It was once, along with football matches featuring Real Madrid, the lifeblood of Spain's public television. In the late afternoon bars with television sets would fill up, families would settle down together in their living rooms, and the country's most famous television presenter would appear on the screen to announce the day's star attraction - the bullfight.
At times of political tension the regime of rightwing dictator General Francisco Franco reputedly programmed bullfights against protests. How many people, the logic apparently went, were going to join a march for freedom if the sex symbol matador Manuel Benítez El Cordobés was on the television?
This year, however, some 51 years after state television channel TVE made its first bullfighting broadcast, it looks set not to show a single live bullfight.
The disappearance of live bullfighting from the Spanish equivalent of the BBC has enraged traditionalists and aficionados while provoking satisfaction among a growing lobby that wants the so-called "national fiesta" banned completely.
"The absence is especially surprising given that this is a proven audience-winner," commented El Mundo newspaper.
The public broadcaster continues to show bull-fighting highlights late at night, but says restrictions on what can be shown during children's viewing times make it increasingly difficult to programme a live fight.
The disappearance of bullfighting from TVE does not, however, mean it is no longer on the country's screens. The recent proliferation of TV channels means there is probably more now than ever. Rival public broadcasters belonging to regional governments stuff their schedules with it. Critics claim TVE's defence that it is applying a voluntary, industry-wide charter on children's television viewing hides a surrender to anti-bullfight campaigners.
The code does not mention animals or bullfights but calls on broadcasters to avoid showing children both "behaviour that is dangerous to their health" and "explicitly violent scenes".
Last year's report on observance of the code upheld 31 complaints of infractions by Spanish broadcasters, though none involved bullfighting.
The parliamentary committee that watches over TVE has demanded that it warns parents when bullfights are coming up and ensures that programmes for the under-13s are scheduled on its other channel. "These [bullfights] are, surely, not the best way to be educating children," said Joan Herrera of the communist-led United Left coalition.
Traditionalists disagreed. "It is obvious that watching bullfights on the television does not traumatise children," protested Juan Manuel Albendea, of the conservative People's party.
The National Association of Bullfight Organisers has accused Luís Rodriguez Zapatero's government of using state television to perpetrate "a shameless, unjust attack on culture".
In Spain children's viewing time extends until 8pm for the under-13s. TVE has not ruled out showing live bullfights again, but a spokesman said bidding wars among Spanish broadcasters for the biggest and best festivals put these out of their price range.
It will continue to broadcast the popular bull-runs at the San Fermin fiestas in Pamplona every year. "There is no veto," a spokesman said.
In previous years, however, TVE has always shown more than a dozen live bullfights. Top matadors won the broadcaster up to 24% of viewers.
Manuel Benítez El Cordobés: The 1960s bullfighter was the first popular star of the TV era. The cameras immortalised his trademark "Frog's Leap" in front of the bull.
Francisco Rivera, (Paquirri): Gored to death in 1984 by a bull called Avispado at Pozoblanco, near Cordoba. Death in front of the cameras ensured an afterlife as a legend.
Jesús Janeiro, Jesulín de Ubrique: The most famous and best-looking bullfighting face of the 1990s. Women hurled their underwear at him as he saluted the crowd at the end of his fights.
"Fran" Rivera: Paquirri's bullfighting son is one of the most televisual matadors of today.
José Tomás: Came out of five years' retirement and was very nearly gored to death at Malaga over the weekend.
Last Mod: 21 Ağustos 2007, 12:11