“The great problem of the Spanish press is the truth,” a Peruvian colleague once told Alfonso Armada, a former El País reporter who currently works for the conservative newspaper ABC. Armada can’t help but agree. “The press routinely twists the facts to fit the venue’s ideology,” he says. “The media themselves have helped spread the notion that there are no indisputable facts, just partial views of reality. As a result, what has taken root is the idea that, just like politicians, all media outlets lie.” An increasing number of Spaniards these days are thirsty for political news—but they don’t trust their journalists to deliver honest reporting. Journalism is the second-least-respected profession, right behind being a judge. And according to the latest Reuters Digital News Report, the Spanish media have the lowest credibility in Europe.
In fact, Spaniards distrust their journalists almost as much as their politicians. Mounting electoral discontent, however, has been shifting the country’s political map. New parties like Podemos (“We Can”), Ciudadanos (“Citizens”), and broad progressive citizens’ platforms are challenging the longstanding two-party dominance by the conservative Partido Popular (PP) and the center-left Socialist Party (PSOE). In regional elections this May, the two big parties lost more than 3 million votes. And in the local elections, also held in May, Barcelona and Madrid elected leftist women mayors who couldn’t be further from the political class. The political crisis—as well as the growing public mistrust of the media—mounted in the wake of the Great Recession, and both have spurred significant change in Spain’s public sphere.
On the face of it, Spain’s media landscape is broad and diverse. The country’s 47 million readers have some 85 newspapers to choose from. Leaving aside the sports papers, the largest of the country’s six major national dailies is El País, with a print run of 360,000 and some 1.9 million readers per day, closely followed by the free sheet 20 Minutos (reaching 1.7 million) and El Mundo (1.2 million). The center-left El País, closely associated with the Socialist Party, was long considered the paper of record in Spain but has seen a decline in readers, resources, and reputation. El Mundo, the main voice on the free-market right, as opposed to the traditionalist, Catholic right, has been struggling, too, and even fired its legendary founding editor, Pedro Ramírez, last winter. The television supply is equally broad. A wide swath of commercial networks exists alongside publicly funded channels, both national and regional, with the commercial channels commanding about 80 percent of the market.
But this apparent variety of options is deceptive. The vast majority of the market is in the hands of some ten media conglomerates. The PRISA group, which publishes El País and its global editions in Spanish, English, and Portuguese, owns a stable of magazines, TV and radio networks, production companies, and, until last year, a massive publishing arm reaching across the Americas. The Vocento group holds 14 dailies, including the national ABC. The Planeta group, the world’s largest Spanish-language publisher, has a major stake in television and owns the conservative paper La Razón. While many of the conglomerates started out as family businesses, they are now controlled by transnational corporations or a handful of powerful financial institutions.