Spain had in 2005 a population of 44.1 million inhabitants and was twelfth in world ranking in GDP. Just after Greece and Portugal, it became the third Mediterranean country in Europe to re-establish a democratic system in the early 1970s. The new regime after the death of the dictator General Francisco Franco in 1975 brought about the restoration of the monarchy and the creation of a parliamentary system, along with a gradual devolution of power to the 17 regions, which turned Spain into a quasi-federal state. The most important international recognition of the new Spanish democracy came from its admission as a new member of the European Union in 1986. From the media perspective, the transition to democracy had already begun with a new press law in 1966. The press, subjected until then to strong censorship, was granted broader margins of freedom, so that some newspapers and magazines were able to reflect varying degrees of criticism or reticence about the last governments of the dictatorship.
Legal Development Of Media Structure
Some legal measures concerning the media accompanied the political transition. In April 1977, a decree suppressed government powers to close and seize newspapers. In October 1977, another decree broke the monopoly of public radio on the broadcasting of home political news. Article 20 of the Constitution, approved in December 1978, established “the right to freely communicate or receive truthful information by any means” and stated that a specific law, “respecting society pluralism and the diverse languages of Spain,” should regulate state-run media and their control by parliament (Barrera 1995). The Statute for Radio and Television (1980) defined these media as “essential public services whose ownership belongs to the State.” The so-called Third Channels Law (1983) permitted each region to create its own public radio and television network. Catalonia and the Basque Country were the first to avail themselves of this law (Maxwell 1995).
In the case of the printed media, the legacy of many decades of press control led both politicians and journalists to agree that the best press law is no press law at all. Not even self-regulated rules have been adopted since then, except in the case of Catalonia, where the Audiovisual Council was established to monitor television and radio. State subsidy of the press, in force since the late years of Francoism, was maintained by the first, centrist governments of the transition; later socialist governments regulated them in 1984, and finally decided to discontinue the policy in 1990 in accordance with the requirements of the European Commission (Fernández & Santana 2000).
Two new laws in the late 1980s increased state intervention in the Spanish media: the law concerning the Organization of Telecommunications (1987) and the law concerning Private Television (1988). Public radio was favored and some measures restricted the free market in the television sector, where, e.g., one shareholder could own a maximum of only 25 percent of the capital in a private television company. Foreign capital, too, was limited to 25 percent. These conditions, which were finally suppressed in the late 1990s, required that difficult agreements be reached among at least four partners, and facilitated government involvement to organize the process. In the end, three channels began to broadcast: Antena 3, Tele 5, and Canal +, the last a pay-TV channel which monopolized that new sector.
The pluralism of the Spanish radio system grew through the awarding of new FM station licenses during three periods (1981–1982, 1989, and 1999–2000), which allowed the establishment of new radio networks. Political decentralization meant that regional governments became the primary decision-makers in the distribution of licenses, generally granted to media with similar political leanings to the different regional powers; thus, this process has been almost invariably controversial.
The technological development of other television formats in the 1990s led to a doubly inadequate response from government, which enacted regulatory laws and provisions either too late or too early. The first situation arose in the case of the regulations approved for local (more than 1,000 local stations were in operation at that time), cable, and satellite television in December 1995. On the other hand, the regulations concerning digital terrestrial television (DTT), approved in 1998 with the two licenses awarded two years later, were enacted before the technological resources which would allow the audience to receive those signals had been provided. It is only since 2006 that DTT has begun to reach TV users in an effective way. A 2006 law for public television definitely established the priority of digital transmission over analog, whose deadline for obsolescence is 2010.
Competition in the pay-per-view satellite television sector had two protagonists: Canal Satélite Digital (CSD) and Vía Digital (VD), both launched in 1997; the first owned in effect by the pro-socialist Prisa Group and the other by Telefónica with the political support of the then recently elected conservative government. An intense, year-long political and economic war was waged among media and politicians during which both companies suffered significant losses, a situation which ultimately led to their merger in 2003 as the new Digital +.
The number of newspapers published has increased during the democratic period. For many years, 110–115 newspapers were published. Between 1995 and 2004, this number rose to 139, which leaves Spain second only to Germany among EU countries. However, Spain also has one of the lowest indices of newspaper circulation per inhabitant: 104 in 2004, higher only than Italy, Greece, and Portugal (Libro Blanco 2006). One clear conclusion to be drawn is that many Spanish newspapers have low circulation figures: only 10 newspapers have average sales above 100,000 copies. The significant contribution of sports dailies, which account for 20 percent of total newspaper circulation, must be underlined. Monthly magazines, especially the so-called revistas del corazón based on true-romance news and photo-spreads, have had larger global circulation than weekly magazines since 1997 (Díaz-Nosty 2006).
