Spanish state TV accused of biased reporting on government and crisis


As the government faces a torrent of negative headlines linked to Spain’s economic and political crises, the state broadcaster is being accused of playing down the bad news and acting as a propaganda weapon.

A corruption scandal erupted in mid-January implicating senior members of the governing Partido Popular (PP) in an illegal payment network, including prime minister Mariano Rajoy. The ensuing political turmoil has seen opposition politicians call for Mr Rajoy’s resignation, angry street demonstrations, and a one-million-strong online petition demanding that top PP politicians step down.

But critics claim the broadcaster has tried to present this story as a minor case, rather than the biggest political scandal Spain has seen for years.

“Spaniards no longer trust the news programmes of TVE,” said Socialist Juan Luis Gordo in a recent Congress debate, in reference to the television arm of RTVE.

Opposition politicians such as Mr Gordo say the PP’s influence on RTVE’s news output has been visible since the party came to power in December 2011. The new government set about changing the legislation regarding senior appointments in the broadcaster. It is now easier for a government with a congressional majority – such as this one – to pick personnel.

Journalists sacked

In the wake of the law change, several long-standing figures at RTVE were replaced, including some high-profile journalists. Ana Pastor, the anchor of a popular current affairs programme, was one of many journalists the PP had accused of being hostile to it and who was sacked.

A new boss of RTVE was also brought in, Leopoldo González-Echenique, a young lawyer with little media experience. Like many of the new arrivals, he was close to the PP.

Last year, these reshuffles led to Reporters Without Borders warning that Spain’s state broadcaster was becoming “a political battlefield” and that the changes seemed “to confirm the worst fears of a reassertion of political control”. More recently, the Council of Europe has voiced similar concerns.

Critics also say that round-table discussions, a staple of Spanish radio, have lurched to the political right and that coverage of the economic crisis lacks depth.

Last September, the broadcaster was accused of playing down the importance of a massive Catalan pro-independence march in Barcelona. Organisers say over a million people took part, while RTVE’s television coverage treated it as an average-sized protest.

“Certain news stories . . . are getting buried,” said Rafa González, who has worked as a television journalist in Spain for 10 years. “I wouldn’t say RTVE is a government mouthpiece right now, but it’s showing signs of moving that way.”

The PP has dismissed the mounting criticism and the broadcaster issued a statement in which it insisted that there were “internal entities that ensure editorial independence”.

But RTVE has also been losing viewers and listeners in recent months. Its radio arm lost nearly a quarter of its listeners in the last three months of 2012, while television news programmes have lost their status as the country’s most viewed.