Procrastination seems to be the right word when it comes to describing how the National Government is treating two contentious issues in Spain; smoking and radio communications. Early in 2010 the Government came out fighting and stated that this year smoking in all public places would be banned and that a new agency was to be formed to deal with and close down over 3,000 illegal Pirate Radio Stations. Up to now, nothing much seems to have happened. Regarding smoking, the minister for health has backtracked and said that the smoking laws will not come into place until 2011. However, 2011 will probably be an election year and the inaction of this new law might work against them in the polls and so some observers doubt that anything, if anything, will happen until after the elections.

Regarding Radio, the PSOE Government stated that a new Broadcasting body, the La Agencia Estatal de Radiocomunicaciones (State Radio Agency) would be formed before June 1, 2010 with the object of clearing the airwaves of 3,000 or more Pirate Radio stations. Although various cities including Vigo and Valencia have been sited as possible Headquarters, no decision has yet been made and so without a headquarters, all of the illegal stations are free to broadcast as they always have done! According to El Pias, in the Canary Islands the situation is so bad that for every legal station there are three illegal ones!

The AER have already identified 482 illegal stations in the Canary Islands, with Andalusia (387), Valencia (318), Catalonia (183), Madrid (144), Basque Country (143), Murcia (106) Galicia (103) Aragon (73), Cantabria (69), Castilla y León (68), Castilla-La Mancha (67), Asturias (40), Baleares (40), Extremadura (27), Navarra (25) and La Rioja (4) picking up the rear. Although some expatriates might think that it’s a ‘witch hunt’ against the popular English Language Radio stations, the English stations probably account for less than 1% on the list. However, the vast majority of these operate without the correct licences although many have tried their very best over many years to legalise themselves.

The Ministry of Industry was given a list back in 2004 of the illegal stations conducted by the Spanish Association of Commercial Broadcasting (AERC) and delivered to the Government in the hope that with the development of a new FM Technical Plan, for an end to chaos in the airwaves. The AERC, which includes major chains (SER, Onda Cero, Cope, Punto Radio, etc.) now say that their exhaustive list that they produced six years ago is obviously out of date and that there are possibly 20% more illegal broadcasters than originally thought! Case in point is that six years ago there were only three or four English Language stations throughout Spain and now there are close to 50!

Another concern of the AERC is that 124 legal stations have been identified as broadcasting on frequencies they are not licensed to do so! Last but not least we have another 500 plus Municipal Radio stations that are also breaking the law by assigning, for example, management to individuals or radio chains who broadcast commercially rather than operate as a community channel within the municipality.

Last week the University of Vigo met with local ministers to discuss the possibility of placing the headquarters of the AERC with the University. However, the National Government have been very quiet on the entire matter since their first announcement last January and so it remains to be seen if and when anything shall be done about the situation. So for at least another while, it’s business as usual in the world of local radio and smoking in bars and public spaces around Spain.