“This is Robert from Mijas: It’s a farce, a drama written by Boris Johnson.” “Sharon here from Alicante. The measure will not affect the British economy, but it is going to create a very complicated situation here.” These are just some of British residents of Spain who have called in to the radio station Talk Radio Europe (TRE) to share their thoughts about the United Kingdom’s handling of the coronavirus crisis – especially the UK government’s decision to reimpose a 14-day quarantine on travelers from Spain. When listeners ring in to the radio program Viewpoint, British journalist Giles Brown asks them three questions: “What’s your name? Where are you calling from? What is your viewpoint?”
The program is broadcast every Tuesday on TRE, which is headquartered on the outskirts of Estepona, a resort town on Spain’s Costa del Sol that is home to 68,286 residents. Last week, the show was dedicated almost exclusively to the quarantine for travelers from Spain. There was some debate as to whether health concerns should be prioritized above all else, “but the general opinion is that this is a stupid idea,” says Brown, who was born to a Scottish mother and Welsh father in the English city of Stoke-on-Trent. Now he lives next to La Concepción reservoir, in Istán, north of Marbella. “My paradise,” as he describes it.
Around 90% of British tourists who had planned to travel to Costa del Sol have cancelled their trips
TRE came into being a decade ago, and it is broadcast in areas where there is a large English-speaking community: Campo de Gibraltar, Costa del Sol, the part of Málaga province known as Axarquía, Costa Blanca in Alicante and Costa Cálida in Murcia, as well as Mallorca in Spain’s Balearic Islands. The headquarters, practically hidden next to an abandoned building, has a newsroom, offices, a kitchen and two small studios that broadcast into the homes of thousands of Britons in Spain. “Especially retirees, who feel more alone,” explains Nicola Chalmers, the sales director at TRE. All shows are in English, and time is set aside to address the legal, economic and health affairs of British migrants in Spain. There is also entertainment, and programs such as Viewpoint that look at current affairs.
“For many people, we are their friend in Spain,” says Stephen Ritson, one of the 20 journalists and collaborators at TRE. Born in Liverpool, Ritson now divides his time between Altea (22,290 residents) in Alicante province and the German city of Cologne. Ritson read Spanish at Oxford University, and has worked for the British newspaper the Daily Mail, Spanish television network Canal+ and the Spanish think tank FAES Foundation. He presents the program Europe Today, which examines international issues ranging from Brexit and the policies of US President Donald Trump, to relations with China and the coronavirus crisis – in particular the mandatory quarantine measures. “All Britons feel safer here [in Spain] than there [in the UK]; it is the general feeling of the foreign community,” says Ritson, who criticizes the confusing messages from the administration led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson. “A British saying sums it up well: he doesn’t know his arse from his elbow,” he says, adding that he receives hundreds of WhatsApp messages every day during his show. “Listener participation is essential and very active: the desire to be a public service and the more informal language are key to this closeness,” explains Ritson.
“It’s a ridiculous idea”
In the newsroom, the conversation turns to the many tourist businesses that, after surviving the coronavirus lockdown, had hoped to bounce back in August with the arrival of British visitors. But the British government’s decision to reintroduce a quarantine on travelers from Spain has killed these hopes and further devastated the Spanish tourism industry. The impact has been especially hard in Málaga province, where the TRE headquarters are located. According to Spain’s National Statistics Institute (INE), the number of tourists visiting Málaga has fallen from nine million to two million, while the number of hotels open for business has plummeted from 567 to 144. This has led to the loss of 15,000 jobs. This summer, Spain entered the season with 1.2 million fewer tourism positions than last year.
Hannah Murray and Selina MacKenzie belong to the editorial team at TRE. Murray presents the morning news, while MacKenzie has a variety show that includes interviews, competitions and music. They also don’t understand the quarantine rules. “It is a ridiculous idea. We are annoyed and upset,” says MacKenzie, who was hoping to visit her family in the UK but has had to cancel her trip. Around 90% of British tourists who had planned to travel to Costa del Sol have done the same, according to Andalusia’s tourism department. The figures are similar for other destinations popular with visitors from the UK. According to the travel technology company TravelgateX, for every UK reservation in Spain there have been 160 cancellations. “They can’t come and then spend two weeks at home. Their employers can’t grant this time as well as holidays,” says MacKenzie. “The Costa del Sol and Spain as a whole, save for some exceptions, are safer than the United Kingdom. The virus is contained here,” adds Murray. According to Brown, the quarantine decision is going to leave “Britons without tinto de verano [red wine and lemon soda] and Spaniards without jobs.”
English version by Melissa Kitson.