Research into the Role of the State in the Press in the Mediterranean Area of Europe

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A research group from the Carlos III University (Madrid) has recently published a study concerning the evolution and development of the press in four countries from the European Mediterranean area (France, Italy, Portugal and Spain), in which the intervention of the State as a regulator in activities related to the media is analysed.

The main conclusion which they have reached is that in the four countries studied, long-term State intervention may be observed, from distribution to direct help. “Each country has posed the question of State intervention according to its historical trajectory and the political line adopted at any given moment – the researchers remark -, so there is no single model, despite any concomitance that there may be between them”, they state. This study has been published in the International Journal of Communication, one of the best North American reviews in the field of communications research, by Guadalupe Aguado, José Mª Sanmartí and Raúl Magallón, lecturers in the Department of Journalism and Audiovisual Communication at the Carlos III University in Madrid.

The article analyzes the positive and negative aspects that State intervention in the media may have. “Normally we have the impression that the State acts as a censor which intervenes ideologically in the media, but it may also be a regulator and intervene in the press with administrative measures in different aspects relating to the press, ranging from distribution and sales to help for technological renewal or suchlike”, explains José Mª Sanmartí. In this way, regulation may have positive repercussions, for example, when it comes to determining sales points. In a small village, which the press does not reach, the State may intervene, either by giving orders for the press to be delivered there or by subsidising delivery. “It could be said that the subject of financial help, of administrative intervention in general, may be positive, but should be looked at case by case and point by point”, Sanmartí concludes.

State intervention in the media responds to a principle which was established by the French Revolution, according to which freedom of expression is public property which should be protected and regulated by means of laws. Countries in general follow an almost secular tradition of intervening to a greater or lesser extent, although according to these researchers, some countries have changed their model completely. France and Italy, for example, experienced a total interruption of the liberal model owing to the Second World War, from which they emerged with severe interventionist measures which have been gradually relaxed. Spain and Portugal, on the other hand, suffered a similar pattern but this continued for 40 years and eventually led to sundry liberalising transitions to democracy, especially in the case of Spain. “The Portuguese State has been more protective than the Spanish one as regards the system of assistance, which has not helped to bring about more streamlined and settled media enterprises as far as diffusion is concerned”, they indicate.

The Case of Spain and the Crisis

Since 1984 the Spanish press has been run by a highly deregulated system which refers to ordinary legislation (the Mercantile Code, the Penal Code etc.). Financial and logistical help is only given in certain Autonomous Communities for cultural reasons. The most recent attempts to legislate in this area (the Professional Journalist Statute, for example) have not prospered. The rest of State policies (subsidies for technological renewal, for example), could be channelled through entrepreneurial paths”, in the opinion of the authors.

The current crisis, according to the authors, means these models have to be reconsidered. In this country, the Newspaper Editors’ Association (Asociación de Editores de Diarios Españoles) is asking for direct State help through different channels. On the other hand, this affects the journalistic model itself, which was already being questioned in 2008, such as is the phenomenon of the digital press. The reader of a printed newspaper and that of a digital newspaper are not the same, even if it is the same person. For the moment, neither the pattern of reading, nor the time spent on it, are the same, “a fact which has repercussions on an ever-more generalised tendency, one which is leading towards low-intensity information on the part of the citizenry”, Professor Sanmartí indicates. “The situation is still somewhat confused, it is being spoken about, but nothing has yet been decided and it is difficult to specify what the real consequences of the crisis in the press will be” they conclude.