Spain mourns Prisa's Jesus de Polanco


MADRID -- Spain on Tuesday was still mourning the death of Prisa Group president Jesus de Polanco, the country's most powerful media mogul for more than three decades and a key player in Spain's transition from dictatorship to democracy. Polanco died Saturday of pneumonia. He was 77.

"He was decisive for the public liberties of this country," Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said.

His son, Ignacio Polanco, assumes the presidency of Spain's leading media group, Prisa.

"To give continuity to and develop the future of the work my father bequeathed is a challenge that we will face with success because we have the best teams of professionals imaginable," Ignacio Polanco said in a statement Monday.

Javier Diez de Polanco, the media magnate's nephew, will continue as the head of Prisa's film and TV wing Sogecable.

With a web of global holdings that includes radio networks and book publishing throughout Latin America as well as Portugal's top TV channel and widest-circulating quality daily, Prisa posted first-half revenue of $2.6 billion.

A self-made man, Polanco started selling books door to door at 17, a business he transformed into the bedrock of Spanish culture by creating the leading textbook publisher and later launching the independent newspaper "El Pais."

With a liberal slant and emphasis on freedom of speech, "El Pais" became an instrument for strengthening democratic values in Spain after the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

In 1989, Polanco skirted the limits of free-to-air channels by launching Spain's only pay TV channel, Canal Plus Espana, which grew into the film and TV powerhouse Sogecable. Sogecable is parent to TV broadcaster Cuatro, Spain's leading production house Sogecine and digital platform Digital Plus.

"His deep democratic convictions and his personality, from the media sector, have been essential to the construction of democracy in Spain," said Carmen Caffarel, former head of the pubcaster Radio Television Espanola and present head of Spain's Instituto Cervantes.