The arrival of democracy in Spain in 1977 marked the beginning of a new era in our country. Almost forty years of dictatorship were left behind along with the days in which expressing a contrary view to that of the established order was considered to be a dangerous objective -to say the least- due to the consequences it might have brought. There was only one accepted opinion whereas discrepancies were either kept silent, forced to struggle underground -with the hope of sowing a seed that might result in a change in the system one day in the not too distant future- or forced into exile.
The date of 20th November 1975 marked the initial event of a changing process that led to the general free elections almost two years later on 15th June 1977. After the elections, the main tasks of the Spanish political class consisted in providing a supreme legislative framework -embodied in the Constitution passed in the last month of 1978- for the new system of liberties introduced in Spain.
Once the situation was fully protected within a regulatory system recognising the basic fundamental rights of the individual -a utopian aspect not so long ago-, it allowed for democratic life in the country to develop through the normal channels which characterised this type of organisation, in the image of neighbouring states that were more developed in this regard. In view of this, the second general elections of the Transition, held on 1st March 1979, were intended to provide a sense of normalcy to a situation that had not been such in recent times due to the enormous transformations addressed on all levels.
Freedom was already a reality and the first two polls confronted a large number of political parties. Some of them were newly founded whereas others had very extensive experience. All were personified in leaders with diverse lives and backgrounds. The press emerged as the perfect loudspeaker for performing an educational role at the polls, for displaying the parties’ political programmes as well as the personal traits of the candidates, which played a fundamental role in society’s voting choice.
It is precisely these last elements which are analysed in the present doctoral thesis using the press issues dedicated to the election campaigns in two daily newspapers; ABC and El País and in two weekly magazines; Cambio 16 and Triunfo. The four of them provide a good example of written journalism during those years. Furthermore, the investigation is supplemented with interviews with relevant people of the time, from a journalistic and a political viewpoint. The journalistic scope is provided by Manuel Campo Vidal, José Javier Aleixandre, Pilar Urbano and Manuel Vicent; the political scope is provided by Joaquín Leguina, Cristina Almeida, Alfonso Osorio and Rodolfo Martín Villa.
Contents of the research
Covering such a unique period in Spain, in which many of its orders became modified, obliges us to offer a sufficiently wide-ranging theoretical framework that will allow to acquire a deep understanding in several of its main areas, an understanding that is necessary for this type of research. We refer to general history, to the history of journalism and the history of legislation in printed media. We supplement the latter with a specification on the interview genre and the relevance of political communication in periods such as the one under analysis as well as political campaigns. All this will provide a context for a later analysis in which the specific themes of both elections, addressed separately, will serve as an introduction into the study of all the journalistic products worthy of mention due to their outstanding human contribution.
The twofold historical perspective allows to make a detailed description of the situation in which a majority of orders were being substantially modified. From the death of the Generalissimo Francisco Franco until the date of the second call to the ballot boxes for general elections, several events changed the course of the country. Just a few examples are; the coronation of King Juan Carlos (22nd November 1975); the change of the Government Presidency from Carlos Arias Navarro to Adolfo Suárez (3rd July 1976); the approval, not without effort, of the Law of Political Reform (18th November 1977); the beginning of negotiations with the opposition (11th January 1977) leading to the legalisation of the Communist Party in Spain (9th April 1977); the first free general elections in forty years (15th June 1977); the election of a meeting to draft a constitution (1st August 1977) and; the approval of the Magna Carta in Parliament (31st October 1978) and its approval by the Spanish people in a referendum (6th December 1978). During those three years practically no essential aspect remained unchanged regarding the Dictatorship -and the media was no exception to it.
As will be appreciated during the research, the link between the historic events, which have a direct influence on the recognition of rights, and the legislation of the period is the key aspect in the implementation of one journalistic model or another. From the Restoration until that moment, Spain had lived through a certain a number of experiences in supposedly democratic systems such as those mentioned in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, two republics, two dictatorships and a civil armed conflict, right up to the democracy we know today. In this context, the freedom of the press along with the freedom of speech had experienced peaks and lows, which allowed the media to perform their task with more or less difficulties. A number of periodicals were to adapt and modify their product according to the new situation: the ABC newspaper, with its conservative and monarchist tendency, founded on 1st January 1903, which introduced at the time a renovation to the more archaic broadsheet headlines; El País -which must necessarily be considered the newspaper par excellence during the Spanish Transition-, born in the new democratic era from a study which led to a modern media exemplifying the new times, Cambio 16; the most important magazine during the end of the Dictatorship and the beginning of democracy, offering a language and informative style that changed anything known to date and which included the undeniable relevance of Juan Tomás de Salas and; Triunfo, originally a film magazine that eventually evolved into a progressive weekly paper with extensive and popular articles and a strong link to national politics and international information thanks to the work of people such as José Ángel Ezcurra, Enrique Haro Tecglen or Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, as may be appreciated in his own stories.
