10.4185/RLCS-2013-977en | ISSN 1138 - 5820 | RLCS # 68 | 2013 | |
The Andalusian elections of 2012 in the national press: Analysis of the coverage of Abc, El Mundo and El País
BJ Gómez Calderón [C.V.] [ ORCID] [ GS] Associate Professor.School of Communication Sciences. University of Malaga (Spain) - firstname.lastname@example.org
Translation by CA Martínez Arcos (Autonomous University of Tamaulipas)
On 25 March, 2012, the Autonomous Community of Andalusia held elections which, according to all the opinion polls, could mean the exit of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE according to its initials in Spanish) from the Presidency of the Andalusian Autonomous Government (Junta de Andalucía)after thirty years of uninterrupted ruling. For the first time since 1994, the regional elections were not held on the same dayas the national elections, because the current President of the autonomous community, José Antonio Griñán, wanted to prevent the victory of the People’s Party (PP, according to its initials in Spanish) in the national elections of November 2011 from havinga contagion effect on the Community of Andalusia (see Rivera, 2012).
There were great expectations of change, and the political and journalistic media were predicting the triumph of the PP candidate, Javier Arenas, who was facing his fourth Presidential nomination after having been defeated in 1994, 1996 and 2008.
As noted by Colmenarejo (2012), the elections took place in a time when the PSOE was considerably worn out, pressed by several corruption scandals whose preliminary investigation coincided with the development of the campaign. The major scandal was the misuse of the benefits of the Collective Dismissal Programme (Expediente de Regulación de Empleo, ERE), which is an instrument of the Spanish labour legislation that allows companies in bad economic situations to lay off a high percentage of workers and to receive special compensation rights and economic help from the government. The corruption scandal was that the ERE benefits were given to many companies that did not lay off workers and to ghosts companies, set up by fake businessmen connected to the government authorities. The ERE misuse scandal had inevitable political repercussions and involved several former senior members of the Andalusian Autonomous Government.
Eventually, the PP achieved its first victory in the Andalusian elections but the number of seats won, 50, was not enough to achieve the absolute majority needed to form a government.
The PSOE, which was defeated by a small margin (as it won 47 seats), was given the option to continue in power through a pact with the third force in the Chamber, the United Left party (IU, according to its initials in Spanish),which doubled its representation, from 6 to 12 seats, and multiplied its influence so much that it managed to be part of the Andalusian regional government two months after the elections .
The relative novelty of this solitary elections and the possibility of change, which seemed real according to the polls and the prevailing political cycle in Spain, gave the campaign an unusual protagonism in the media, and this is what justifies our interest in analysing the coverage of these elections by the quality national press.
1.1. Study of the media coverage of the election campaigns
Since McCombs and Shaw proposed the agenda-setting theory in 1972 to explain how the media shapes public opinion, its application to the study of the press has been intense and productive, especially in relation to the coverage of politics and electoral processes. As Kavanag (1995: 40) points out, political parties do not only compete for votes, but also compete to impose the issues that will be discussed during the campaign: this is what Norris called the “battle for the campaign agenda” (1999: 54).
During theestablishment of the issues that will attract the audience’s attention, each medium plays a distinct role. We agree with Almaguer (2010: 204) when he says that “newspapers are the main players in the agenda setting and inbroadly defining the public’s areas of interest”.
However, according to Benton and Frazier (in Paniagua and Gómez, 2006: 283), in an election campaign newspapers are more effective during the first few days, but as the election day approaches, television is the medium that manages to impose its repertoire of issues. Even so, in deep levels of knowledge, the press is the decisive channel, because citizens remember more the issues that have been addressed in writing than those that have only been transmitted through the audiovisual media.
Although research has enriched the concept of agenda-setting with elements that go beyond the mere thematic analysisand attend the mode in which the thematic priorities are transmitted, the so-called “second level” of the agenda-setting(see Rodríguez 2004: 15), in recent decades the analysis of the journalistic discourse has incorporated an very productive theory that complementsthat of McCombs and Shaw: framing.
Framingfocuses not on the number of issues covered by the media, but on their attributes, the concrete aspects that are highlighted from them, and the assessments that underline the content of the news stories (Martín and Berganza, 2001: 60; Novo, 2007: 45). In this study,frame is understood as“the central organising idea for news content that supplies a context and suggests what the issue is through theselection, emphasis, exclusion and elaboration” (Tankard, in Berganza 2008: 26). As Scheufele and Tewksbury (2007: 12) point out, framing“is a necessary tool to reduce the complexity of an issue, given the constraints of their respective media related to news holes and airtime” .
