Europe, Globe, Human Rights, Politiks

Spanish television is employed as a political weapon

Professor Manuel Palacio links the small screen with the processes of political transformation and describes it as a loudspeaker for the dominant political beliefs of the age.


Manuel Palacio
Manuel Palacio

Olga Briasco


This is confirmed in his book “Television during the Spanish Transition”. In it, he shows how Televisión Española or TVE for short (Spanish Television) has been employed from the beginning as an instrument to broadcast the ideology of those in power. A professor at the Universidad Carlos III in Madrid,  pointed out that “initially, the medium of television barely provoked political interest” and highlights that, for Franco it constituted “a penetration of liberal ideas”.

It is important to note that regular broadcasts on Televisión Española began on 28th October 1956, and as such, the first twenty years of its existence were under the censorship of Francisco Franco’s regime.

La TV española 2The service began late in comparison with other countries in Europe and Latin America. “The first regular services in the Spanish language were broadcast in Cuba and in Argentina” he says.

The author notes that as it was created in the context of an impoverished Spain, the act of getting the television service going fell to funding from advertisements. “It is a hybrid, financed mostly by advertising but owned by the state” he emphasises an element which would make history for the Spanish state broadcasting company.

A prosperous Spain

La TV española 14During this period, broadcasting centred on entertainment and “was not programming exalting national Catholicism as would have been the case in the 40’s or 50’s”.

The ideas behind it all changed in the 1960’s and it was seen in the second half of the 20th century as a way of “projecting an image of a growing Spain”.

It coincided with European and Spanish economic prosperity and the appointment of Manuel Fraga Iribarne as the Minister of Information and Tourism. “The thought was to show the development of the country and to conclude that Franco had brought peace to Spain”, a belief which in his opinion “continues to be enforced in some sectors of the population”.

In order to show this prosperity a propagandist campaign was launched to commemorate the “25 years of peace” from which comes the motto “Spain is different”. It was through these broadcasts that “safety and order in the face of whatever might happen abroad” was thrown into relief.

Values of freedom

La TV española 6With the death of General Franco (November 1975) Spain experienced a movement from dictatorship to democracy, a process in which “Televisión Española played a fundamental role in instilling the democratic values into society”.

“In order to produce a consolidation from democracy, Spaniards needed to begin to become accustomed to new values. It is here that television programs intervened” he indicates.

In this way, through “One Two Three”, “Stories to Stay Awake” and “The Key”, which portrays “the dominant political values of freedom” in a prophetic way it explains that “the values of democracy and freedom are very important even though order and stability are lost” he affirms.

La TV española 4Palacio remembers that during this period nude people were first shown on television, how women began to gain importance as professionals in the medium of television, and how Antonio Mercero (“Cronicles of a Town”, “Blue Summer” and “Pharmacy on Duty”) knew how to make contact with and connect with people with different sensibilities.

The professor highlights “The Key” (“La Clave”) (1976), which was a debate program shown live, which displayed the freedom of the New Spain of the Transition. “It was a point of equilibrium, of sensibilities, of left and right” he explains.

“There had never before been a live debate program, be that due to technical reasons or political motives as is the case in Italy”, the academic points out.

La TV española 16Fiction also opened a path towards democracy. For example, “Curro Jiménez”, was a series with Sancho Gracia in the starring role which reflects “the fight between the classes, the strikes and the patriotism in the face of the Napoleonic invaders”, he says with regard to the storyline written by scriptwriters who were exiled Uruguayans.

As it stood out in his intervention in the Cervantes Institute in London, the “politicising of the public” can also be seen in the lateness of creating a statute for radio and television. “It took them less time to pass a constitution than to develop the judicial framework for the RTVE (Spanish Television and Radio)”, he says.

In his opinion, the news program “Weekly News” (“Informe Semanal”) reflects TVE’s editorial stance at each moment. An editorial stance which, as he expressed to The Prisma, “corresponds to the political conception of the government at the time” and which only under the socialist government of José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero (2004) “is a parenthesis produced”.

The channel was created under Franco, what was his relationship with communication media?

La TV española 13Not very good, well not until 1962 when Franco made his first Christmas speech. Also, towards the end of Franco’s regime the speeches became difficult to put together as the producers could not hide that he was ill. This was why his last speeches were only a few minutes long.

The phrase “Spaniards… Franco has died”, said by Arias Navarro has stayed in the collective memory of all Spaniards.

That’s true. The famous anecdote  represents an essential part of the Franco regime and it has been redone on all the comedy shows. It is very present. No-one predicted that it would happen. On the recording Arias Navarro’s attempt to cry threw up the possibility of re-recording it, but the final consensus was that it was fine. It has only been in hindsight that it is thought that it would have been better to have re-recorded the message.

After Franco’s death, there are employees at TVE who are for his regime and others who are opposed to it. What is it like working together?

It is good. The employees of different sensibilities started getting used to different programs and employees who clearly supported Franco’s regime worked alongside others who were more in favour of democratic parties.

La TV española 17Do you think it was difficult for many of those working at TVE not to show their happiness at Franco’s death?

Some employees have mentioned that the informative coverage of his death was of such a magnitude that they focussed on it in a professional manner. We should remember that in the 70’s technology was so precarious that fans of cycle racing had to wait until night time to see film of the “Vuelta a España”.

What was it like working for TVE during the coup that took place on 23rd February 1981?

Its historical importance is yet to be fully understood. Despite the fact that members of staff had film of Congress being taken over, these images were not shown until the following morning, once the members of parliament had left the building. Therefore, they were not used by TVE while Congress was taken by the civil guard in order to say, “Look at these people who are attacking democracy”. Thus by means of omission, TVE preferred not to stir the pot.

La TV española 15Why weren’t the images shown?

TVE was taken over by members of the armed forces. During these hours they ordered military music to be played in the radio and scheduled programming to continue but without any news to be shown. As the organisation was so large, the members of the armed forces were unable to obtain a record of the film. Why weren’t they shown as soon as the members of the armed forces had gone? That, only the media professionals will know.

How can a plural and objective TVE be created?

It may not be possible as it responds to cultural traditions. That’s the way it is. The simplest thing would be to create some type of statute to ensure that the professionals give the level of information that they consider appropriate and necessary. However, governments do not like that sort of independence.


(Translated by Frances Singer)

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