The sport and financial dailies apart, only four newspapers have national circulation (El País, El Mundo, ABC, and La Razón), while the rest may be regarded as basically regional or local. In almost all of the Spanish provinces, the largest newspaper in terms of circulation and consequently the most influential is regional or local. Many of them belong to larger media holdings; thus, by 2004, the seven largest Spanish media groups controlled 76.1 percent of total circulation. Free daily newspapers are the latest challenge to paid newspapers in terms of sales and advertising. Since the appearance of 20 Minutos and Metro in Madrid and Barcelona in 2000 and 2001, this new sector has achieved significant shares of readership; the four free newspapers published in 2006 (Qué! and ADN had joined the other two) reached more than 3.1 millions readers every day – i.e., one fifth of all newspaper readers.
The radio system has evolved toward a greater pluralism in recent years. Despite the favorable deal received by public radio in the assignment of frequencies and power for its stations, four private national networks account for the majority of audience share: SER, COPE, Onda Cero, and Punto Radio. In contrast to television, the national public radio network (Radio Nacional) survives only through state funding and has no income from advertising. Unlike the case of the television sector, too, none of the radio companies has any foreign shareholders. Although all-music channels account for more than half of listeners, Spanish radio is a very influential medium in the political arena, especially through the news services and the so-called tertulias, round-table debates among journalists, experts, and other public figures who analyze day-to-day politics.
There are two sectors of public television: the state-run Televisión Española (TVE), founded in 1956 and comprising two channels, and the 14 regional television bodies, which depend on the respective regional governments. Some of the latter use the language of their region, such as Basque, Catalan, and Galician. The financing of both state and regional television is mixed: public funding and revenue from advertising. This mixed financing arrangement is controversial and the commercial stations regard it as unfair competition. The three private television channels started in 1990 are still in operation, although one of them, Canal +, changed from pay-per-view to open-access TV in 2005 under the new brand Cuatro. A fourth channel (La Sexta) emerged in 2006. The latter two developments, in line with decisions taken by the new socialist government elected in 2004, were quite controversial for both political and business reasons. Public television has suffered the main damage in terms of audience. In 1995, five years after the emergence of private channels, the public sector held 52.3 percent of audience share; 10 years later, that figure had decreased to 43.1 percent; and in 2004 Tele 5 surpassed TVE-1 in terms of audience.
Satellite TV developed faster than cable in Spain. At the time of their merger in 2003, the two leading companies had a combined total of approximately 1.4 million subscribers. In 2005 the category “other channels,” which included themed or pay-per-view TV, local stations, etc., already reached 7.4 million in its average share. Fragmentation of audiences is one of the main consequences of the variety of mixed television models available and derives from a number of different patterns: pay/open, terrestrial/satellite/cable, public/ private, national/regional/local.
The Internet has also had an impact on traditional media through online editions of printed newspapers, new digital newspapers, specialized confidential websites that publish news and rumors, and, finally, the uncontrolled blogosphere. Thus, the conventional media has partially lost its authority and credibility in the shaping of public opinion. In only six years, daily use of the Internet increased in Spain from 5.6 percent of population (2000) to 21 percent (2006). It is still far below the average levels of use in central and northern European countries, and low in relation to population percentages for other Spanish media (41.4 for newspapers, 49.0 for magazines, 56.0 for radio, and 88.7 for television), but it continues to grow rapidly, especially among young and urban sectors of the population. In contrast, the average age of newspaper readers has been rising, and reached 43.3 years in 2005.
Concentration of media ownership in Spain is now an established trend, although, in comparison with other developed countries, the most important groups are not especially large. In 2006, the top 10 Spanish holdings controlled the 10 largest newspapers, three of the four national radio networks, three of the four national private TV channels, the two DTT channels, and the only satellite television station. Proof of their strength is reflected in the fact that three television companies and the Prisa Group were listed on the stock exchange between 2000 and 2004. Nevertheless only Prisa has a significant holding in the capital of foreign media, especially in Latin America. By contrast, foreign shareholders own significant interests in important newspapers or televisions channels in Spain, e.g., the Italian holdings RCS and Mediaset in the case of El Mundo and Tele 5 respectively. A number of other multinational groups control the majority of important magazines.
The Spanish media system basically matches the description that Hallin and Mancini (2004) give of the so-called polarized pluralist model, with characteristics such as low press circulation, high degree of politicization, external pluralism, frequent state intervention, and a strong dislike of journalists toward self-regulation for historical reasons.
- Barrera, C. (1995). Sin mordaza: Veinte años de prensa en democracia [Ungagged: Media and democracy in the last twenty years]. Madrid: Temas de Hoy.
- Díaz-Nosty, B. (ed.) (2006). Medios de comunicación: Tendencias ’06. El año de la television [Media Trends ’06. The television year]. Madrid: Fundación Telefónica.
- Fernández, I., & Santana, F. (2000). Estado y medios de comunicación en la España democrática [State and media in democratic Spain]. Madrid: Alianza.
- Hallin, D. C., & Mancini, P. (2004). Comparing media systems. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Libro Blanco de la Prensa Diaria [Annual report on the daily press] (2006). Madrid: AEDE.
- Maxwell, R. (1995). The spectacle of democracy: Spanish television, nationalism and political transition. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.