In the field of electoral information, there are some dominant frames (Jackson, 2011). The main one is the strategic frame, which “focuses the coverage on who wins and who loses; is directed by the language of war and games; it predominantly mentions the actors, the criticisms and the audiences; it emphasisesthe candidate’sstyle and perceptions; and gives great importance to the opinion polls”, according to the definition of Capella and Jamieson (in Berganza, 2008a: 124). Closely related to this frame, is the game frame, which some authors consider to be the same the strategic frame. The game frame sees politics as a competition between candidates. In both frames the idea of conflictis very present, as confirmed by numerous analysis of the coverage of electoral processes (e.g., Berganza, 2008a).
In contrast to the previous frames, the thematic frame focuses on the content of the discoursetransmitted by the public actors, instead of focusing on their attitudes and activities. This is an “informative frame, which gives knowledge to audiences to form their own attitudes and political opinions” (Berganza, 2008a: 124). As one can imagine, the implications of the adoption of the strategic frame instead of the thematic frame is important for thoseaudiences who decide the direction of their vote only based on the information provided by the media.
In Spain, the most recent studies on the media coverage of electoral processeshave examined, in their first phase, the agenda-setting. These studies include those carried out by Farré (1999), about the behaviour of regional newspapers during the Basque elections; Semetko and Canel (1997) and Martín and Berganza (2001), about the treatment of the general elections of 1996; Canel, Benavides and Echart (2003) and Benavides and Canel (2003), about the general elections of 2000; and Paniagua and Gómez (2006about the general elections of 2004. All of these studies have found that there was a convergence between the agenda promoted by the political parties and the press agenda.
Along the same lines, but integrating elements of the second level of the agenda-setting, are the studies carried out by Zugastiand Lafuente (2010) and Zurutuza and García (2012) about the 2009 European Parliamentary elections campaign, with a focus on theprotagonism of the leaders.
Moreover, following the popularisation of framinganalysis in English-speaking countries, in recent years some authors have addressed the prevailing news frames in the Spanish media: Berganza (2008a, 2008b), based on the news items published about the last two European elections; and Berganza, De Miguel and Chaparro (2011), whooffer a detailed comparison of the frames used by paid-for and free newspapers in the 2008 general elections.
1.2. Objectives and hypotheses
This study has several objectives of varying significance:
-First, to examine the type of coverage given by the national newspapersAbc, El Mundo and El País,in their Andalusian editions, to the campaign for the elections of 25 March, in order to determine their similarities and differences.
-Second, to analyse the agenda of the different newspaper in order to establish their degree of convergence with the agenda of the competing parties. Not in vain, in all election campaignscandidates emphasise certain issues to “try to convey their political priorities to citizens by carefully selecting the topics they wantto be discussed” (Novo, 2007: 46).
-Third, to characterise the media presence of the election’s protagonists and in particular of the leaders of the main parties, as well as the mechanisms through which the media expressed their position towards them. As Zurutuza and García (2012) point out, contemporary electoral processes are characterised bya“high degree of personalisation”, prompted by the influence of American politics. News coverage increasingly focuses on the potential winners and their attributes, which is both the cause and effect of the abundance of media events centred on candidates.
-Fourth, to identify the predominant framesused in the coverage of the campaign, differentiating between strategic and game frames, which can be considered complementary, and the thematic (informative) frame.
In line with these objectives, the study aimed to test the following three hypotheses:
Hypothesis 1: Given that the autonomous elections of 2012 were not held on the same day than the national elections, which broke with what had been the tradition in Andalusia during the last two decades, we expected the media’s agenda to include much more regional than national issues.
Hypothesis 2: Following the trend of competitive reductionismthat characterises political news during elections periods (see, Berganza, 2008a and 2008b; Berganza, De Miguel and Chaparro, 2009; and Jackson, 2011, among others), we expected the coverage provided by the press to be poor in interpretive and analytical elements that can provide guidance to readers.
Hypothesis 3: Also based on the previous reason, we expected the most common frames in the coverage of the campaign to be the strategic and game frames; and the thematic frame to be relegated to a marginal position.
The study is based on the analysis of three national newspapers which have a regional edition for Andalusia: Abc, El Mundo and El País. From these newspapers we examined all the news items that were related to the autonomous elections and were published from9 March –the beginning of the campaign– to 25 March-the elections day. The final sample of analysis was composed of 497 units, which were subjected to content analysis.
