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The News From Spain
A look at the Spanish media scene
Readership of newspapers in Spain has traditionally been among the lowest in Europe. This was not because Spaniards were uninterested in news, but because Spanish newspapers have generally been boring and overpriced. Most Spaniards still see radio as a more reliable and entertaining source of information.
This is a legacy of the Franco era, when censorship was the rule of the day. Spanish newspaper journalists tended to disguise whatever real news they dared deliver with often-undecipherable verbosity. The significant facts were usually buried in the third or fourth paragraph.
All that started to change with the arrival of democracy and, more specifically, with the launching of a new national daily, El País, in 1976. When it first appeared, El País came as a refreshing alternative to the leading daily of the time, the conservative ABC (established in 1905).
El País laid the ground rules for modern Spanish news reporting, including double-checking sources and the use of a clear, readable style. With a circulation of around 450,000 copies, it is the best-selling national general newspaper in Spain (though outsold by the sports daily Marca).
Jesús de Polanco, chairman of El País's publishing company, Prisa, went on to become Spain's most prominent media mogul. Today, his empire encompasses book publishing; Spain's most popular radio network, SER; and the Spanish version of Canal+, which in 1999 launched CNN+ in association with America's CNN.
El País's image suffered in the late 1980s when it became too closely identified with the governing PSOE, the Spanish socialist party. Its strongest challenger was Diario 16, a spinoff of the popular newsweekly Cambio 16. Diario 16 featured aggressive reporting under its editor, Pedro J. Ramírez. When Ramírez was pressured out of the seat in 1989, he went on to start El Mundo, launched in October that year with a strong anti-socialist establishment bias. El Mundo exposed many of the top-level scandals which would cost the PSOE the elections in 1996.
Modern technology allowed the Madrid-based nationals to launch regional editions, but local and regional papers thrived none the less, including Catalonia's two leading titles, the long-established La Vanguardia and the newer El Periodico.
Newspapers did eat into the market for news magazines, which had gone through a golden age in the late 1970s. Today, the leading newsmagazine is Tiempo, with a circulation of some 80,000. The magazine market is dominated by TV guides and gossip weeklies devoted to the comings and goings of the titled and famous, such as the legendary Hola! magazine, which successfully launched a British edition, Hello!.
In 1975 there were only two television channels in Spain, both part of the State-owned Televisión Española which, in spite of being a public broadcaster funded by tax payers, still runs paid commercials. At the beginning of the 1990s two new national channels started (Antena 3 and TeleCinco), in addition to the subscription channel, Canal+, and regional public channels administered by regional governments. Added to this, today there are satellite servers and cable networks, and more than 700 local channels serving the different cities and towns.
Radio, too, has undergone a boom. Spanish talk radio stars are the best-paid journalists in the country. Control of the major radio networks has been the object of high-level maneuvring, with such unlikely players as the Spanish telephone company, the Catholic Church and Spain's National Organization for the Blind.
Copyright © Mark Little.
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