Prisa chairman Jesus de Polanco, Spain’s most powerful media exec for over three decades and a key architect of its modern democracy, died Saturday from pneumonia. He was 77.
Polanco had suffered longtime joint cancer and was hospitalized Friday at Madrid’s Rober Clinic. His funeral was announced for Sunday.
With first-half sales of $2.55 billion, Prisa is by far the biggest media group in Spain with radio nets and major book publishing operations in Latin America, It also owns top-rating Portuguese network TVI.
Despite detractors’ claims of a war of succession at Prisa, Polanco appears to have left its immediate leadership pretty much settled.
His eldest son, Ignacio Polanco Moreno, will become Prisa prexy following a board decision last November, and longtime righthand man Juan Luis Cebrian will oversee “El Pais,” while nephew Javier Diez de Polanco will steer its film and TV fortunes as Sogecable CEO.
Figures filing past his coffin on Saturday included an extended who’s who of Spain’s establishment, from prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Santander Bank prexy Emilio Botin, Antena 3 CEO Mauricio Carlotti and Nobel Prize winning writer Jose Saramago.
Wearing his personal fortune lightly, the dogged, canny Polanco, a supreme negotiator, never behaved like a mogul. Dressed in sober suits, he frequently insisted he was just “a simple businessman.” But from his beginnings as a door-to-door book salesman at 17, his busineses always had cultural heft. The most important for Spanish culture came in 1976 when he launched the independent newspaper “El Pais.”
A bastion of Spanish liberalism and freedom of speech, “El Pais” proved key in consolidating democratic values in Spain, especially in the years immediately following the death of dictator Francisco Franco’s in 1975. It remains Spain’s most-read quality daily.
From 1984, based out of Prisa, Polanco built the blocks of a modernized liberal media group, buying into radio network Cadena Ser, launching paybox Canal Plus Espana in 1989 — which evolved into pay TV conglom Sogecable — and bowing broadcaster Cuatro in 2005. Sogecable and Cuatro have become keystones of quality TV programming in Spain.
“He was decisive for the public liberties of this country,” said Rodriguez Zapatero.