Bullfighting pulled off state-TV before watershed

22nd August 2007, Comments 0 comments

22 August 2007, MADRID - State-run Spanish TV has quietly dropped live coverage of bullfighting, ending a decades-old tradition of showcasing the national pastime on grounds the deadly duel between matador and beast is too violent for young viewers.

22 August 2007

MADRID -  State-run Spanish TV has quietly dropped live coverage of bullfighting, ending a decades-old tradition of showcasing the national pastime on grounds the deadly duel between matador and beast is too violent for young viewers.

For the first time since Television Espanola began airing on a trial basis in 1948 _ its very first broadcast was in fact a bullfight in Madrid _ this season there have been none shown live on state-run channels, just taped highlights on a late-night program for aficionados.

In practical terms, the unpublicized decision by the Socialist government is largely symbolic. Of the hundreds of bullfights that fill the March-October calendar each season, state-run TV only tended to broadcast about a dozen anyway. Pay TV channels and stations owned by regional governments are full of bullfights.

Still, many in the bullfighting world are livid, as is the conservative opposition, over a move they see as slighting a cherished piece of Spanish culture.

"We think it is awful," said Juan Manuel Albendea, a lawmaker of the center-right Popular Party. He added that when Spain comes back from vacation in September his party will press Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to restore televised bullfights.

Juan Belmonte, critic for TV station Canal Sur in Seville, said matadors and promoters are angry that all this was done without consulting them on the possibility of cheaper broadcast rights _ another issue cited by Television Espanola.

"It has been a totally dictatorial decision," Belmonte said.

Promoters report 65 million people went to bullfights in Spain last year, and pulling them off free television is unfair to older people or those with limited resources who cannot afford to go to the ring or watch on cable, Albendea said.

"Bullfighting is a spectacle that is alive, and spectators have a right to see it," he said in an interview.

Television Espanola released a statement this week saying it had nothing against bullfighting _ it noted it aired the famed running of the bulls in Pamplona, although that's not a bullfight _ but that it cannot always afford to buy broadcast rights.

The network also insisted it had to respect a voluntary, industry-wide code that, without specifically mentioning bullfighting, seeks to limit on-screen violence or "sequences that are particularly crude or brutal" from 5 pm to 8 pm to protect child viewers. Bullfights tend to start at 6 pm.

Albendea said this argument is nonsense, insisting it is parents, not the government, who should decide if their kids can watch a matador risk a horrific goring while stabbing a snorting 500-kilo (half-ton) bull to death.

Indeed, bullfighting is not everyone's cup of tea, even in Spain. Polls show that few Spaniards are hard-core fans that go out to the ring regularly. And bullfighting impresarios are keenly aware that the crowds are short on young people. Fans tend to be middle-aged and up.

Bullfighters may have been national icons decades ago, even for kids, but today's young Spaniards idolize a different kind of star. They want to be David Beckham. They want to be Beyonce Knowles.

Still, even if the allure is fading for some, bullfighting is a fixture of Spanish society. At neighborhood bars and cafes, the rhythmic cheers of "olé!" blaring from TV sets are as common a sound as soccer for Europeans or baseball for Americans.

Animal rights groups denounce bullfighting as cruel, and Barcelona and other cities have declared themselves officially against it, but there is no significant, nationwide movement to have it banned. Most Spaniards may not go to bullfights, but they don't want to lose them either. For them, bullfighting's something that is just there.

And as Belmonte notes, bullfighting on state-run TV was in fact profitable and had decent ratings. A bill with topflight fighters could earn an audience share of up to 24 percent, which is above average for programming here, according to Television Espanola.

Belmonte said it is silly for the government to cite money woes in bidding for bullfights when it forks out vastly larger sums for, say, soccer games.

Nor does it make sense for it to show support by subsidizing bullfighting schools in Andalusia, then turn around and snub the national pastime by wiping it off state TV.

"It is a bit counterproductive," Belmonte said.

[Copyright AP with Expatica]

Subject: Spanish news

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