Spain: new actors at the left end of the spectrum

Like the country as a whole, the Spanish media face huge challenges. Since the economic crisis of 2008 advertising revenues have dropped, circulation figures have plummeted and many newspapers have responded with massive layoffs and drastic pay cuts for reporters and editors.

Spanish newspapers (© picture-alliance/dpa)
Spanish newspapers (© picture-alliance/dpa)
The deputy chief editor of the country's largest quality newspaper El País, Lluís Bassets, summed up the critical situation the media face in 2013 in the title of his book: El último que apague la luz. Sobre la extinción del periodismo (The last one turns out the light. On the extinction of journalism). He predicted that the printed daily newspapers that have defined quality and opinion journalism in Spain to date would disappear "far sooner than expected".

In terms of content, too, the media are facing major upheavals. Until recently there had been a consensus not to call into question the constitution of 1978 and the parliamentary monarchy with Madrid as its political centre that emerged after the long period of military dictatorship (1939–1975). This consensus is now eroding on all fronts. The established two-party system, whereby the conservative People's Party (Partido Popular, PP) and the Socialists (PSOE) took it in turns to form the government and opposition for many decades, is now being challenged by two new protest parties - the left-wing Podemos and the liberal Ciudadanos.

The political spectrum of the media is consequently expanding. While the conservative newspapers (ABC, El Mundo, La Razón) continue to back the leading role of the monarchy, the Catholic Church and the centralist state, and the left-liberal media (El País, El Periódico de Catalunya) call for a secular and decentralised state, new actors are emerging at the left end of the spectrum (eldiario.es, La Marea, ctxt.es) that are ruthlessly denouncing the rusty state structures, the scandals in the royal family and the corruption of the major parties.

The independence initiatives of several Spanish regions – first and foremost Catalonia – are also reflected in the press. In addition to traditional Catalan-language newspapers such as El Punt Avui and papers like El Periódico de Catalunya, which has always published a bilingual edition, other dailies that had previously published only in Spanish are now producing a Catalan edition - La Vanguardia (since 2011) and El País (since 2014).

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. In September 2014 RTVE director Leopoldo González Echenique resigned in protest at the austerity measures.

Press Freedom Rating:
Reporters Without Borders: 29th place (2017)
Freedom House: 51st place - status: free (2016)

Updated: May 2017
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