Alberto Oliart to take over at Spain's RTVE

As Luis Fernandez steps down halfway through term

MADRID -- Luis Fernandez has left halfway through his term as head of pubcaster Radio Television Espanola and will be replaced by 81-year-old Alberto Oliart, a former Defense Minister from the 1980s.

Oliart's appointment has been agreed on by Spain's prime minister and the leader of the opposition party and is expected to be approved by parliament next week.

Fernandez, the first director general of RTVE to be approved by the full parliament rather than be appointed by the prime minister, has voiced his irritation in the past few months at the recently approved Financing Law, which removes advertising from the pubcaster's television channels and limits its ability to compete with the private channels with content.

Oliart, who will take over for the remaining three years of Fernandez term, took the helm of Spain's Defense Ministry less than 48 hours after a failed coup d'etat in 1981. He is considered as a moderate and a competent politician.

Seen as the quintessential statesman, Oliart will steer RTVE through its transition of commercial entity to public service, managing a €1.2 billion ($1.79 billion) budget, seven television channels, five radio stations and a staff of 6,400 people.

In addition to the advertising prohibition starting Jan. 1, 2010, RTVE is preparing for the April analogue blackout in Spain.

"To manage the new situation, you need a manager like Oliart, not someone who comes from the private sector," one insider, who asked not to be identified, said.

Industry observers saw Oliart's appointment as a truce between the two political parties, both battered by plunging opinion polls. Both the governing PSOE Socialist party and the center-right Popular Party find Oliart -- who hails from the center-right government that steered Spain from a dictatorship under General Francisco Franco to a democracy in the 1980s -- a neutral politician.

Insiders said that a politician was chosen because Spain's media landscape is sharply divided between the right and left and it would be difficult to find anyone presently working in the sector who had not sided with one party or the other -- thus making consensus vote difficult.

Oliart's appointment also speaks to RTVE's return to a full-throttle public service, rather than a business model.

"It would be good to have someone from the media world running Spain's leading channel," said Jorge Gonzalez, a television expert at Spanish business school IESE. "But if they come from the media world, they would be used to making money and the new law goes against that philosophy."

RTVE's main television channel, TVE 1, leads the national broadcasters this month with 16.5% of the audience share, over private channels Telecinco's 15.3% and Antena 3's 13.9%. The month's most-seen time slot was the 42% share for the Champion's league soccer match between Real Madrid and Milan on TVE earlier this month