The Phasing out of the Franco and State Press in Spain

By Bengoa, Begona Zalbidea | Journalism History, Winter 1997 | Go to article overview

The Phasing out of the Franco and State Press in Spain


Bengoa, Begona Zalbidea, Journalism History


The history of the press in Spain has always been subject to the different regimes and structures of government of the moment. One of these stages commenced on July 18, 1936. On that day a military insurrection provoked the outbreak of a war which would continue until 1939. During these three years of Civil War, Spain divided into two fronts: Republican/left-wing and Fascist/ right-wing. The Second Republic was defeated by force of arms and a dictatorship was installed. At the head of the new state was General Francisco Franco, whose government, at least until 1953, was similar to the authoritarian regimes in Germany and Italy. The Franco Era would last until November 20, 1975, when the dictator died. This launched a period of transition which would culminate in the democratic constitution of 1978.

As Schulte states, the Franco Era represents a vital period for Spanish society and for its press.' The political situation which arose after the Civil War put an end to all the democratic liberties which the Republican government had tried to consolidate. The newspapers were not exempt from the changes. Like all dictatorships, the Spanish one did not hesitate to take control of the mass media. The leaders were conscious of the fundamental role the media would play in spreading their ideology and consolidating their power. Consequently it is of no surprise that they carried out the largest confiscation of newspapers in Spanish history.

The seizures were carried out as fascist troops passed through each town and city. With each new territory conquered by the military and their allies, any newspaper or printing firm run by editors or printers seen by the conquerors as traitors or contrary to fascist ideology was taken over. With this precious booty, consisting mainly of buildings and machines, the authoritarian regime created an important newspaper enterprise, baptising it with the name "Chain Press of the Movement."2 The dictatorship supported more than forty newspapers and kept them in the market until nine years after the death of Franco.3 With such a large number of state-owned newspapers, the imposed Franco ideology penetrated daily into almost every part of Spain.

The newspapers which were dependent on the government co-existed with others which were privately owned. But if the former had no freedom of expression, the latter did not either. They were equally affected by the instructions given by the government in defense of its interests.

This situation, which included strict censorship, continued until the passing of the Press Law in 1966. When this law came into force, censorship and the system of instructions were formally abolished and "voluntary consultation," especially for books, was established.4 The apparent elimination of constraints was not felt very much in the editorial offices of the public newspapers, however. In fact, many of the opinion articles continued to carry the stamp of the hierarchy and special interests, in agreement with the way of thinking and political line of the government. This policy was maintained, even by the subsequent Socialist-controlled government, until May 11, 1983, when the second Socialist Minister of Culture, Javier Solana, promised in the Parliament to order government officials to stop sending editorials and ideological instructions to the newspaper editors.5

In spite of iron control by the Franco government, the enormous newspaper empire set up by the people in power never managed to sweep the market. Although in the decade from 1945-1955, the Movement Press represented 35.7 percent of all newspapers published in Spain, its average daily circulation was little more than 30 percent. In fact, only one of the papers sold more than 50,000 copies per day, while more than half of them sold fewer than 10,000 copies. Fifteen years later, in 1970, although individual circulations had grown, the Movement Press had even smaller market share: circulation of the state papers had dropped to 11. …

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