Publisher Jon Clarke on the early green beginnings that saw the Olive Press develop from a local Ronda newspaper into a regional media group covering the entire Costa del Sol and Andalucia.
WHEN I first set up the Olive Press in Ronda eight years ago, I did it out of desperation for a genuine newspaper to support the huge and growing expat population in Andalucia.
The largest diaspora in the world and the millions of British, Dutch, Scandinavian and Irish expats here were being insulted with nothing more than cheap magazines and papers with (badly) translated local articles.
There were no proper local English journalists investigating and reporting on the issues that mattered to foreigners … and no newspapers giving them a voice.
Whether to help local people fight injustice against their town halls, a warning against fraudsters, or a call to arms against barbaric projects ruining the region’s last green spaces, there was nothing.
I wanted to change that… and offer some proper community service in the form of local campaigning journalism.
After more than a decade working in Fleet Street, travelling the world investigating injustice, scandal and corruption, I couldn’t believe what I found on my very own doorstep.
Andalucia was being run by the local mafia and corruption was rife, with money having bought practically every authority and town hall.
When I started to investigate the shocking web of bribery and corruption surrounding the Los Merinos golf development in Ronda, I had no idea what I was letting myself in for.
The three-hotel, double golf course project was big bucks and would have seen over 1000 houses carving up a Unesco-protected virgin hillside. More crucially, I discovered, it was being protected from high up in the Junta. Perhaps even by its then leader Manuel Chavez.
Along with green groups and university professors we followed the money and licences trail and reported how the developers had started laying the foundations and cutting down ancient oak trees despite not having permission. We also helped to promote a series of protests that came out of classic green shoot opposition.
Initially the local powers that be tried to discredit the paper and told us to shut up. We were threatened with legal action – a fate that did land on a trio of expats who had dared to speak out – and I became shunned by various members of Ronda ‘society’.
But we didn’t shut up and our stories first began to make the UK national papers, and then the Spanish nationals began to follow suit. Our small regional environmental story was suddenly a major national hot potato.
Somewhere along the line our reporting on corruption and green issues led to us being labelled ‘sensationalist’. We were told to stop ruining the good name of the region and that we had it wrong. But how right, in fact, we were.
Today, the country is finally up in arms over the sheer depth of corruption and the amount of money that has been stolen by its leaders over two decades.
A new political party Podemos threatens to turf the two big parties out of power – quite justifiably – while every national and regional newspaper is, at last, awash with news on corruption. The tide has finally turned.
Meanwhile the Olive Press goes from strength to strength.
We know we have a far bigger role than just reporting on the region’s politics, environment and corruption.
A series of positive features have seen us promote the best of the region’s walks and attractions, while our campaigns have helped to publicise and save a number of key buildings, including Gerald Brenan’s home in Churriana (see The Queen back on her throne).
Over the last eight years we have also introduced numerous sections to keep the reader entertained and informed. They include golf, motoring and health, while the food and drink section is not only one of the most popular, but has its own sister website www.diningsecretsofandalucia.com.
Meanwhile our All About special supplements not only pick out the very best things to do and see in towns and cities around Andalucia, as well as Gibraltar and even Morocco, but have now got their very own popular website www.allaboutandalucia.com.
All of this, of course, would not have been possible without you, the readers, not to mention a growing number of quality local advertisers.
Thanks for your support.
We look forward to growing in strength and popularity over the next double century, with you alongside us. For that, after all, is the point.