Many restrictions on media coverage of campaign for 9 March general elections

Many restrictions on media coverage of campaign for 9 March general elections

Reporters Without Borders calls on Spain’s political parties to
respect press freedom and to stop imposing conditions that restrict
journalists’ ability to gather, process and disseminate news in an
independent manner. “Journalists should not be regarded as mere
auxiliaries and news should not be regarded as political
communication,” the organisation said.

The Spanish media have a long list of complaints
about the restrictions imposed on their coverage of the 9 March general
elections, ranging from limited access to candidates and bans on
recording candidates’ addresses at rallies, to news conferences without
questions.

Many Spanish journalists organisations are saying
their freedom to report the news is being violated. In particular, they
are criticising the control exercised by the two leading political
parties, the Spanish Socialists Workers Party (PSOE) and the Popular
Party (PP), over the way the press covers their election campaigns.
Both state and privately-owned TV stations are allowed to film
political rallies but not candidates. “We are puppets,” a journalist
who follows PSOE told El País on 1 March.

At the end of last
month, the Federation of Journalist Trade Unions (FeSP) called for an
end to the “shameful spectacle” in which rallies are transformed into
marketing products and journalists become nothing more than
transmission channels. The public has a right to reporting and
analysis, and it is the job of journalists to provide it, the FeSP
said, appealing to candidates to respect the rules of the democratic
game, especially in their relations with the media and journalists.

The
political parties defend themselves against the criticism. They claim
that they offer the TV stations recordings of the candidates’ complete
speeches “so that the media can select the passage they want.” They say
they do this for reasons of economy (“for the TV stations, this system
means a substantial reduction in costs”) and logistics (“installing a
dozen cameras would be very complicated”).

The FeSP condemns
this system. “In their concern to control the images that reach the TV
viewers, the politicians’ advisers obstruct the work of the media and
provide institutional films to the TV stations.”

Some news media
are refusing to comply with this system. Journalists with the Catalan
public TV channel TV-3 decided not to mention rallies which they were
unable to attend and record their own footage. This decision was taken
with the agreement of the station’s board of governments, and viewers
are reminded of it before each programme about the general election.

The
Madrid Press Association (APM) issued a statement on 6 February saying
TV crews should have unrestricted access to all the election rallies
held by Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and opposition
leader Mariano Rajoy and should be free to record not only the
candidates’ speeches but also anything else taking place at the rally.

Another
concern of journalists working for the public media is the obligation
to ensure that the air-time granted to each party is in proportion to
the votes it obtained in the last parliamentary elections. The
Association of Journalists of Catalonia, the Madrid Press Association
and Association of Journalists of Galicia referred the air-time issue
to the supreme court on 21 February. The lawyer representing the
Association of Journalists of Catalonia, Gemma Segura, said this
proportionality was inappropriate. “Neither neutrality nor pluralism is
achieved by predetermining air-time,” she said.

Journalists
working for the public broadcaster RTVE have been demanding more
reporting freedom for a long time. Last December, RTVE proposed an
election campaign coverage plan that tried to respect the principles of
pluralism and proportionality, but it was rejected by the electoral
commission on 14 February. Three of the smaller parties – United Left
(IU), the Catalan Convergence and Union (CiU) and the Basque
Nationalist Party (PNV) – complained to the supreme court on 3 March,
arguing that a televised debate limited to the candidates of the two
leading parties would violate respect for pluralism in the public media.

The
FeSP said in statement at the start of the election campaign that the
negotiations between PSOE and PP about the holding of television
debates between the leaders of the two parties were further evidence of
the way they regarded themselves as controllers of media news and
information.

According to the FeSP, the root of the problem lies
in the absence of any law in Spain that regulates the public media’s
role in an election campaign. The spaces for party political promotion
on the public TV stations are determined by the central electoral
commission, which “lacks the competence to do this,” the FeSP said.

“The
political bosses and their communication advisers demand predetermined
debates and interviews in which they go so far as to impose the camera
angles,” the FeSP continued. “By so doing, they turn journalists into
nothing more than the spectators of an interview.”

The FeSP
added: “Right now, these electoral programmes are spaces at the service
of the political parties, not at the service of the public. Journalists
complain that the electoral commission applies propaganda criteria to
news and information. And this will always be a source of conflict.”

Olga
Viza, the journalist who moderated the second TV debate between
Zapatero and Rajoy, defined her role as follows: “I just turn the pages
of a screenplay which they wrote themselves.” Viza made this comment in
an interview published by El País 48 hours before the debate. A telling
admission.

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