MADRID -- Spanish public television is set to show its first live bullfight in six years Wednesday evening, after the conservative prime minister, a staunch fan, reversed a ban on live broadcasts of the blood sport.
Spain's bullfighting industry has been hurt by the global economic turmoil and a decrease in popularity among the country's youth. In the northeast region of Catalonia, a ban on the practice went into effect earlier this year. Animal rights groups consider the sport cruel.
Six years ago, the then-socialist government in Madrid banned bullfighting from being shown live on public television, arguing that it was inappropriate to broadcast the killing of animals during a time slot, at 6 p.m., when many children were watching.
But current Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has said he considers bullfighting an art form deeply rooted in Spanish history. After winning elections late last year, Rajoy's conservative Popular Party appointed a new, like-minded management team for Spain's public broadcaster, which decided to resume the airing of live bullfights.
Wednesday night's fight, part of a festival in the northern city of Valladolid, is to be the first in a series of prime-time bullfights to be aired in the coming months. It features three matadors -- including one of Spain's most famous, Julian Lopez, better known "El Juli" -- up against six half-ton bulls.
Both Lopez and the bulls' breeder volunteered to waive payments they would normally receive for broadcast rights in order to encourage the cash-strapped public television service to reverse the ban.
The return of bullfighting to Spanish public TV is a victory for its advocates, who recently convinced the government to reclassify the practice as an art form, protected by the Ministry of Culture, rather than as a sport. When the ban was in place, fans were still able to watch fights on cable TV or regional channels.
Bullfighting was banned in Spain's Canary Islands in 1991, but Catalonia is the only Spanish mainland region where the practice is illegal. The Catalan branch of Spain's public broadcaster has reportedly asked that it be allowed to block the incoming signal from the central broadcaster when the evening bullfight begins.
-- Lauren Frayer
Photo: After a six-year ban, Spanish public TV will resume airing live bullfights such as this one, which took place in Pamplona in July. Credit: Alvaro Barrientos / Associated Press