Spain: New divisions

The Catalan independence referendum which was held and declared illegal in September 2017 not only split Spanish society, it also forced the various media outlets to adopt a clear position on the issue. But fundamental changes were already underway.

Spanish newspapers reported on the outcome of the parliamentary elections in Catalonia on 22 December 2017.
Spanish newspapers reported on the outcome of the parliamentary elections in Catalonia on 22 December 2017.
In autumn 2017, the centre-left daily El País and the Catalan daily newspapers La Vanguardia and El Periódico de Catalunya clearly positioned themselves, like the conservative media, against independence for Catalonia. Small newspapers such as El Punt Avui and Ara were left to cater to the not inconsiderable percentage of pro-separatist readers. The fundamental change of position at La Vanguardia clearly reflected the split: its long-time editor-in-chief José Antich was replaced in 2013 by Màrius Carol, who openly supports Spanish unity. For his part Antich went on to found the pro-separatist news site elnacional.cat in 2015.

But Spain's media landscape was deeply fragmented even before this. The previous consensus not to question the current constitution of 1978 or by extension the parliamentary monarchy created after the military dictatorship from 1939 to 1975, with Madrid as the political centre, crumbled on all fronts. The established two-party system in which the conservative People's Party (PP) and the Socialists (PSOE) had taken turns in power for decades is now being challenged by the liberal party Ciudadanos and the left-wing party Podemos.

As a result, the political spectrum reflected by the media also became more diverse. The conservative papers (ABC, El Mundo, La Razón) continued 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) called for a secular and decentralised state. At the same time new players emerged on the far left (eldiario.es, La Marea, ctxt.es) that were unsparing in their criticism of state structures, scandals in the royal family and the corruption scandals plaguing the major parties.

The already high concentration of media ownership, with most publishers, television channels and radio stations in the hands of a just a handful of companies, increased during the economic crisis. In 2010 the national television broadcasters Cuatro and Telecinco merged, followed two years later by La Sexta and Antena 3. The quality of public broadcasting, which is financed by tax money, is threatened by budget cuts.

Press Freedom Index (Reporters Without Borders):
Rank 31 (2018)

Last updated: May 2018
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