El Programa de Ana Rosa

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Ethics in the Spanish Media Market
Almudena Pitarque
University of North Texas
Spring 2011

In the movie The Front Page (1974) Hildy Johnson hides the murderer Earl Williams under his desk in order to get in exclusive his statements. Telecinco didn't get that far but it almost did with the case of Mari Luz. The recent ending of the case of Mari Luz in Spain has rekindled the controversy about journalism limits and the methods used to get information. ¿Is everything allowed to get an exclusive? ¿Does the end justify the means? In this paper, focused on journalism ethics, I will present some cases of the television and press in Spain that challenge these limits, starting with the case of Mari Luz. After this, I will describe the main media involved in this ethical problem. Then I will describe the legal situation in Spain concerning this issue. Finally, I will discuss the limits of journalism.
Some cases

I'm going to start by describing two cases in which the media take the role of the justice system, uncovering by means of dubious integrity an illegal act. This way, an alleged search for good hides what actually is a search for audience.

The first case is the case of Mari Luz. One month ago, Telecinco, one of the leading TV channels in Spain, got a surprising exclusive. Santiago del Valle was being judged for the murder and rape of the five-year old girl Mari Luz Cortés, crime of which he always pled not guilty. In the middle of the judicial proceedings, a journalist of the network, specifically of the TV show El Programa de Ana Rosa, managed to corner and interview in live the wife of the alleged murderer, Isabel García, who contrary to what she had maintained to that moment, confessed that her husband had killed the girl. What justice hadn't managed to get, television did. So far it can look as a feat. ¿What's the problem? The problem is what the audience didn't see, what happened before and after the interview and during advertising breaks, all of this revealed by a video published by the digital edition of El Mundo (Ruiz, 2011). The problem is that Santiago del Valle's wife is mentally retarded. The reporter pressured the woman, who cried and felt dizzy, asking the reporter to please stop recording. The reporter also lied to the woman, telling the cameraman to stop recording while gesturing to him to keep recording, despite seeing that the woman was about to loss consciousness. She treated the woman as a liar and cornered her with comments such as “your family isn't fond of you and they don't want to know anything about you”, “your neighbors can't stand you”, and “you are going to be left alone”. The problem is that the reporter and the network is being accused of violating the dignity of a mentally retarded person (Malavia, 2011). Also, when the reporter had the confession, said: “I'm gonna take her with me because I don't want her to talk with anyone else”.

On the one hand, defenders of the network congratulate it for having got a very important statement that has led to clear up the murder of a five-year old girl. On the other hand, critics accuse the network of having usurped the role of Justice, of having used the wrong means and of looking just for a TV exclusive. These are some of the declarations of other journalists: “I have felt repugnance. Of being journalist. Of being from Spain.” (Malavia, 2011), “The case of Mari Luz is being morbidly exploited by networks in a search for audience, including the pressure towards a mentally retarded person” (Ramírez, 2011). Meanwhile, audience commented things such as the following: “It isn't possible to justify an outrage. A person may be a criminal, but in a system of constitutional rights we cannot snatch her the dignity.”, “But now she is in jail, where she had to be, and you can ask the family of Mari Luz what they think” (El Mundo.es). The TV show defends the reporter saying that “Isabel decided freely to tell the truth” (Xornal.com).

The second case involves the newspaper El Mundo. It is about a TV report that uncovered a bribe ring in the beauty contest Miss Spain. Another case of an alleged search for good. During the contest Miss Alicante 2002, a province of Spain, the production company of this company, El Mundo TV, infiltrated one of its woman journalists, Gema García, in order to demonstrate the irregularities that took place on the contest. To do that, El Mundo TV created a ghost company, Everlasting, that became a sponsor of the contest and allowed them to pull the strings to infiltrate the journalist. The infiltrator managed to demonstrate, using hidden cameras, that the judges acted under bribes and under the pressure of the contest organizer, and also demonstrated the bad living conditions of the participants during the contest. The journalist managed to become Miss Alicante 2002 after paying 27,000 euros ($38,000) (El Mundo.es). What is the problem in this case? The problem is that the journalist recorded constantly with hidden cameras the inside of the contest, so the organization of the contest pressed charges against the production company for committing an offense against the privacy of the other 52 participants, among who there was a minor (Gómez, 2002). The problem here is that the company uncovered an illegal fact using illegal means.

What do people think about this case? Defenders say things such as “This is how journalism should be, it's awesome that they uncovered these people that just sell themselves to the highest bidder” (El Mundo.es). The infiltrator, Gema García, also defended her action saying that they were carrying out a journalistic job in benefit of the future misses.” Critics stressed the search of spectacle above the journalistic job and the use of illegal means.

