Bullfights back on Spain public TV after six years

MADRID Fri Aug 24, 2012 2:11pm EDT

A reveller in a big hat watches a soccer ball thrown to the middle of the bullring at the start of the seventh bullfight of the San Fermin festival in Pamplona July 13, 2012. REUTERS/Susana Vera

A reveller in a big hat watches a soccer ball thrown to the middle of the bullring at the start of the seventh bullfight of the San Fermin festival in Pamplona July 13, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Susana Vera

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MADRID (Reuters) - Spain's public broadcaster has said it will show its first bullfight in six years next month, a controversial decision at a time when bullfighting faces growing public opposition.

State-funded Television Espanola (TVE) is in the middle of a major shake-up that has seen its budget slashed by 37 percent this year and several prominent journalists forced out as the center-right government overhauls the broadcaster's top brass.

It decided to air bullfighting, which has been banned in some regions of Spain, after bullfighters, bull breeders and promoters agreed to waive their broadcasting fees.

Bullfighting is highly divisive in the country - some consider it inhumane, while others say it is an essential part of traditional Spanish culture. It was classified as an art last year, making the Ministry of Culture responsible for it.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is known to be a fan of bullfights. TVE decided to stop broadcasting them in 2006, under the previous socialist government, because they were considered unsuitable for children, although there are no age restrictions to enter Spain's bullrings.

TVE will start broadcasting bullfights featuring some of the country's best-known toreros, including El Juli, on September 5, it said late on Thursday. "First-class festivities should be available for all fans in Spain," the broadcaster said.

Spain, which has accepted a 100 billion euro ($125.17 billion) bailout for its ailing banking sector and is now inching towards a full state rescue, is in its second painful recession in three years.

Councils have cut down on holding bullfights to save money, and cash-strapped fans are making fewer trips to the ring. The number of bullfights in Spain fell by 34 percent between 2007 and 2010.

Catalonia followed the example of the Canary Islands by banning bullfights last year, while the northern city of San Sebastian said this month it would prohibit bullfights at local festivities next year.

"So now bullfights will be able to sneak into Catalonia, even after all the uproar over the law, which will please fans and anger detractors once again ... Sometimes politics can be so ironic," Catalonian newspaper La Vanguardia said on Friday.

(Reporting by Cristina Fuentes-Cantillana, Writing by Clare Kane; Editing by Julien Toyer and Pravin Char)

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