Spain: a state of alarm

The Covid-19 pandemic and its economic repercussions have left Spanish media battling for survival in 2020. The print media had already seen their circulation figures drop dramatically in recent years. Now the economic paralysis of the coronavirus lockdown has led to substantial losses in advertising revenue.

In the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis, Spain’s publishing groups dismissed large numbers of employees. Since then, the remaining staff have had to fill the spaces left by lost advertising, often at the expense of journalistic quality. In addition, huge debts owed to banks and large companies are jeopardising the independence of the media.

The concentration of media ownership continues apace. In 2010 the two TV stations Cuatro and Telecinco merged, and in 2012 La Sexta and Antena 3 followed suit. In 2019 the Prensa Ibérica group took over the prestigious daily El Periódico de Catalunya.

Now the coronavirus crisis is threatening the already weakened media companies. During the lockdown that began in March 2020, the kiosks hardly sold any newspapers. The cafés where many Spaniards would sit and read their papers were closed, and sales of print media plummeted. To make matters worse, business closures and the looming economic crisis have caused advertising revenues to drop by up to 80 percent.

In April 2020 all the major publishing groups - Prisa (El País, Cinco Días), Unidad Editorial (El Mundo, Expansión, Marca), Vocento (ABC, El Correo), Godó (La Vanguardia) and Prensa Ibérica (El Periódico de Catalunya) - reduced their employees’ working hours and salaries by up to 50 percent over several months.

The Spanish media landscape is also undergoing major change in terms of political orientation. The traditional two-party system in which the conservative People’s Party (Partido Popular, PP) and the Socialists (PSOE) took turns in power has been broken up by the left-wing party Unidas Podemos (UP), founded in 2014 and co-ruling since 2019, and the liberal Ciudadanos party, which is currently represented in regional governments. This trend has also given the media a new perspective. The far-right Vox party, which supports conservative regional governments in Spain, is at loggerheads with the Spanish media groups and chooses to rely on communication via social networks instead.

The conservative papers (ABC, El Mundo, La Razón) continue to advocate the strong position of the royal family, the Catholic Church and the central state, whereas the centre-left media (El País, El Periódico de Catalunya) call for a liberal and secular state. At the same time new players have emerged on the left of the spectrum (Público, eldiario.es, La Marea, ctxt.es) that are unsparing in their criticism of traditional state structures, scandals in the royal family and political corruption.

In the autumn of 2017, all the major media outlets - including the Catalan dailies La Vanguardia and El Periódico de Catalunya - clearly positioned themselves against the secession of Catalonia. Their by no means insignificant share of pro-separatist readers was left to small newspapers like Ara and El Punt Avui. In the months that followed, Ara was the only Spanish daily newspaper to buck the trend of declining circulation: its sales rose by around 11 percent.

World Press Freedom Index (Reporters Without Borders):
Rank 29 (2020)

Last updated: April 2020

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