The different Constitutions are a good example to assess the situation but the specific press laws, within the journalistic field analysed in the present doctoral thesis, are more relevant to this issue. A large variety of laws have been passed since the distant times of the Restoration -an example of which are the Constitutions of 1879 or 1883- but the most relevant pursuant to this study is the law known as Ley Fraga (Fraga Act) of 1966. The Fraga Act superseded the legislation of 1938 developed by Ramón Serrano Súñer in the heat of the Civil War which set stringent control mechanisms such as prior- and a posteriori censorship, the election of the newspaper director and many more.
The 1966 Act introduced a step forward that eliminated the previous censorship and guaranteed the freedom of speech -provided that the Principles of the National Movement remained untouched. The former legislation -which during the early years allowed to penalise many publications due to their non-compliance- was finally abolished by Royal Decree 24/1977, which eventually guaranteed the freedom of speech together with the Constitution of 1978.
The media were thus able to make an unhindered informative approach on the events taking place on a national and international level, to interview all the key players they deemed necessary and to publish the contents they chose, whatever the views held by the successive governments in office. Within this context -set during the first two election campaigns- interviews came to be regarded as an indispensable genre and were therefore published as such or in any other appropriate format for the purpose of obtaining insight into the personalities and private aspects of the candidates, which became a necessary task for setting distinctions between them during these early years. Personal talks or similar contents presented in more general formats allowed citizens to access one of the three basic elements of a candidate’s image, a necessary element towards gaining votes: his personality. The other two are their convictions and communication.
In both calls for elections, the written media positioned themselves as truly relevant elements for the public. In 1977, they generated debates between the different political options thanks to the Electoral Talk Shows (Tertulias electorales) of the ABC newspaper, they took charge of introducing the different contending political options and functioned as a medium in shaping society for the new democracy. Two years later, they were one of the main actors in informing about the creation of political groupings, consolidating the democratic model and starting the fully-fledged political game in view of reaching an agreement and a common ideal which were to be set down in the Moncloa Accords (Pactos de la Moncloa).
From a thematic point of view, there were logically certain differences between both elections. The first elections focussed on assessing the consolidation of democracy, the advisability or not of calling for a Constituent Assembly, the end of the difficult economic situation -being the main issues the deficit, unemployment and nationalisations-, the manifestation of logical viewpoints to achieve the best possible result or the development of the first campaign with the distribution of television advertisements and the participation of the Government President as the main concerns.
In 1979 there was already an exponential growth in the number of subject matters. It was the time for a solidly based legislature with a four-year horizon in which concerns were focussed on the Basque and Catalan territorial issues -besides the economic aspects that still concerned society as well as the normal messages typical of electoral periods. Focus was also centred on ever increasing terrorism, on perfecting and differentiating the new campaign from the previous one, on the integration into the European Economic Community (EEC) and into NATO as well as on several distinct issues such as divorce, abortion and social services.
As for the journalistic aspects, with a focus set on interviews and personality, the tendency of the media generally remained as a permanent element during both calls for elections. The greater presence of interviews published in the written press -dealing with the state of affairs regarding the elections- came by the hand of the ABC newspaper thanks to the Electoral Talk Shows (Tertulias electorales) which contained a great number of such topics, although these were also very often presented in diverse contents provided by this publication. Meanwhile, El País was not as prone to interviews, except for the special issues of 1977; the Electoral Guide (Guía electoral), the Special Edition on Elections (Especial elecciones) or the Sunday edition, which presented a very important report on the Suárez family at the Palace of La Moncloa after their recent transfer there. In practically all of them, with the exception of the latter, contents regarding personal aspects were anecdotal and were most often included in the headers or in the opening paragraphs as well as the occasional answer given to questions specifically concerning those issues. The provided information seldom exceeded a brief reference to their biography or comments regarding aspects such as divorce or abortion, to name a couple of topics.
