The TV election debate which may be on all channels - or none at all
Socialists and Popular Party cannot agree on who should air pre-poll face-off6 February 2008
MADRID - As the general election nears, Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and opposition leader Mariano Rajoy's alter egos have been making increasingly frequent appearances on the satirical news programme Las noticias del Guiñol, where puppets send up the nation's rich and powerful.
And that may be just as well, because it could be as close as voters get to seeing the two politicians go head to head in a televised debate before Spain goes to the polls on 9 March.
Though Zapatero's Socialist Party and Rajoy's Popular Party have so far managed to agree on when a debate could be held and what should be discussed, they have so far failed to settle on what television station should broadcast it.
The parties' chief negotiators, José Blanco for the Socialists and Pío García Escudero for the PP, plan to meet again soon, but officials on both sides acknowledge that there is a very real chance that no tête-à-tête will now take place.
The problem is one of political bias and mistrust. The PP says it wants the debates held on either Tele 5 or Antena 3, private channels with the highest overall audience share and the highest audience share for news, respectively.
Those two channels are equally well known, however, for their populist programming, while Tele 5 is part owned by Italian centre-right politician Silvio Berlusconi.
The Socialists, on the other hand, argue that it would be unfair to pick any one channel to host the audience-grabbing debate, and instead has suggested that the broadcast should be public and made available to all channels who want it for free.
That, all but certainly, would mean the debate would be organised and filmed by state broadcaster TVE, making it, in the PP's view, all too easy for the Socialist government to exert unfair influence.
"The Socialists want to do it on TVE," PP spokesman Gabriel Elorriaga claimed. "It's a trick."
Trick or not, most broadcasters other than Tele 5 and Antena 3, are logically in favour of the Socialist plan to make the debate available to all for free.
"If it was offered that way you would see which channels are really interested in serving public opinion and which are trying to ensure a big audience at the cost of other stations and citizens," Cuatro, the channel that hosts the guiñol puppets, said in a statement.
Regardless of who airs it, the debate, if it is held at all, would be the first televised encounter between an incumbent Spanish prime minister and the leader of the opposition since then PP candidate José María Aznar faced off with former Socialist premier Felipe González in 1993.
[Copyright EL PAÍS / ANABEL DÍEZ / Ángeles Espinosa 2008]
Subject: Spanish news