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Media : Lives of Rich, Famous Keep Spain Enthralled : The country's gossipy weekly magazines sell twice as fast as the leading newspapers, which are thoughtful but stolid and gray.


The tears of Pantoja became the tears of Spain and she took on the mantilla, as the weeklies put it, of "the national widow." Still a popular singer on records, Pantoja emerged from isolation this year by starring in a musical movie, which has brought a cascade of new publicity.

Some of the press notices are negative. Detractors accuse her of being overly ambitious. Meanwhile, Paquirri's first wife, Carmen Ordonez, is suing the singer for allegedly refusing to turn over some Paquirri mementos that rightfully belong to his children from the first marriage. But the movie has been a rapturous success, and most of the publicity has been adoring.

All these tales have been embellished by the weekly magazines that have become Spain's main publishing success in the last 15 years. They now sell 7 million copies a week, and it is clear that their success is founded on gossip, sensationalism and voyeurism.

The most influential and serious newsmagazine, Cambio 16, for example, has only half the circulation of Interviu, which publishes a nude on the cover every week and a nude Playboy-style photo essay alongside its news reports inside.

It's just the opposite with Spanish newspapers, which have a total daily circulation of 3 million copies. The most serious newspapers do best. El Pais, a newspaper founded the year after Francisco Franco died and now as analytical and thoughtful as Le Monde in Paris, is the country's largest newspaper, with a daily circulation of 375,000 and a Sunday circulation of 760,000.

Some analysts believe there are too many newspapers in Spain. More than two-thirds of the 116 newspapers have circulations of less than 25,000 and only three have more than 200,000. Many old fascist newspapers folded after the death of Franco in 1975, but for every paper that went under, another emerged.

And even though some think there are too many newspapers, it is generally agreed that there are too few newspaper readers. Only 80 copies of newspapers are circulated for every 1,000 Spaniards--the lowest total, except for Portugal, anywhere in Europe.

Two other characteristics of the Spanish press stand out. The first is the enormous space, especially in newspapers, devoted to literature, philosophy and other intellectual and cultural matters.

When Mexican poet and essayist Octavio Paz won the Nobel Prize for Literature in mid-October, the Madrid newspaper ABC devoted its front page, five pages of photos, an editorial and a supplement of 24 full pages to the news. El Pais covered the award with a front-page story, an editorial, and seven full pages of coverage inside.

Also striking is the inordinate amount of space devoted to coverage of America's National Basketball Assn. One magazine, SuperBasket, with a weekly circulation of 28,000, reports little else.

Why should the Spanish press care so much about American basketball? Apparently it all started in Los Angeles in 1984 when Spain finished second to the United States in the Olympic basketball championships and the country became obsessed with the sport.

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