For the director of the program, Carmen Aguilera, the name of El Intermedio (the intermission) is ironic give that she and her team work flat out behind the cameras every day to find the ideal mix of news and comedy that has made this the longest-running program on La Sexta, a veritable flagship show, and one of the networks hallmarks.
We live in polarized times, of trenches and supposed impartiality. How do you design the program to suit a general television audience, but without sacrificing the editorial line?
El Intermedio has never taken an impartial stance. We take a clear stance and that’s part of the program’s brand identity. Certain issues are a greater concern to us than others; historical memory, LGTBI rights, looting of public services, inequalities, the abuse of power, corruption, etc. Over the years, we’ve upheld and maintained a commitment to defending social rights. And then, as director, I have to deal with finding the right mechanisms for managing self-criticism and correction. But the basic thing is to tell the truth, not to lie. With that comes a lot of responsibility. Especially since many people rely on us for their daily dose of news, even though we’re not the headlining news show. My biggest worry is losing credibility. We’re more interested in getting it right than getting it first.
Where do you think the impatience and breakneck pace in the media comes from?
Lots of folk say that social networks are the enemy of journalism because everyone heir grain of sand and that creates confusion. I don’t see it like that at all. The problem is the need for speed, for immediacy. We have an advantage; the evening news program has around 30 different news items to cover so you have to provide the main information for each, whereas we on the other hand can select five or six stories, review the information and develop the idea properly.
The program probably has more than a few critics. How do you deal with your enemies? I presume you get your fair share of hostility over social networks, right?
Well, we use the networks to assess the feedback to see how the public are taking things. But I am not very active myself and I try to ensure the team working with me don’t get too carried away. By the way, I couldn’t end this interview without taking a moment to share the love I have for this amazing group of people, they’re fantastic. OK, that’s that out of the way…
Is it harder to make a satirical news program when fake news is the order of the day?
Well, fake news has been around all our life, you only have to think back to the conspiracy about 11-M, which was terrible. We’ve always wanted to dismantle this type of manipulation by providing audiences with context, analysis and new archives. Although, when the manipulation is so flagrant and exaggerated, you almost get lazy about refuting them and we just want to take the piss completely using comedy. When Vox come out with some absolute tripe about condoms, it’s tiring having to remind people how important they are in preventing unwanted pregnancies and STD’s.
Although comedy is a fantastic tool for levelling criticism, you have to have certain limits
Sometimes it seems that the real and the ‘fake’ are close to being mistaken one for the other.
We have the same people sometimes for example with certain videos by Alberto González: sometimes they are clearly beyond the pale, but others could just slip past as real. Also, Alejandro Pérez, who comes from the world of cutting-edge special effects has joined the crew to explore the idea of ‘deep fakes’. With artificial intelligence, we can overlap one person’s face with that of another and with this you can get Donald Trump to declare world war three. When I signed him up and realized the potential he had, I told him, “You either come to work for El Intermedio or you join the CIA!” Of course: it would only work if it was funny. A fake video attempting to pass as real news would never get past. But it is useful, for example, to simulate the debates we’d like to see: Iglesias against Errejón, Sánchez and Casado … We could call it ‘Debates For the Face’.
Do you have any no-go areas?
We never cover society gossip. And then, although comedy is a fantastic tool for levelling criticism, you have to have certain limits. Context is fundamental: it is not the same at home, in a bar or in a small theater, as it is for ‘prime time’ on Spanish TV. It is important to be clear about who the comedy subject is, and you have to be careful with vulnerable groups, or people who are having a bad time. In the end, comedy requires an agreement between the issuer and the recipient. You define the space and try to make the agreement work.