Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tough Times For The TDT Party

Continuing with the media theme that I posted on yesterday, it's worth taking a look at how things are going for those on the right to the very far right of the political spectrum. With the Partido Popular expected to return to power either later this year or in the first quarter of 2012, a change of government can't come soon enough for the now numerous ultras in Spain's media scene. 

The principal problem is that the generosity of PP controlled regional governments in handing out digital (TDT) TV licences to their political allies has led to a situation of severe overcrowding. In areas like Madrid you could get until recently Libertad Digital, Veo7, Intereconomía and even Popular TV for the over religious. This of course in the area where we already have Telemadrid, under the ever tighter political control of Esperanza Aguirre.

Even for the most rabid sections of Spain's less than moderate right-wing, there has to be some limit on the number of shouting match political tertulias with more or less the same band of participants screeching their hatred of Zapatero night after night; year after year. Something had to give as none of these stations attracts huge audiences and there has been a dramatic decline in income from advertising. Strangely the first to go was Veo7, owned by Unidad Editorial which also owns El Mundo and Marca.

You would think that such a powerful media group would be able to sustain a presence amongst the new digital channels, but these are hard times and the group is not doing well. El Mundo's attempt to inflate the number of users for it's Orbyt online news platform by handing subscriptions out on Twitter doesn't disguise the fact that it is not covering the sharp decline in revenue from newspaper sales that is affecting almost everyone. 

The cracks have shown elsewhere too, with Intereconomía reduced a few weeks ago to asking its viewers to support them with donations, truly a test of faith. The video explaining the move has its funny side as they go to enormous lengths to try to claim that the move has nothing to do with the precarious nature of their business. They don't offer anything at all in return for the money, not even shares. The economic liberalism these channels profess is quickly tested when it comes to being given money by viewers or given free licences by political allies. Just as it will be if they get to remind an incoming PP government about where all that lucrative "Gobierno de España" advertising money can go. 

Since we're on the subject of Intereconomía I think La Gaceta deserves a special mention for emphasising at the weekend that the extreme right wing terrorist who killed so many in Norway was allegedly a freemason. So that that was why he did it. Watch out with Prince Philip. I've never really explored the roots of the Francoist obsession with the masons, but the fact that Intereconomía finds it to be the most relevant factor tells its own story about their ideological roots. The right in Spain is generally very uncomfortable with what happened in Norway, some even attempting to suggest that the ideology of hate that inspired the attack shouldn't be linked to the actions of its followers. Now why would they say that?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Who Needs Murdoch Anyway?

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.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Tres Tristes Trajes....The Downfall Of Francisco Camps

The pressure finally told. Ever since it was formally announced a few days ago that Francisco Camps would definitely face a trial for having accepted gifts of expensive clothing from the companies involved in the Gürtel corruption case, the Valencian president had almost completely disappeared from view; all official engagements were cancelled. Then, following what seems to have been some very intense behind the scenes negotiations with the national Partido Popular, he suddenly announced his resignation yesterday afternoon. 

On his way out of the Valencian presidency Camps has created an even bigger judicial mess than that which existed before his resignation. The plan for yesterday, as pacted with the national PP, was that all four of the accused in the case were to submit a document admitting their guilt with the aim of avoiding completely an embarrassing trial. Camps and the others would pay their fines and that would be the end of this part of the story, even though it would have left Valencia with a president convicted for corruption. All the signs were that the national party would not force Camps out even if he was found guilty.

It was probably the doubt about whether he could really accept the rap and still remain as president that forced Camps to change his mind after a day of uncertainty. All a bit sad for two of the other accused who had already turned up to the courts to sign their admission of guilt. The only way of avoiding a trial altogether was for all four of the accused to do this, but with Camps still refusing to take that step there will now have to be a trial. Those who have now formally accepted their guilt will find it hard, if not legally impossible, to retract. The two, Camps and Ricardo Costa, that still formally refuse to accept the accusation against them are now tainted by those that have.

The man who had really taken the full measure of Camps was Costa, previously well known for having resigned but not really from his position in the Valencian PP. Costa refused to sign the admission of guilt until after Camps had done so, demonstrating in  the process just what levels of confidence the people who really know Camps have when it comes to trusting his word. Costa had in any case been the most unwilling to sign up to the supposed deal, apparently seeking assurances from the PP that his sacrifice would be compensated and he would not be left out in the cold if he did so. 

Finally Camps has had to face harsh realities that he thought for so long he could just wish away. The truth is he almost got away with it, only the Supreme Court ordering the Valencian courts to carry out a proper investigation after the initial acquittal has forced the situation that we now have. We know that Camps has not told the truth, but he still can't do anything that publicly acknowledges this fact. Last week it was reported that he had changed his defence strategy from claiming that he had paid himself for the clothes to admitting accepting the gifts but with the excuse that he was wearing the hat of leader of the Valencian PP at the time, rather than that of regional president. Leaving aside the bizarre distinction between his different roles when presents are being handed out, he can't simultaneously try to sustain both versions. 

