Last December, Spain's new audiovisual law became the key bargaining chip with which Pedro Sánchez secured the support of Catalonia's ERC to get his budget approved. And yet, five months later, this law has been passed in Congress thanks to the abstention of the People's Party and Ciudadanos and with ERC voting against it. The reason is the technical amendment introduced into the text by the PSOE, with the support of the PP and Cs, which has changed the definition of who is considered an independent producer, and has raised a storm of criticism from within the industry, as well as among the Socialist government's partners. In the end the bill was passed with 131 abstentions - more than the number of votes in favour, which added up to 130, mostly those of the PSOE and the Basque PNV. Against were the 83 votes led by ERC, Bildu, and Compromís - as well as Vox.
The new law stipulates that 5% of the revenues of the large streaming platforms must be ploughed back into financing European audiovisual productions and that, of this amount, the majority - 70% - is to be dedicated to independent productions within the state, in Spanish or the co-official languages. Hence the importance of the definition of independent producer. The industry is protesting because the original text stated that independent producers were those who had no direct link to the major platforms and chains, but the final version limits it to "not working directly for them". This, according to the sector, opens the door for producers of the major corporations and platforms to be considered independent if their contracting is carried out through other service providers.
The chance for an Alcarràs, destroyed
"We won't abandon the independent production sector of Catalonia. With this manoeuvre with the parties of the right, the prospects for films like Alcarràs are being destroyed," reprimanded ERC deputy Joan Margall Sastre, referring to the independent film by Catalan director Carla Simon which won last year's Berlinale.
The ERC politician stated how last week, "secretly and without warning", the PSOE introduced the amendment to benefit the major audiovisual groups, for which the Socialists found support in the PP, thus blowing apart the deal which they negotiated in order to get their budget through the house. "You have destroyed the agreement you had with us, which cost us a lot, which we defended to the end," he complained, warning the Socialists that they had opted for "the grand coalition, the wet dream of the regime of '78".
Even Podemos criticized in the chamber that the prorposed law does not protect independent producers, while Bildu denounced that the PSOE had succumbed to the power of the major platforms. In fact, Podemos, ERC and Bildu tabled a joint amendment to try to reverse the changes. However, the amendment was rejected with the votes of the PSOE. From Junts, Pilar Calvo warned that "this law is a scandal, a fiasco, a setback in the audiovisual sector and a serious setback for all the languages of the state".
PP and Cs
The PP deputy Juan Luis Pedroño, who asserted that the law had to be used to transpose the European directive on audiovisual production, criticized the "absurdity" that the passing of the text had turned into, explaining that the PSOE had asked them to make "an effort for Spain to comply with Europe". Cs also criticized the way the passing of the bill was handled and joked that the government had given a "thriller" to its partners.
The Basque Nationalists did support the text after Joseba Agirretxea warned that this was not the law they would have preferred but believed that they had managed to "save the most important furniture". "We are, of course, critical over the subject of languages," he said, appreciating that the bill did contain a stipulation that would see some funding - "although an inadequate amnount" - to the Spanish state's minority languages.
In the earlier negotiation, in December, the focus of ERC and other parties had concentrated on improving the very poor provision in the bill to ensure audiovisual content in Catalan, Basque and Galician. However, the draft that came out of those difficult negotiations, containing some concessions in terms of languages, has now been altered in other areas.