This method was chosen due to its suitability to deal with quantitative research on written texts, a practice with a long tradition in journalism. Content analysisallows the establishment of reliable inferences about the context of news (Krippendorff, 2002: 28) and their production and reception conditions. Moreover,content analysis isthe most appropriate method for our study because it is very useful to compile, process and evaluate large amounts of information (Sánchez, 2005: 214) and to describe the components of the media’s messages (Igartua, 2006: 194).
The content analysis focused on formal and contentcategories, divided in three areas:
a) Location: section, position and length.
b) Production features: author, genre, use of graphic elements, font types, and events motivating the news stories.
c) Characterisation of content: types of headlines, content, topics, protagonists in headlines and graphic elements, highlighted activities of the protagonists, frames, and position of the newspaper or author.
The three selected newspapers enjoy of wide circulation in the Autonomous Community of Andalusia. According to the data provided by the Spanish Broadcast and Circulation Control Office (Oficina de Control de la Difusión, OJD) , between July 2011 and June 2012, the regional edition of Abc sold in average 47,309 copies per day, El País 33,917 copies, and El Mundo 31,952 copies. None of the local or provincial newspapers in the region exceeds these sales: the papers with the closest sales are Ideal, from Granada (with 26,527 copies), and Sur, from Malaga (with 23,481). These sales figures give us an idea of the importance of the national newspapers in media diet of the Andalusian people, and justifiesour interest in analysing their coverage of the regional elections of 2012.
Obviously, the elections of 25 March captured the interest of the regional editions of the selected newspapers, but there were differences,of varying significance, in terms of the location,production features and coverage given to this event.
Abcwas the newspaper that published the largest number of election news items, 197, followed, in second place, by El Mundowith 155, and, in third place, by El País with 140. Inthe three newspapers, the news about the campaign openedthe regional section, which wascompleted with different elements: El Paístends to include feature articles about outstanding aspects of the Andalusian reality (education, culture, environment, tourism, etc.), opinion columns, and interviews with experts not related to politics. El Mundo also publishes analyses of the situation of the autonomous community, but incorporates more opinion articles. Finally, Abc offers daily reports that emphasise the metacoverage of the campaign , particularly the activity of the candidates on the social networks, and includes articleswritten by its director, Fernando del Valle, and interviewswith business and cultural personalities.
Most of the analysed units, 85.2%, appeared in the Andalusiasection, with rates ranging from 79.4% (El Mundo) to 97.9% (El País) [table 1]. However, in the case of El Mundo, 7.7%of the news items were presented in the section titled Otras voces (“Other voices”), which presents the opinion of the different regional editions of the newspaper.
Abcwas the medium that most frequently dealt with the Andalusian elections outside the regional section, specifically in the Opinion section. National commentators paid considerable attention to the regional elections, whose discussion increasedas the 25th of March approached.
There are noticeable differences in the location of the texts. El País, which had an independent booklet for Andalusia, placed the election news itemsat the beginning of the section every day, as well as Abc, while El Mundo almost always opened the regional section with news about the corruption scandals that implicated the Andalusian Autonomous Government, such as the Invercaria case (in which this public entity of the Andalusian Government, in charge of distributing economic help to private companies, helped many companies that did not meet the requirements to receive the help) and, above all, the ERE misuse scanda .
The developments in the investigation of Judge Mercedes Alaya and the revelations of the allegations -with the former general director of Employment, Francisco José Guerrero, as the mastermind of the conspiracy- opened the Andalusia section every day in El Mundo under the heading “Politicians under suspicion”. The generosity of the newspaperto treatthe cases of corruption was evidenced by the number of articles dedicated to them, 85 (on twelve occasions), and the revelations which appeared on the front page. Moreover, any hint of unethical behaviour that affectedthe members of the PSOE occupieda more prominently place than the campaign(e.g.,“ The Vélez-Malaga Food and Beverage Technology Park paid for the master’s degree of the daughter of the Culture Counsellor, Paulino Plata”, 23/03/2012).
In similar parameters but without reducing the protagonism of the electoral contest, Abc provided abundant information about the scandals of the Andalusian government in up to 50 election news items that often opened the National section and the news pictures section called Enfoque.
These figures contrast with those of El País, which was much more restrained in the coverage of the judicial proceedings of the ERE misuse scandal, about which only 23 news items were published throughout the period.
Elections news rarely appeared on the front page (only 2.8%) and almost all of them were published by El Mundo [table 2]. And as for the odd-numbered pages, which are the most important from an informative point of view, they were the dominant place for elections news onlyinAbc (64.5% of texts).
