Sunday, April 13, 2008

Press Wars On The Right

One of the most persistent myths of the political right in Spain is that the media is under the control of the left. Until the emergence of Público a few months ago, the choice of national newspapers available to buyers at any street kiosk in Madrid consisted of one centre left paper (El País) and three right wing papers (ABC, La Razon and El Mundo). The competition between these last three got much stiffer in the last four years, and partially reflected political struggles between different sectors of the right as well as commercial interest.

ABC, which had always been regarded as the most conservative of Spanish papers, shifted its position to become closer to that wing of the Partido Popular (PP) around Madrid’s mayor Alberto Ruiz Gallardón. The new alignment of the paper was treated with derision by members of the El Mundo-COPE-Libertad Digital axis, and ABC was alone amongst the right wing press in rejecting the absurd conspiracy theories of this axis concerning the Madrid bombings. This latter stance actually made it probably the best national paper when it came to reporting the trial of the bombings. However, such a sensible position in times of political tension and with a bloodthirsty right eager for revenge ended up costing the paper readers, largely to the benefit of El Mundo. So shortly before the general election in March ABC poached back some of those who had originally left the paper to start La Razon and moved itself more to the right again. The experience of ABC suggests that there is simply no market in Spain for a newspaper that promotes moderate centre-right values!

The circulation war between these papers is going to be intense, and the infighting inside the PP is helping to mark positions for the battle to come. ABC for the moment is more or less loyal to PP leader Mariano Rajoy, as is La Razon despite it having formed part of the conspiracy theorists alliance. La Razon’s position comes from its director being personally close to Rajoy. El Mundo jumped the gun together with its allies when it was widely assumed that Rajoy would step down following his election defeat. Caught unawares by Rajoy’s surprise decision to stay on they had a couple of weeks of indecision before openly coming out in support of Esperanza Aguirre as the alternative candidate. The key factor in their decision is undoubtedly the realisation that Rajoy intends to distance himself from this faction of the PP and the prospect of them losing their influence over party affairs means that Pedro J Ramirez and Federico Jiménez Losantos are pushing hard for a candidate who will better represent their interests.

Both Ramirez and Losantos have created a marriage of convenience between political and commercial interests which they would like to see placing them in the role of political kingmakers. These are not people who are content with just reporting and commenting on the events around them, they want to control and shape those events, the conspiracy theories of the last parliament formed part of this effort. Being in political opposition is not fun at the best of times, but the key thing for these media groups at the moment is that we are in the midst of a digital revolution when all sorts of lucrative business opportunities and franchises are available. Behind a thin rhetorical veneer of “España y libertad” the media friends of the hard right of the PP are desperate to get their piece of the action, and to do that they need to get their people in positions of power.

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