There are more cases that challenge the limits of journalism in Spain. One example is the interview to Julián Muñoz by Telecinco. The interviewee is the former mayor of a Spanish city, Marbella, and is famous for his involvement in a big corruption plot by which he stole a lot of money to the city and for being in that moment the boyfriend of a famous Spanish singer. After spending more than two years in prison, Telecinco managed to interview the former mayor, an interview that they had already negotiated before he went out of prison (Longhi-Bracalia, 2008). His statements can be considered enriching and of journalistic interest. The problem is that the network paid 350,000 euros ($496,000) to the corrupt politician for the interview. When the network started to promote the interview, Internet users created a campaign with the slogan “I won't see the interview to Julián Muñoz”, defending that the network could have spent that money in one of the charitable causes that they preach so much(Barea, 2008). Internet users criticize this payment with comments such as this one: “I earn 800 euros per month. In order to win 350,000 euros I would have to work for 36 years and 4 months. To one fraudster and swine such as Julián Muñoz, with all the money that he has stolen to Marbella, still Telecinco has the little sense of shame to pay him 350,000 euros?” (Europasur.es). The network defended itself saying that “a former mayor accused of corruption that has been in jail may be of interest to the audience of Telecinco”.
Main companies involved


Telecinco is the second leading TV channel in Spain, behind the state-owned channel TVE1. The network had a good prestige some years ago. However, this prestige started to decline in 1999, when the stage of Paolo Vasile as chief executive of the network started. Moreover, the company Mediaset obtained 50.1 percent of the stock of the network (Such, 2009). This company is controlled by the president of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi, well-known for his scandals. Since then, Telecinco has been very criticized for its junk TV, with a big proliferation of realities and gossip shows. The network has been condemned several times due to offenses against the honor and the right to privacy of people. In 2008, Telecinco was the second channel that broke more times the Code of Self-regulation About Television Content and Childhood (García, 2011). On the other hand, the network is involved in a charitable initiative called “12 Months, 12 Causes”, by which it devotes some its programming to inform and make people aware about a social cause. This was one of the aspect that people claimed to Telecinco about the controversial interview to Julián Muñoz, arguing that those 350,000 euros could have been spent in one of those causes (Barea, 2008). Furthermore, the network broadcasts daily five hours of a gossip show called Sálvame, that has faced numerous charges for inventing false exclusives about famous people. One of the most well-known cases is when the show stated that the second best soccer team of Spain had lost against the first one because its most important player had organized a party in his house the night before the game. The soccer player pressed charges against the show and it had to withdraw their accusations.
El Mundo

The newspaper El Mundo is the third best sold in Spain, behind El País and the sports newspaper Marca. This newspaper has been involved in some controversies about its way to get exclusives, such as the case of Miss Alicante or the case of a blurred picture of the president of Madrid, Esperanza Aguirre, getting out of the surgery room in a stretcher of a hospital, after having an operation due to her cancer (El Mundo.es). The picture was published in a big size in the front page of the newspaper, despite the fact that the own president had already informed about all the details of her illness and her operation, and had also asked the media to respect her privacy (Palacios, 2011). This newspaper also had a good prestige in Spain. Since the beginning of its publication in 1989, it has always put many efforts on journalistic investigations, thank to which to uncovered some corruption scandals in the government of Felipe González. In 2010 the newspaper almost went to bankruptcy, but it managed to stay afloat thanks to a lending of its parent company. Perhaps those financial problems are the cause to its approach to sensationalism in order to try to sell more copies. Paradoxically, El Mundo has been one of the main media that has attacked Telecinco for its controversies. For example, it was to one to publish the video in which we can see the treatment that Isabel García received by the reporter in the case of Mari Luz, and they have criticized the intervention of Telecinco several times (Periodista Digital, 2011).
Legal situation in Spain

These situation are regulated in Spain by two types of codes: internal rules and ethic codes of each company, and the self-regulation codes signed by all the companies and that are focused in single issues such as the right to honor. Moreover, above Spanish codes there is an European one, the European Code of Journalism Deontology, which establishes the ethical responsibility of the media (herbogeminis.com). However, in recent years the government is trying to regulate more this issue due to the controversies about journalism limits and to the reports of the Journalists Unions Federation. Thus, in the television industry is awaiting approval a new Audiovisual Communication Law. This law establishes some rules about content and business running and creates a supervisor entity, the State Board of Audiovisual Media (Pérez, 2011). According to the Presidency minister, Ramón Jáuregui, this regulatory entity will have auditor and penalty abilities on the behaviors in audiovisual matters that “distort radically the principles in which our coexistence is shaped.” Regarding newspapers, there isn't any law that regulates these situations yet, so they still depend on the professionalism of each newspaper.