Finally, the space occupied by the elections news items waslarger in El Mundoand El País, in which about 50% of theirelection news items are five-column long [table 3].
3.2. Production features
The coverage of election campaigns requires the deployment of correspondents to the candidates’ campaign centre and convoys so that they can report, on time and with first-hand experience,the candidates’ activitieson a daily basis. The three selected newspapersdeployed special correspondents to exclusively follow José Antonio Griñán and Javier Arenas. Only El Mundo deployed a journalist to follow Diego Valderas, the candidate of the Izquierda Unida( IU), and that is why this newspaper,directed by Pedro J. Ramírez, offered the largest number of texts written by correspondents [table 4].
The office-based writing staff wereresponsible for most of the election news items on Abc (42.6%) and El País (56.4%).
In terms of journalistic genres, there wereimportant differences between the newspapers [table 5]. An outstanding finding wasthe abundance of short-opinion-pieces and editorials –up to 15– dedicated by El Mundo to the Andalusian elections, as well as a large number of columns (58, or 37.5% of the total of election news items), mostly written by regional commentators, including José Antonio Gómez Marín, Agapito Maestre, Luis Miguel Fuentes, Rafael Porras and Juan Antonio Rodríguez Tous.
Abc provided 20.3% of the opinion articles, which were mostly written by national commentators: Ignacio Camacho, Antonio Burgos, José María Carrascal, Gabriel Albiac and Manuel Martín Ferrand.
In contrast, El País only dedicated 12 columns to the elections. Its Opinion section neither offered a significant number of pieces about this event, since the only article published during the period under analysis was a minor short-opinion-pieceabout Javier Arenas’s refusal to participate in the debate organised by Canal Sur Televisión.
The most outstanding texts of each edition, in any case, werethe chronicle reports. Both in El País and El Mundo, the correspondents offered more analysis and personal assessments than information; they reflectedon the development of the campaign and the mood of the candidates, as well as on their expectations about the results. In this sense, there was a continuous metacoverage and theusual adoption of the strategic and game frames, as we will see in section 3.3.
Abc and El País used the interview to a greater extent than El Mundo, alternating politicians and cultural and business personalities, who offered theirpersonal views on the situation of Andalusia. Moreover, both El Mundo and El País published sect oral assessments of the past four years of the PSOE government in the form of reports, although with a different editorial perspective: El Mundo criticised the performance of Griñán and his advisors, while El País clearly attempted to highlight, along with glaring errors, the positive aspects of the exiting administration.
Election news items are suitable to include graphic elements [table 6], in particular photographs of the candidates, whose presence in the total of election texts ranged from 67.5% (Abc) to 78.6 (El País). The latter newspaper also used graphs and tables in 13.6% of its election news reports, when the content was focused on the analysis of the situation of the autonomous community.
The analysis of the information sources used throughout the campaign [table 7] showed a well-defined profile: most of them werepoliticians (in 47.4% of cases), and most were fully identified people (55.9%). The minimaluse of confidential sources isstriking: in only 2.8% of the election news items. In a contexts with little dissonances, the interests of El Paísin presenting the opinion of professionals and experts was outstanding (in 15% of cases).
While the activities of the candidates were the centre of attention of the campaign [table 8], 42.9% of the election news items do not talk about them, including the analytical and opinion articles, as well as the articles about the eventual outcome of the elections, the strategy of the leaders and their electoral expectations. Although the mass rallies were the most common news reference (in 29.9% of cases), attention was also given to the meetings with targeted audiences (13%). Other activities, such as walk about and press conferences, were covered only sporadically.
A separate mention should be given to the well-known televised debate, which tends to energise the campaign before and immediately after its broadcast. In this case the debate was organised by Canal Sur and only had the participation of the PSOE and IU candidates, since Javier Arenas refused to participate because according to him this TV channel was very partial in its informative treatment of the PP.
3.3. Characterisation of content
The biggest differences between the selected newspapers can be seen in the content. The predominant frame in all cases was the strategic one, but the orientation of the headlines, the body of the texts, and the graphic treatment of the campaign’sprotagonists diverge significantly. There werealso differences in the range of issues discussed, as the three newspapers emphasised those themes best fitted fortheir editorial line, and ignored those matters that wereless beneficial for the parties they explicitly or implicitly supported.
The approach of the headlinesshows important differences: while Abc maintainedthe informative style in 50.8% of its articles, El Paísoften chosethe interpretative approach (30.7% of its articles have sensationalist headlines). Opinion headlines, however, were more frequently used by Abc and El Mundo, in over 20% of the texts, which werenot only argumentative, but also interpretative and even informative.
