Financiación pública de medios privados. Los casos de los grupos catalanes Hermes Comunicacions y Editora de Premsa Periòdica Ara (2016-2018)

Isabel Fernández Alonso, Quique Badia Masoni


Este artículo describe y analiza las transferencias de fondos públicos —fundamentalmente subvenciones y publicidad institucional— a las dos empresas de medios catalanas que editan las principales cabeceras de línea editorial independentista —El Punt Avui y Ara— durante los años álgidos del procés (2016-2018). Se trata del primer estudio que se realiza con este enfoque en España. Ha sido posible al recurrir a la normativa sobre transparencia para recabar datos de las principales administraciones catalanas. Se concluye que los ingresos públicos, al menos un 20% del total, son clave para la supervivencia de las dos compañías.


This article focuses on one of the three main mechanisms of media capture by political power: the transfer of public funds to the accounts of companies owning media outlets. Specifically, it focuses on regulated subsidies and contracts for the display of institutional advertising, which clearly is the channel through which the main transfers are made. However, this is a very complex issue, particularly in a country like Spain with a highly decentralized administration, which means that the Spanish Government and the regional and local governments -provincial councils, city councils and other entities such as insular or regional councils- can arbitrate different means that contribute to swell the coffers of media companies. This paper sets out to discuss the case of Catalonia, as it is the Spanish autonomous region that has traditionally invested the most in institutional advertising and subsidies to the press. This strong investment is largely explained by the relevance that the different Catalan governments have given to the articulation, through very interventionist media policies, of their own communication system -the so-called espai català de comunicació-, seen by them as essential to advance the process of national construction. Specifically, the public funds received during the three-year period of 2016-2018 -the peak of the so-called procés (a nationalist venture aiming at Catalonia’s independence)- by the media companies Hermes Comunicacions and Edició de Premsa Periòdica Ara are analyzed. We aim at assessing the impact that these funds have had on the turnover -and, therefore, on the viability- of the publishers of the two main Catalan pro-independence newspapers during the above-mentioned period. El Punt Avui and Ara, respectively. For this purpose, we have obtained, through transparency, the income accrued by the media outlets of both groups from institutional advertising -and other minor sources-, from the Catalan Government (Generalitat de Catalunya), from the four Catalan provincial councils and from the city councils of the capitals of the four provinces of this community during the three-year period under study. The business figures and income from subsidies were obtained through the Mercantile Register by studying profit and loss statements. The balance sheets and management reports of the two said companies have provided us with elements of interpretation regarding business strategies and, especially, the dependence of both companies on public financing. Qualitative analysis has therefore been used, as well as documentary analysis as a research tool -including also abundant journalistic work-, and secondary data analysis. It is concluded that the two companies under study, Hermes Comunicacions and Edició de Premsa Periòdica Ara, have a proven dependence on public funding, particularly on institutional advertising of the Generalitat, but also on subsidies and other means for the transfer of public funds, such as block subscriptions to the newspapers by the different administrations. Specifically, it is shown that public funding accounts for at least 20% of the turnover of these companies. It should be remembered that only the four largest Catalan municipal administrations have been analyzed, and that there is evidence of regular agreements with other municipalities. Particularly significant is the acknowledgment of this dependence on the public sector by the management reports of the companies here analyzed. Thus, in its 2017 report, Hermes Comunicacions points out that the suspension of institutional campaigns, coinciding with the intervention of the Generalitat by the central government as a result of the unilateral declaration of independence, forced them to an immediate reduction in production and personnel costs. Meanwhile, the management reports of Edició de Premsa Periòdica Ara related to the financial years 2016, 2017 and 2018 coincide in highlighting as one of their main risks the dependence on institutional advertising for their turnover (the more conspicuous one being the year 2017). This dependence is even more relevant if we take into account the accumulated long-term debt of the two companies that exceeded €13 million for the publisher of El Punt Avui at the end of the three-year period under study, with a turnover of about €16 million in 2018, and €10.6 million for the publisher of Ara, showing a turnover of about €13 million the same year 2018. It is clear that the two companies have always had a strong support from the public sector, especially from the Generalitat, as it can be seen in the discretionary subsidies of one and a half million euros that the Catalan government granted for the merging of El Punt and Avui, and one million euros for the launching of Ara a decade ago. It is relevant, however, that Ara refused to disseminate the advertising of 1-O illegal referendum, which, by contrast, was featured in the pages of El Punt Avui. One possible explanation for this different behavior regarding such relevant event is Ara’s greater financial backing from its main shareholders, who have granted participating loans to the publisher covering almost all of its non-current liabilities. Although it should be noted that most of the partners of Edició de Premsa Periòdica Ara are funded by the public coffers in different ways, its current majority shareholder, Ferran Rodés, is also a shareholder of Media Planning, one of the agencies systematically assigned to manage the Generalitat’s institutional campaigns. All in all, we are faced with two examples of media capture by the political power. It is clear that the survival of these journalistic projects -one of them, Catalonia Today, launched by former president of the Catalan Government, Carles Puigdemont, and now run by his wife- is not only due to business logic. It is also obvious that, for example, the income figures for institutional advertising of El Punt Avui and Ara are not proportional to their audience, neither in print nor in digital, with the former being clearly the biggest beneficiary of the two. This, in turn, raises serious doubts about the general criteria for planning public advertising, a very opaque procedure that governments can easily use as an instrument of pressure, especially in times of crisis like the present time. Studies on transfers of public funds to media companies in other Spanish autonomous regions are needed to determine if the financial dependence of media companies on political decisions at any given time is a generalize practice.

© Revista de estudios regionales 2014 Universidades Públicas de Andalucía