Black Friday: Spanish public broadcaster employees mourn the death of independent news

12 May, 2018

For the third week in a row, journalists at the Spanish public-service broadcaster RTVE wore black on Friday to protest PM Mariano Rajoy’s party meddling in their news coverage, which they fear damages the channel’s credibility.

The staff at Radio Television Espanola rebelled against the refusal of the Spanish ruling conservative Popular Party (PP) to support the opposition’s bid for a public contest to appoint a new, independent chairman for the channel.

According to RTVE staff, this kind of management casts doubt on its credibility, following numerous cases of deliberate news manipulation in favor of the ruling party, whether by withholding information or inaccurate coverage.

Women at RTVE, who were supported by many male colleagues, said they dressed in black to show they want “a public broadcaster that includes all colours, one that is diverse, independent and professional.”

One of the four major political parties in Spain, PP, does not have a majority in the government and normally needs external support to pass legislation. But, according to RTVE reporter Irene Montero, Prime Minister Rajoy’s PP was still able to “abuse its power” and block the opposition from lobbying for the transparent appointment of a new chairman, rather than the direct government appointment.

RTVE’s current chairman’s judgment calls and his policies were put into question after the coverage of Catalonia’s independence referendum in October 2017. According to the channel’s staff, Jose Antonio Sanchez, who is known for his pro-government stance, steered RTVE to deliberately manipulate, censor and sometimes omit certain stories, which seriously damaged their credibility.

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In an attempt to counteract the manipulation, the channel’s staff published an ample 72-page report. ‘The Consejo de Informativos de TVE’ (The News Council of the TVE) report addresses a total of nearly 30 cases of unilateral news coverage that deliberately violated the notion of plurality and freedom of speech.

One of the revealed cases involved Catalonia’s independence referendum, which, despite the fact that it was widely covered elsewhere, did not receive any special attention from the RTVE, while its significance was downplayed.

Outraged with the coverage policies, the channel staff questioned the reason for giving preference to the opinions of Spain’s government over those of the referendum organisers.

“What is the professional reason for the lack of informative stories regarding what happened in Catalonia on Sunday, October 1st?” the channel staff asked in the report.

Among other violations, the report revealed numerous cases of intentional mistranslation of subtitles from Catalan into Spanish.

The RTVE’s Black Friday protest was initially triggered by the acquittal of five rapists in Pamplona, and it was part of an ongoing national movement to denounce sexual discrimination and to defend women’s rights through their empowerment.

After two weeks of Black Friday protests, one of the editors from RTVE Valencia office quit her job in disapproval of the channel’s biased news coverage.

Journalists at RTVE have launched the hashtag #AsiSeManipula (that’s how they manipulate) to share their experiences working on the pro-government channel.

The campaign, led by RTVE reporters, received support from journalists and actors such as Pepa Bueno, Rosa María Calaf, Javier Cámara and Marta Soros, who published a video to advocate for the promotion of freedom of speech on radio and television.

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Responding to the accusations of news manipulation, Spain’s Minister of the Treasury and Public Administrations and member of PP, Cristobal Montoro, said, “if you don’t like TVE (news network), then you should change the channel (network). That’s what freedom is about.”

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