Precisely due totheirsensationalist style, the headlines of El País revealed the predominance of the strategic and game frames in the creation of the election news items: e.g. “La campaña más reñida” (“The toughest campaign”, 9/03/2012), “Subidos en el carrusel de las encuestas” (“Up in the carousel of the polls”, 10/03/2012), “De la mano para frenar al PP” (“Together to stop the PP”, 14/03/2012) and “Todos contra la mayoría de Arenas” (“All against the majority of Arenas”, 20/03/2012). El Mundo adopted the same frame in headlines such as“El PSOE ‘reinicia’ la campaña electoral para recortar distancias” (“The PSOE ‘will restart’ the election campaign to close the gap”, 12/03/2012), “Griñán se resiste a verse perdedor en las encuestas” (“Griñán refuses to lose at the polls”, 17/03/2012) and “Griñán apura la recta final de la campaña con ‘todo el pescado vendido’” (“Griñán rushes to the final stage of the campaign with nothing else left to do”, 22/03/2012).
The sports or horse racemetaphor, socommonly used in the chronological report of political confrontations (Almazán and Villarejo, 1998: 106; Humanes, 2009: 108), was strongly used to situate the reader in a known scenario: the sprintscenario in which contestants fight to reach the leader, but in which ultimately there will be more losers.
El Mundo used the informative frame to report the electoral activity of Javier Arenas, but opted for an interpretative and even an opinion style to report about the PSOE: “Canal Sur, erre que erre: ahora mete al PP en el caso Malaya” (“Canal Sur, stubbornly: now involves the PP in the Malaysian case”, 9/03/2012), “Los sondeos hacen mella en la campaña del PSOE pese al forzado optimismo de Griñán” (“Polls damage the campaign of the PSOE despite the forced optimism of Griñán” 19/03/2012). This tone contrasted with that of the chronological reports of the PP’s campaign, usually presented by thematic headlines: “Arenas quiere estrenarse en la Junta exigiendo a Rajoy otra financiación” (“Arenas wants to lead the Andalusian government and demands more funding from Rajoy”, 13/03/2012), “Arenas persevera en la denuncia de la corrupción del PSOE” (“Arenas persists in denouncing the corruption of the PSOE”, 15/03/2012), “Arenas convoca al cambio frente al ‘inmovilismo suicida de Andalucía’” (“Arenas advocates for change in view of the ‘suicidal stagnation of Andalusia’”, 16/03/2012), “Arenas promete el Gobierno más austero y reformista del país” (“Arenas promises the most austere and reformist government in the country”, 20/03/2012).
For its part, Abc generally converged with the agenda and arguments of the PP in its headlines: “Arenas se planta ante los abusos de la RTVA y renuncia al debate” (“Arenas challenges the abuses of RTVA and rejects the debate”, 10/03/2012), “Arenas reducirá de 200 a 56 la cifra de delegados provinciales” (“Arenas will reduce the number of provincial delegates from 200 to 56”, 14/03/2012), “Empleo y austeridad, ejes de las primeras 100 medidas de Arenas” (“Employment and austerity, the axes of Arenas’s first 100 measures”,18/03/2012) and “Arenas anuncia que suprimirá 10.000 teléfonos móviles de la Junta” (“Arenas announces that he will eliminate 10,000 mobile phones in the government”,20/03/2012).In contrast, Abc offered clearly biased headlines against Griñán: “Un hombre solo” (“A lonely man”, 20/03/2012) and “Contra las encuestas, golpes bajos” (“Against the polls and low blows”, 22/03/2012)
There were also important differences in the content of the election news items [table 10]. Obviously, the information was more predominant in El País (in 75% of the articles) and Abc (74.1%) than in El Mundo (54.2%). However, the proportion of opinion pieces waslarger in these last two papers (21.3% and 37.4%, respectively), which tended to assess the development of the campaign much more intensely than the Prisa group’snewspaper.
With regards to the analytical content –which can be very useful to influence votes,as they encourage reflection-El Paísoffered the largest number of texts with this type of content (15.7% of its election news items).
The issuesaddressed by the three newspapers [table 11] reflected both the acceptance of the parties’ agenda, in some cases, and the eventual resistance to incorporate it, in others, as well as the tendency to reduce the focus of the debateto few issues. In the 2012 elections, the campaign wasfocused on two issuesthat were promoted by the People’s Party and took precedence over those issues promoted by its main opponent: the ERE misuse scandal–which had been investigated since 2010 and continued in the courts after the elections, but with much less impact on the media- and the inevitable change -which finally did not take place-.
