Because of the operation of censorship during the Franco regime, the profession of journalism was seen by the authorities as a virtual arm of the state apparatus. Significantly, one of the earliest Schools of Journalism in Spain was at the University of Navarre, a private foundation controlled by the right-wing Catholic organization Opus Dei. Though some courageous journalists risked fines and imprisonment for publishing news which the regime wished to suppress, in practice the pressure to conform was very powerful, particularly in view of the so-called consignas, official instructions which obliged editors to publish items emanating from the Ministry of Information and Tourism.
   Nevertheless, the closing years of the regime saw the beginnings of a more independent, liberal kind of journalism, represented notably by Cambio 16, founded in 1972, and committed from its inception to democratic principles, a stance which earned it frequent penalties, including suppression and alteration of articles on, for example, the elections for the vertical syndicates, or the capital charges against members of ETA in 1975. With the launching of El País in 1976, the standard of journalism in Spain rapidly began to be assimilated to the best practice followed in other democratic countries: serious, critical and informed, with due attention paid to international affairs, the economy and cultural matters. El País in particular provided a forum for intensive discussion of the kind of democratic society which it hoped would emerge from the dismantling of the apparatus of the dictatorship. With the appearance of El Mundo in 1989, a new style of investigative journalism was inaugurated, more combative and tenacious in uncovering evidence of corruption in government circles. El Mundo kept up unremitting pressure on the socialist PSOE administration over alleged influence-ped-dling, financial corruption, and, most notoriously, its involvement in the GAL affair. From the mid-1990s, however, rumours of contacts between the editor and the disgraced banker Mario Conde raised questions about the paper's independence of vested interests. El Mundo, indeed, illustrates one of the special features of journalism in Spain in the last quarter of the twentieth century, which in turn is a function of the rapidity of political change since 1975. Inevitably, the system of checks and balances which in other countries has evolved over a longer period of time is less robust in Spain, particularly with regard to institutional constraints on the power of the executive, and protection for the independence of the judiciary. In default of effective checks and balances, the function of control has been assumed by journalists, who consequently wield considerable political influence, particularly since the profession is dominated by university graduates, who see themselves as an intellectual élite writing for the other élites who make up the political class. The absence of effective libel legislation, or laws protecting privacy, often means that investigative journalism takes the form of personalized attacks on individuals. Moreover, there is no developed concept of "contempt of court" to prevent what has been described as instrucción paralela ("parallel depositions"), that is, the open and detailed discussion of legal cases in the media, particularly the press, while court proceedings are in train. There is no doubt that press freedom has made a crucial contribution to the evolution of a democratic culture in Spain. Further development will depend both on the willingness of journalists to exercise a measure of self-discipline and also on the readiness of the government to relax its control of the sources of information. It remains the case, even under democracy, that the largest news agency in the Spanish-speaking world, Agencia EFE, is owned by the Spanish government, and its editorial line reflects the priorities of the party in power.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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