Those aficionados with access to the excellent ‘Disponible Hoy’ postings on the Mundo Taurino website, in which Stanley Conrad creates links to all the articles on bullfighting he can identify in the world’s press each day, may have been amused recently at what passes for ‘news’ these days. The report that Spanish state television, TVE, would not be showing corridas this year first appeared in the Spanish press in mid-August. Then it gradually lumbered its way around the world, its most recent appearance being in Tenerife News on 20th September.
The story that was generally reported was that TVE – after 51 years of broadcasting bullfights – had decided to cease showing corridas. It appeared as if the animal rights lobby had scored another success; that the state broadcaster was embarrassed by los toros; that this was another droplet of water in the increasing drip-drip-dripping of a flow that will eventually lead to the suppression of bullfighting.
Certainly, there have been complications for TVE. The parliamentary committee that watches over the corporation has demanded that it warns parents whenever bullfights are about to be shown and ensures that programmes for under-13s are available at such times on its other channel (in Spain, children’s viewing time extends until 8pm). There is a voluntary, industry-wide charter on children’s television viewing which TVE adheres to as well. The charter calls on broadcasters to avoid showing children both “behaviour that is dangerous to their health” and “explicitly violent scenes”. However, it does not mention animals or bullfights and of the 31 complaints of infractions by Spanish broadcasters upheld last year, none involved bullfighting.
I was thinking of the ridiculousness of any attempt to prevent children coming into contact with bullfighting the other day as I watched a corrida from Colmenar Viejo on Telemadrid and the camera kept panning over the spectators to reveal lots of children, many of them peña members, participating in their local fiestas by sitting in the tendidos. I thought of it too at the Feria des Vendanges in Nîmes (about which more in the next La Divisa). A young mother and her son (probably around six or seven years old) were sat next to me before the start of one of the corridas, only for them to give up their seats as the rightful ticket-holders arrived. It transpired the mother had done what a number of the locals often do – bought a billet for the unnumbered stone rows at the top of the Roman arena, only to then clamber down to the more expensive wooden seating once the plaza band has struck up (some 10 minutes or so before the paseíllo) and the entertainment has officially begun. They eventually watched the corrida sat on the tendido stairway, the little boy sitting between his mother’s knees (ah, to have a mother like that!), or going excitedly to the fencing at the front of this seating area for a closer look at events on the sand below.
Another aspect that most of the news coverage tended to ignore is that, while TVE’s coverage is reduced to the weekly summary ‘Tendido Cero’, bullfights proliferate on Spain’s growing number of television channels. Those of us with access to Spanish satellite TV, for example, have been able to watch corridas most weeks of the summer thanks to the efforts of Telemadrid, Andalucía TV/Canal Sur and Televisió Valenciana Internacional. In Spain itself, a number of other channels (such as TV Castilla-La Mancha, Canal Nou and Aragón Televisión) show bullfighting, while Vía Digital has increased its coverage of the major ferias for subscribers, showing the Feria de Abril, San Isidro, San Fermín and the Feria del Pilar in full.
Indeed, the truth behind the TVE story is that this news is no news at all. The BBC contacted the taurine writer Muriel Feiner for her comments on the report, and Muriel decided first to get directly in touch with Féderico Arnas, director of ‘Tendido Cero’. Féderico revealed there was no ban at all, and that no statement to that effect has ever been made by TVE. Rather, it is largely a typical media affair of televising bullfights becoming so popular that TVE can no longer afford to compete for the right to broadcast corridas.