Abc and El Mundo put the ERE misuse scandal on the headlines and the summary leads of 16.2% and 14.2% of their election news items, respectively, usually motivated by the statements of the PP leaders but also moved by their own initiative, which contrasted with the insignificant 5% dedicated to this scandal byEl País. The convenience and proximity of the change in the Presidency of the Andalusian Autonomous Governmentcaptured the attention of the first two papers in similar proportions (14.7% and 12.3%), while El País once again resisted the trend (only mentioned these topics in 4.3% of its election news items).
The newspaper directed by Javier Moreno challenged the leading motifs of the PP’s campaign with positive assessments of the PSOE government (in 7.9% of the election news items) and criticisms to the policy of the central government (5%), in an unsuccessful attempt to shift the territorial focus of elections beyond the Andalusian area.
However, this was a marginal strategy in quantitative terms, since in the elections of March 2012 the regional approach predominated very clearly over the national one. Not even the crisis and unemployment, the two issues that worry Spanish people the most , managed to find a relevant place in the coverage of the campaign.
On the other hand, the electoral platforms occupied a clearly relegated position on the agenda of the three newspapers. Just 5% of the selected texts included the electoral platforms, and rarely as the main topic, which demonstrates that the thematic approach was, on this occasion, surpassed by the strategic one.
In a political scenario with a strong tendency to polarisation -we must not forget that only three political parties enjoy representation in Andalusia’s autonomous chamber since 2008-, the presence of the minority parties in the media was low, and that is why only 1.8% of theelection news itemsdealt with them. This phenomenon, however, has also been noticed in elections in which the number of contenders with the possibility of winning seats is higher (see Farré, 1999; Sampedro and Seoane, 2008), which may suggest that the reduction of pluralism is aninherent quality of the coverage model that the press applies to any electoral process.
* The table only includes those topics with more than 2% of mentions.
Abc and El Mundo often dealt with the hidden aspects of the campaign -the so-called “meta coverage”-, particularly Abc, which dedicated 10.2% of its election texts to these aspects, often with very expressive headlines: “Argucias electorales que no vemos” (“Hidden electoral tricks”, 10/03/2012), “Cuando el discurso también se enreda” (“When the discourse is also entangled”, 11/03/2012), “El armario de los candidatos” (“The closet of the candidates”, 13/03/2012), “Movilizando a los ‘ejércitos’” (“Mobilising the ‘armies’”, 16/03/2012) and “Caravanas. De viaje… hasta San Telmo” (“Caravans. On the move... all the way to San Telmo”, 18/03/2012).
El Mundo used the metacoverage mostly to negatively depict the Socialist leader: “Griñán, el reciclador de discursos” (“Griñán, the recycler of discourses”, 15/03/2012), “Candidato nuevo, campaña antigua” (“New candidate, old campaign”, 16/03/2012). This phenomenon, of biased analysis of the parties’ strategies, has already been detected in the informative treatment of other elections (cf. Humanes, 2009)
The degree of personalisation in the campaign coverage was high, since 30.9% of the election news items included the name of the candidates in the headlines [table 12], particularly of José Antonio Griñán and Javier Arenas (with 11% and 10.8%, respectively). Beyond the media predominance of the candidates over the political groups or platforms, the argumentative implications of their inclusion inthe news headlines were not clear. In fact, the unflattering remarks usually made about the PSOE candidate (due to his weak electoral expectations, for bearing the shadow of corruption of its Government, and even due to his questionable performance as a Secretary General) explain why this candidate was much more cited in Abc and El Mundo than in El País.
The eminently regional frame of the campaign coverage was also reflected in the limited presence of national politicians: the only ones that appeared on more than one occasion were the president Mariano Rajoy –presented by some papers as the guarantee for victory, and by others as a warning about the austerity policies that can be implemented in Andalusia if the PP wins an absolute majority– and Manuel Chaves –always associated to the scandals that affectedhim or his party–.
Similar results were obtained from the analysis of the graphic elements that accompanied the elections news stories [table 13]. Griñán and Arenas share 70.8% of all the photographs, while the presence of other regional and national leaderswas marginal, with the exception of Diego Valderas, whose photograph appeared in 16.1% of the sample of texts.
