Monday, February 02, 2009

Hard Times For The Press

Evidence that the economic crisis is also starting to severely affect the Spanish media is coming in thick and fast. Some publishers here seized quickly on the news of Sarkozy's proposed media assistance plan in France to suggest that the Spanish government could do the same. They ignore the indications that Sarkozy's help comes with strings attached, particularly for the issue of press freedom. Meanwhile the sector hardest hit so far by the fall in advertising revenues, the free press, is making drastic cutbacks or even quitting the Spanish market - the company owning Metro has announced the closure of its edition in Spain., one of the more innovative digital news experiments, is also about to be closed down as its owners abandon the idea of separate teams for paper and digital content.

Spain's biggest selling newspaper, El País, has announced restructuring plans that left it facing the possibility of further industrial action, after an initial one day stoppage last month. One of the most senior figures in the paper's parent company Grupo Prisa, Juan Luis Cebrián, more or less announced the end of the traditional printed newspaper model a couple of weeks ago. From now on they want a new model of company that produces content for paper, the internet and mobile devices. Although reports of the imminent demise of the printed newspaper have been exaggerated, the crisis combined with the shift of advertising to the internet is hitting profits badly for all of the traditional printed media. Prisa's problems have been exacerbated by their inability so far to find a suitable buyer for their digital television platform.

Meanwhile the newest paper on the media scene in Spain, Público, has replaced founding editor Ignacio Escolar with another El País veteran - Felix Monteira. The announcement caused some alarm amongst readers of the paper, there are fears that the change means a move towards more accommodating editorial positions. Some even suggested a conspiracy to remove Escolar because of the paper's uncompromising stance on the Israeli invasion of Gaza. Escolar himself, as one of the principal Spanish political bloggers, used his blog as a platform for answering questions from readers about events at the paper. He turned down an offer to continue as head of the paper's internet division, but will continue to write for Público. Having been a key figure in the founding of what will probably be the last new printed newspaper to emerge in Spain, it will be interesting to see what his next project will be - he's still only 33.

The new paper has demonstrated that there was a gap in the market, but despite establishing a faithful base of readers it is still not making money and the effects of the crisis mean that increasing sales is a priority. The owners of Público, Mediapro, are also key participants in the "guerra del futbol", which has seen them go head to head with Prisa over the rights to show live football. What they are looking for is for the government to authorise pay channels on the digital TDT devices - and they already have a dedicated football channel created in anticipation of this. The closeness of Mediapro's owners to Zapatero's administration has already led to a distinct cooling of the PSOE-Prisa relationship. Such tough competition at a time of crisis can only up the pressure to change the way in which the media has been run.


Colin said...

Graeme, Am I right to assume Público is left of centre?

habblene - An instruction to stop talking.

Graeme said...

Yes Colin, it is. More so than El Pais, although you could argue that they don't have an editorial position as they don't print editorials.