The national PP has done little so far to force Camps to act. The problem has been there for two years but that is a short time for someone like Mariano Rajoy. The PP's leader could simply have refused to accept Camps as a candidate in the May elections, but instead the two men stood side by side in a grotesque end of campaign rally in Valencia. In the end it has been the prospect of a trial coming either before or even in the midst of an autumn national election campaign that has forced the national PP to put pressure on Camps. It's worth remembering that this is the small part of Gürtel in Valencia, the real meat comes in that part of the case dealing with serious accusations of illegal financing of the PP in the region. Then there are the other corruption cases affecting the Valencian PP. Mr Camps and his fine clothes are in some ways just a headline grabbing sideshow.

Rajoy supporters claim yesterdays events as vindicating his do nothing style of dealing with problems, letting people be dragged down by the force of circumstances rather than acting directly against them. Many are starting to wonder whether Rajoy's way of dealing with the internal problems in the PP is also going to be his way of dealing with important questions of government. The signs are that it will be, try asking any Rajoy supporter for a list of the man's achievements in the eight years he spent in senior positions in Aznar's administration. The man who leaves no footprints has just dozed his way through another crisis. 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The 19J In Madrid

I'm getting further and further behind with my posts on this blog, a mixture of other commitments, summer laziness, disastrous time management and an occasional inability to write all come together to create this situation. So here is a much delayed post on the 19th June demonstration in Madrid, the last major mobilisation from the 15-M movement.

The march was divided into several geographical "columns" which converged as they got closer to the finishing point, the Neptuno fountain just down the road from the Spanish parliament. I joined the group leaving from the Plaza del Dos de Mayo, which made its way through the streets of Malasaña until it met with another group coming from Chueca close to the Metro station of Tribunal.

This was a meeting of the barrios, the district level groups that have now taken up much of the campaign work since the protest camp in the Puerta del Sol was dismantled. The enlarged group then made it's way up to the Glorieta de Bilbao to meet the sizeable contingent coming down from the barrio of Chamberí.

The preceding week had seen a torrent of propaganda from the right-wing press about how violent the 15-M movement was following some not really very violent at all incidents outside the Catalan parliament. It's worth pointing out that there wasn't even a single police officer in sight until the march united with the Chamberí contingent. Then they put a car and officer in front to control traffic as the larger and noisier demonstration made its way down to the Plaza de Colon. On the way we had to pass the national headquarters of the Partido Popular where a single van of the national police was stationed to deal with the supposedly wild anti-system hordes.

The success of the idea of dividing the protest into columns became apparent in Colon. The part of the march I was on stopped and many took the chance for a welcome chance to sit down on a very hot Saturday afternoon. I wandered across the square to the bottom of the Castellana to see the Northern Madrid column of the 19J just about to arrive. The atmosphere as this column united with the Malasaña-Chueca-Chamberí section was tremendous, and what was by now a march of many thousands set off down Recoletos and the Paseo del Prado.

Arriving in Neptuno there were already people present, although the columns from the south of the city had yet to arrive. Unlike the set-piece protests beloved of the PP and their front organisations, this was a march that started in one place and ended in another; one of the columns from the south covered around 13 kilometres. Many of those in Neptuno took refuge from the sun underneath the huge trees that the combined forces of Aguirre and Gallardón have not yet succeeded in chopping down.

Where there was a serious police presence was in front of the Congreso, Spain's parliament. The access was blocked but in any case a huge banner reading "Respeto" had been strung across this point and a sort of no-mans land had been defined between demonstrators and police. The hopes of Intereconomía and other ultra media groups were dashed as the atmosphere in the demonstration continued to be festive. There was even an orchestra playing. The columns from the south arrived to a fine welcome from those who were already there, and it was clear from the numbers attending that the movement had not lost any of its momentum from that march on the 15th May that finally nailed the idea that Spaniards were not interested in protesting about their situation. Other cities around Spain also saw large protests.

The 15-M movement isn't stopping for the summer, there is still a lot of activity going on in Madrid's barrios and marches of "indignados" have set off from different points around the country, converging on Madrid on the 23rd July. The campaign against evictions for mortgage arrears has forced the issue of home repossessions onto the national political agenda, and the Madrid police are no longer finding it so easy to stop people in some Metro stations based on the colour of their skin. Meanwhile a difficult debate is taking place in Madrid over the way to coordinate the initiatives taking shape in the barrios without compromising the democratic principles of the movement as the focal point of Sol has moved more into the background. The movement mutates and adapts in unpredictable ways, a reflection of that horizontal structure.