The connotations of the images tend to reinforce the predominant discourse of each headline. Abc frequently offered pictures of Arenas surrounded by militants and PP sympathisers or in full auditoriums (e.g. the front pageof 9 March, and the photographs that illustrate the chronicle reports of 13, 15, 20, and 24 of March), while Griñán usually appearedalone or only accompanied by one of the leaders of his party (e.g. the picture published the first day of the campaign, in which the candidate awaits alone next to a bus, and the photographs published on the 10, 19, 20 and 21 of March).
Figure 1.Front page and inside page ofAbc, published on9 March, 2012.
The photographs of the two leaders offeredan identical profile in El Mundo: Arenas surrounded by numerous followers (see the news published on 9, 10, 13, 14 and 22 of March) in contrast to Griñán who appeared more solitary (images published on 14, 15, 17 and 22 of March) and with a worried face (March 11).
Figure 2. Inside pages of El Mundo, published on 10 and 14 March, 2012
The contrast was less obvious in the case of El País, which published pictures of the candidates alone or accompanied almost in identical proportions.
The most common frames in the three newspaperswere the strategic and the game frames [table 14], because they emphasised the criticism exerted by the leaders and their tricks to gain advantage over their opponents, which is characteristic of the election news (Herrero and Benoit, 2009). Of the election news items, 42.2% focused on the dialectical confrontation between the candidates, on their mutual attacks and ontheir competition in the polls and the televised debates.
In contrast, only 19.4% of the election news items had a thematic frame. The electoral platforms, one of the theoretical pillars of the campaign, were highlighted in 18.3% of the texts, and always in relation to the Government programme of the People’s Party, which reflected the clear disinterest of the newspapersin this part of the political agenda.
Of the three newspapers, Abc used the strategic and game frames to the greatest extent in its texts (46.7%), while El País only used this frame them in 37.8 of its election news items.
The editorial line of the selected newspapers–as it is widely known, Abc and El Mundo supported the PP, while El País was more supportive of the PSOE (Canel, 1999)-wasreflected in the attitude adopted by their writers, correspondents and columnists in the treatment of the campaign [table 15], which should not be surprisinggiven the sharp politicisation of the Spanish media system (Hallin and Mancini, 2008: 104) .
There are, however, interesting differences in this widespread practice. The analysis has allowed us to verify that 63.2% of the election news items maintainedan appearance of neutrality, as they did not explicitly defendany candidate norrefuted their proposals without arguments, nor uncritically accepted the statements made in the heat of the campaign. In this sense, El País presented the highest proportion of neutral texts (81.4%), followed by El Mundo (with 43.9). The fact that the latter offereda high number of columns –whose argumentative nature force them to take a position– helps to explain this difference in the proportions.
However, it is striking that the criticisms of the three newspapers were mostly directed at the parties as collective entities rather than at the candidates [table 16]. Thus, in El Mundo the election news items that criticise the PSOE were more common (53) than the texts that called into question the qualities or honesty of Griñán (10). The same occurred with Abc, in which the proportion was 36-8. Meanwhile, El País expressed reservations towards the PP more frequently than towards Arenas (15-6). Similarly, when it comes to defend one or another option, El Mundo and El País tended to refer more to the political parties than to their leaders, unlike Abc, which was more individualistic in its discourse.
In the Prisa group’snewspaper, the biased treatment was manifested in the uncritical acceptance of the PSOE promises (e.g. “La enseñanza, un valor refugio” [“Teaching, a wealth reserve”, 16/03/2012]) and the desire to highlight the troubles Arenas went through to defend his social programme from the cuts of the central government (e.g.“El escudo del ‘legado terrible’” [“The shield of the ‘terrible legacy’”, 16/03/2012]).
Conversely, El Mundo and Abc openly expressed their support for the PP, especially in their opinion articles, which promoted the favourite mantra of Arenas throughout the campaign, change: “El cambio es imprescindible en Andalucía” (“Change is essential in Andalusia”, El Mundo, 24/03/2012), “Los andaluces piden cambio” (“Andalusian people call for change”, Abc, 18/03/2012), “El cambio que necesita Andalucía” (“The change that Andalusia needs”, Abc, 24/03/2012).
4. Conclusions and discussion
1. With respect to the coverage of the campaign given by the newspapers, the largest number of texts was provided by Abc, followed by El Mundo. Moreover, these two papers also offered more opinion articles about the Andalusian elections than El País, which demonstrates that Abc and El Mundo had a greater editorial commitment, i.e., a greater desire to inform and, above all, to transmit their assessments to readers to shape their perception of reality and to influence their behaviour.
