With the phone hacking scandal in full flow in the UK last week, we got a useful reminder here in Spain that media abuse of power is not just confined to Rupert Murdoch. Whenever El País carries an editorial on its front page these days it almost always means that Juan Luis Cebrián, executive president of the group owning the paper, has decided to launch another attack on Spanish prime minister Zapatero. So it was this time, turning to the inside pages and unsigned editorial apart there was a separate full page article from Cebrián calling on Zapatero to go now and call for early elections.
It never used to be this way. When the then Grupo Prisa wanted to get its way with PSOE led administrations in Spain they just had to pop round to the prime ministerial residence like Rupert does in the UK and tell the man what they wanted. That worked with Felipe Gonzalez, and to some extent with Zapatero. But there has been a breakdown in the relationship as Zapatero's government played footsie with the up and coming Mediapro, locked in a bitter battle with Prisa over lucrative televised football rights. So Cebrián has been making it clear for some time his dislike of Zapatero, and given that Prisa, now owned by the Liberty group, have the much more friendly Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba as PSOE candidate for the next election they are keen for the natural order of things to be restored.
Of course Cebrián didn't put things this way. His article was dressed up in calls for action to deal with the sensation of crisis in the country with the possibility of the markets getting their evil way at any moment. But nobody who keeps even half an eye on the news can seriously try to sustain that holding elections does anything at all to lift those pressures. The simple answer to anyone who tries that argument is Greece, Ireland, and Portugal. Cebrián tried even to make a few nods in the direction of the 15-M movement in his piece, but he as much as anyone else is part of that generation from the post-transition period that had the chance to make a difference and decided not to do it. The self-interested exercise of corporate power that Cebrián and company have specialized in has no common meeting point with 15-M. Both of the possible candidates to be the next prime minister of Spain are also relics of that same generation with nothing fresh to offer the country.
A Rajoy victory in the election will simply swing the position of favoured media group sharply to the right. In this context the decision of El Mundo director Pedro J. Ramirez to bet in 2008 against Rajoy holding on in the Partido Popular is starting to look unwise. Ramirez enjoyed cozy dinners chez Aznar the last time the PP was in government, and will be keen not to lose influence to rivals. El Mundo's position as the biggest selling right wing paper is under threat from a revived and more loyalist ABC, but they can still use their influence to put pressure on a government that will in any case be entirely open to that way of doing business. Meanwhile Aznar, in his position as a Murdoch employee, is amongst those contracting expensive lawyers to deal with the possible legal consequences of the UK scandal.