the BBC in the UK has an annual budget of £3.5 billion (€4.4 billion).