2. Both Abc and El Mundo tended to highlight the leitmotifs of the PP’s campaign: the ERE misuse scandal and the need for political change in the Andalusian Government. Even El Paíswas forced to incorporate these leitmotifs, although it preferred to emphasise the issues of national scope. In this sense, the three newspapers practiced what Blumler and Gurevitch (1995) have referred to as “non-reactive coverage”, in which political parties easily introduce their message in the media, either by imposition or by convergence of agendas.
3. This campaign was dominated by a limited and poorly-nuanced repertoire of themes. The newspapers themselves recognised this simplification in the irassessments of the election day: “Una campaña condicionada por los ERE” (“A campaign conditioned by the ERE misuse scandal”, El Mundo), “Los ERE marcan una campaña baja en proteínas” (“The ERE misuse scandal mark campaign a low in proteins”, El País).
4. Overall, the regional approach was imposed throughout the process, thanks to the absence of national elections. This confirmed, therefore, the first hypothesis of our study. However, the campaign coverage did not pay attention to the problems affecting the autonomous community (here it is important to remark that Andalusia has the highest rate of unemployment in Spain , to mention but one of the most worrying indicators); instead the political discourse-and the discourse of the media that appropriate this discourse- mainly addressedthe judicial affairs, clearly with electioneering purposes.
5. The provision of evidence was limited on the three selected newspapers: only a small number of texts providedimpartial assessments of the performance of the Andalusian Government during the past four years. This confirms our second hypothesis.
6. As expected, the news coverage focusedon the candidates of the major parties, and paid little attention to the candidates of the parties with limited chances to win the elections and to the national leaders, particularly in terms of the chronologicalreporting of the campaign. The opinion articles, however, tendedtodirect their criticism more towards thepolitical parties than to the presidential candidates.
7. Throughout the analysed period, the ideological orientation of each newspaper was reflected clearly but with different degrees of intensity: Abc explicitly defendedits preferred candidate, Javier Arenas, on more occasions than the rest, while El País and El Mundo chose to criticise the party they did not support. The newspaper directed by Javier Moreno was the most neutral in the treatment of the campaign.
8. In three newspapersthe strategic and gameframes weremore predominant than the thematic frame. These papers focused on themutual attacks among the candidates, on the clash between leaders and on the competitive elements rather than on the concrete electoral platforms. In this sense, Abc was once again the most outstanding newspaper in comparison to El País. These findings confirmed our third hypothesis.
Regarding the possible effect of the information strategy of the selected newspaperson the electorate, we must be cautions due to several reasons. The first reason is that, against all expectations, the party expected towin by a landslide eventually did not win enough votes to take the presidency, despite itclearly managed to impose its agenda. The second is that the exposure to the press by the Andalusian peoplewas limited. As revealed by the survey carried outby the Centre for Sociological Research (CIS) a month after the elections , the campaign aroused little interest among29.5% of the population, and no interest at all among 24%, while only 12.1% followed the campaign regularly through the printed press. Moreover, although 22.2% of voters waited until the election day to decide which party they would support, it is likely that most of themobtained from the TV news programmes the information based on which they decided their vote, because 72.7% of the survey participants stated that they only received electoral information from television during the last week of the campaign.
Finally, and as a complement to this study, we consider that it would be interesting to analyse the coverage given to the Andalusian election campaign of 2008, which was held on the same day as the general national elections, as it is likely that there would important differences between those elections and the ones examined here.
Another revealing line of research would be to examine the campaign coverage carried out by the audiovisual media, particularly television, in order to determine whether there their agendas and frames were similar to those used by the press.
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 According to the barometer of the Centre for Sociological Research (CIS) corresponding to the month in which theelections were held (March, 2012), unemployment was the main cause for concern for 89.3% of Spaniards, followed by the economic situation (49.2%). Source: http://www.cis.es/cis/opencm/ES/1_encuestas/estudios/ver.jsp?estudio=12684. Consulted on 3 November, 2012.
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BJ Gómez Calderón, FJ Paniagua Rojano, P Farias Batlle (2013): “The Andalusian elections of 2012 in the national press: Analysis of the coverage of Abc, El Mundo and El País”, at Revista Latina de Comunicación Social, 68. La Laguna (Tenerife): La Laguna University, pages 261 to 283 retrieved on ___ de ___th of ____ of 2_______,
Article received on 24 January 2013. Submitted to pre-review on 26 January Sent to reviewers on 28 January Accepted on 7 April 2013. Galley proofs made available to the authors on 12 April 2013. Approved by authors on: 13 April 2013. Published on 15 April 2013.
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