Catalonia crisis threatens independence of Spain’s public TV crews

"The situation in Spain is very polarised but it is a mistake to blame the media for that. The media is just reflecting what is happening in society," says Ricardo Gutiérrez, secretary general of the European Federation of Journalists. An interview on the Catalonian crisis.


Catalonian mural Catalanian journalists suffer exceptional situation

What effect is the Catalonian crisis having on the journalists?

What's worrying is that journalists - Catalonian journalists and journalists working for national media in Madrid - are both facing violence from civil society, from citizens. Journalists in the street are facing this. In some cases there are physical assaults. Most of the people regard journalists as part of the elite, those in power. And it’s not just separatists or nationalists – journalists are facing attacks from both sides.

And what can trade unions do to help them?

One thing we have in common is our ethical values. So we stand for respect for the truth, ethical behaviour, trying to balance when you cover politics. If you give the floor to separatists as a journalist, you should also give the floor to unionists. When you discuss [ethical] issues, everybody agrees. Some journalists are blaming their own media for not respecting ethical values. There is a habit in Spain of organising evening TV talks. Catalonian media [public service regional TV] only invite separatist commentators and national media only invite unionist panellists. It’s useless! People have to go to private media like La Sexta TV because it’s the only way to find a balanced discussion, with unionists and separatists discussing together. So it’s obvious that public media are being misused by governments on both sides to fuel hatred. It’s really clear that these media are used by politicians as a political tool and journalists from those media are blaming their own media bosses for this.

What can they do?

There’s an ethical body within newsrooms it’s called “Consejo de informativos” in RTVE and “Consejo profesional” in TV3, the Catalonian TV, and both bodies are blaming their own media on the way the news is being shaped, the biased way they are covering the news. Maybe you would imagine it’s separatist journalists blaming unionist journalists. It’s not the case. Journalists from RTVE the national broadcaster are blaming the way RTVE is covering the news in Catalonia. There are some very strange things happening. Some journalists from RTVE told me that they used to provide full news pieces for broadcast on the national news. Since a few weeks ago, the national news editors based in Madrid are telling the journalists: “Look, just provide the pictures. We will provide the commentary from Madrid.”

They are putting their own words into it?

Yes. It’s a total lack of trust. I was really surprised by that. If you have local journalists working for you, you should rely on them of course. This was journalists from RTVE who are based in Barcelona who told me that. They have several big studios employing 721 people with around 200 journalists. All of them are really concerned about the way the government in Madrid is controlling the content of the news. You may remember, we organised several missions to Spain with IPI about the need to delink public media and the government, the “desgubernamentalización”.

To get the government control out of the media?

That’s right. But it’s still a problem for public broadcasting in Spain. And in crisis situations, it’s obvious. If you discuss with citizens they know it. Public broadcasters are supposed to serve the citizens but they are not. They are serving the politicians.

Have you observed a similar effect in the printed media, the newspapers?

Some printed media have been fighting for more independence [for Catalonia] for years, or against independence, for years. But you know it. So when you read printed media it’s obvious. Public broadcasters are supposed to be more balanced. The value of pluralism is one of their duties. So – yes, you can find the same kind of bias in printed media but it’s not a surprise because it’s been part of their core values for years. But public TV is supposed to be balanced, to serve the citizens. In newspapers they separate facts and opinions more. It’s more in line with ethical values. The editorial opinion will not be mixed into an article about the news.

What are the next steps now for the EFJ to resolve these problems?

There will be a new election soon and we want to try to get the journalists into a united position against violence, against threats and the bias of their own medias. I am travelling to Madrid to talk to the colleagues there and hope to agree a joint declaration early in December, just before the official opening of the electoral campaign. We need to stand together against any violence targeting journalists.

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