The main difference between the two elections was the presence of advertisement sections UCD informa (UCD Informer). They contain the most relevant personality interviews included in the research. Written by Javier Aleixandre, they were introduced into both headers, with obvious typographic differences allowing them to adapt to each different case. Their main contents were biographies, marital status, hobbies and professional curricula. In essence, we are dealing with true interviews on personality, presented in a popular format, as well as the most relevant contents of the research. A selection was made of a total of thirteen conversations with several centrist members, though not with President Suárez.
In the case of weekly issues, the creation of different products which were more reflexive in nature and less attached to current affairs led to the proportion of personal contents to increase in comparison to that of newspapers. In Cambio 16 these issues were presented mainly in personal articles dealing with one or several protagonists (for example, Rafael Alberti, Pilar Primo de Rivera or Joaquín Garrigues Walker, among others), analyses of shades (Adolfo Suárez and Felipe González), comparative analyses (Santiago Carrillo and Manuel Fraga) or in a modest number of interviews (Alfonso Guerra and Manuel Fraga were two of such cases). In Triunfo talks were more numerous (examples of which were Enrique Fuentes Quintana, José Aumente or Alejando Rojas Marcos, among others) whereas personal articles were much less common (Federica Montseny or Fernando Sagaseta were two of the three characters available for the research). There were however instances of more generic texts which analysed a specific topic such as the distribution of candidates in Andalusia. No major differences in informational tendencies can be perceived between the first and the second campaign regarding the applied genres.
In this respect, the presence of personal contents was more varied. In some cases there were few of such contents or even none at all whereas others were strongly targeted towards personal issues. The stand-firsts, the opening paragraphs or even large portions within the texts were the main parts containing these aspects. However, no rules applying to all cases may be established. Therefore it is better to address them individually.
A task of such magnitude including diverse areas requires that the conclusions drawn from the work must also be addressed independently in concordance with the mentioned disparity in contents detailed in the present research. The history of Spain, the legislative background in terms of journalism and printing and the specification of journalistic contents pursuant to the political communication exemplified in the analysed texts make up the themes from which specific conclusions will be presented.
Following this order, we find ourselves before a period in history that witnessed the advancements in establishing a State that would guarantee the fundamental rights and liberties that allowed for free elections to be held. The first elections carried the difficulties common to all new processes whereas the second call showed a positive evolution and also increased the topics of discussion. They were the starting point for normalisation on all the Spanish administrative levels and gave rise to the political game in its highest form.
In terms of legislation it has proved to have been the start of the longest and most stable period, in which rights and liberties -including those related to the press- obtained recognition and were applied to their full extent. This situation led to a series of very important events: the establishment of an editorial approach on behalf of the media, the development of information in accordance to their own interests and the impossibility of being prosecuted for expressing opinions which opposed those of the leaders of the country. The latter aspect, analysed in a total of three publications, is not a fact to be overlooked during that period.
Concerning the area of journalism, the different paths and forms taken by the four very divergent publications led to the existence of very different products. Interviews were considerably more prominent in ABC than in El País, and magazines produced minor though not numerous differences and focussed on other types of texts: the so-called personal or generic articles, comparatives or shadows. Personal contents in the press were anecdotal and in the majority of cases did not go further than stand-firsts introducing the protagonists or very concrete aspects such as the already mentioned divorce and abortion. Weekly publications offered a far greater number due to the type of texts and the necessity to provide a different product than that of the daily papers.
Special mention must be made of the UCD informa, which have constituted the most important contents in this study; advertising spaces of the centrist group which provided a medium for introducing and bringing a good number of candidates to the open, especially in certain cases.
Concerning political communication, a set of seemingly parallel strategies may be observed, albeit with different nuances. In all cases, the person they were most interested in introducing was the main candidate. Regarding the remaining protagonists, only the special particularity of the protagonist himself, as was the case of Joaquín Garrigues Walker, or his special situation managed to create a similar case. In the case of the communists, this happened in 1977 with Rafael Alberti and La Pasionaria representing a divergence in tactics in which they both shared prominence with the leader. As for the winning party, the UCD informa may be seen as a unique project carried out by the party in order to win the elections or also to silence the leaders’ lust for prominence in a rather heterogeneous group.