In conclusion, where are the limits of journalism? According to the German journalist Hans Leyendecker, number one in investigation, “the journalist has to reproduce reality, he doesn't have to produce it” (eurotopics.net). This would condemn the two first cases that I have described. In the case of Mari Luz, the reporter is the one to cause reality, causing the confession of the accomplice, an she also uses unethical mean to cause it. In the second case, the case of Miss Alicante, the newspaper is also the one to produce reality, as they bribed the judge in order to record it. The German journalist states that “the journalist shouldn't be an agitator”. The Spanish judge Fernando Grande-Marlaska declared in reference to the case of Mari Luz: “We can't get the information by any means and media don't care that” (Diario de Noticias, 2011). We can also apply this statement to the interview to Julián Muñoz. The declarations of the former convict could have a value for society as he was a public person but, can we pay any price to get that information? Is it fine to pay such a big amount of money to a person that has stolen a lot of money to his city? Regarding the case of the picture of Esperanza Aguirre, the question that the manager of the newspaper should ask himself is if the image contributes any information or if it just pursues a morbid fascination. In this case, the president of Madrid had already informed of all the details about her operation, so there was no need to publish a blurred picture that doesn't contributes any information and may break the right to privacy of the president. As the British writer Aldous Huxley said, “the end cannot justify the means for the simple and obvious reason that the means employed determine the nature of the ends produced” (Liberty Tree).


  1. Ana Rosa, sobre Isabel García: 'Dimos la noticia que todo periodista querría dar'” (online), El Mundo, February 28, 2011. >

  2. Ruiz, Vicente. “Cuando todo vale por una exclusiva” (online), El Mundo, February 26, 2011. <http://www.elmundo.es/elmundo/2011/02/26/television/1298678176.html>

  3. Parejo, Melanie, “Miss España al descubierto” (online), El Mundo, March 19, 2002. <http://www.elmundo.es/especiales/2002/03/sociedad/misses/envivo.html>

  4. Longhi-Bracaglia, Isabel, “La exclusiva de Julián Muñoz cuesta 350,000 euros a Telecinco” (online), El Mundo, November 5, 2008. <http://www.elmundo.es/elmundo/2008/11/04/comunicacion/1225833502.html>

  5. Gómez Aranda, Jose Manuel. The sentence of the report to El Mundo TV for the case of Miss Alicante (online), March 16, 2002.

  6. Pedrojota sufre un ataque de celos y acusa a Ana Rosa de vulnerar la ética periodística por conseguir que la mujer del asesino de Mari Luz confiese el crimen” (online), Periodista Digital, February 26, 2011.

  7. Palacios, Teresa. “Pedrojota traspasa otra línea roja al publicar una foto de Aguirre en camilla tras ser operada de cáncer” (online), Periodista Digital, February 23, 2011.

  8. Malavia, Miguel Ángel, “Telecinco viola la dignidad de una persona con retraso mental” (online), Periodista Digital, February 28, 2011.

  9. Pérez Hernánez, Sara, “La doble cara del Consejo Estatal de Medios Audiovisuales” (online), La Semana, February 21, 2011.

  10. García Luján, Juan. “Exclusivas Ana Rosa” (online), Canarias Ahora, February 28, 2011.

  11. Quirós, Francisco. “La cara oculta de la confesión del crimen de Mari Luz” (online), Gente Digital, February 28, 2011.

  12. Telespectadores denuncian trato vejatorio de Telecinco a la mujer de Santiago del Valle” (online), Diario Siglo XXI, February 28, 2011.

  13. Ana Rosa Quintana: 'Isabel decidió contar libremente la verdad'” (online), Xornal, February 28, 2011.

  14. Los límites del periodismo” (online), Diario de Noticias, March 1, 2011.

  15. Barea A., “Una campaña en Internet anima a no ver la entrevista a Julián Muñoz” (online), Europa Sur, November 21, 2008.

  16. Los límites del periodismo de investigación” (online), Eurotopics, September 19, 2008.

  17. El Mundo TV, periodismo de investigación” (online), Ciao, March 21, 2002.

  18. 'Al Descubierto' entrevista en exclusiva a Elena Dávalos, responsable de Miss Alicante”, La Guia TV.

  19. Caso Mari Luz: cuando todo vale por una exclusiva” (online), Vagos.es, February 26, 2011.

  20. Esto es Telecinco” (online), El Konsultorio, February 28, 2011.

  21. Larronda, Antonio and Solari, Pablo, “Periodismo de investigación” (online).

  22. Gómez, Jon, “Entrevista a Luis Roldán y Julián Muñoz” (online), Bungalow a pie de calle, November 16, 2008.

  23. Código de autorregulación sobre contenidos televisivos e infancia” (online), Gobierno de España.

  24. Código Europeo de Deontología del Periodismo”, July 1, 1993.

  25. El Programa de Ana Rosa en Telecinco traspasa todos los límites éticos” (online), Herbogeminis, March 1, 2011.

  26. Quote from Aldous Huxley” (online), Liberty Tree.

  27. Yo no veré la entrevista a Julián Muñoz” (online), Aprender en la red, Novemver 13, 2008.

  28. Such, Marina. “La historia de Telecinco, Especial 20 años”, Vayatele.com, August 28, 2009.


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