Women’s protest at Spanish broadcaster reflects feminist tide

Journalists wear black and share claims of manipulation by superiors

MujeresRtve: one of La 1’s newscasters in black on Friday

MujeresRtve: one of La 1’s newscasters in black on Friday

 

Throughout the news bulletin on TVE La 1, the Spanish public-service television channel, last Friday almost all the journalists who appeared on screen wore black. It looked like a tribute to a deceased colleague but was in fact part of a protest against what many staff say is the death of the broadcaster’s credibility because of governing-party meddling in its news coverage.

Women at RTVE, or Radio Televisión Española, began the initiative, although many male staff have also joined in. “The women of RTVE are wearing black because we want a public broadcaster that includes all colours, one that is plural, independent and professional,” said Valle Alonso, a radio journalist who has worked at the company for 30 years. “We don’t want to be the radio and TV of the government,” she added. “We want to be the radio and TV of Spaniards.”

The main trigger for the protest is the refusal of the governing Popular Party to support a bid by the opposition to hire a new, independent RTVE chairman. Although the party does not have a majority in congress it has blocked a proposal, which has the unanimous backing of the opposition, to choose a new chairman via a transparent hiring process, rather than by the direct appointment of the government.

One of Mariano Rajoy’s first reforms after becoming prime minister, in 2011, was to make it easier for the government in power to appoint its own choice as the broadcaster’s chairman. The current chairman, José Antonio Sánchez, has frequently been criticised for an alleged pro-government stance, which many say can be seen in the broadcaster’s new coverage.

MujeresRtve

A new online movement, called MujeresRtve, or RTVEWomen, has been the driving force behind the backlash. In an echo of the #MeToo campaign, women journalists at the company have posted on Twitter their experiences of manipulation and censorship, under the hashtag #AsiSeManipula (“This is how they manipulate”).

MujeresRtve on Twitter

One such post read: “When the news bulletin turns a minister’s appearance in congress into a press conference in which the government’s position is explained in detail and that of the opposition is hardly included.”

Another said: “When an editor puts pressure on you saying that you’re really boring with the issue of violence against women . . .”

Although men who work for the broadcaster also complain of such incidents, those leading the protest are women, inspired by the success of a nationwide women’s strike on March 8th, which brought tens of thousands of demonstrators on to the streets.

“The problem isn’t just about manipulation of the news. It’s also the omission of information,” said Sylvia Bobadilla, a television journalist at RTVE.

RTVE has long been plagued by accusations of media bias, with critics pointing to the tendency of news bulletins to downplay stories that are unfavourable to the government, such as street demonstrations in Catalonia, or corruption scandals.

“When they get you to do a video package about an election campaign in chronological order, in order to avoid opening it with the scandal affecting the governing party,” read one of the testimonies in the online campaign.

Sexual discrimination

But the current protest is not solely based on skewed news, with Bobadilla and others also pointing to sexual discrimination at RTVE. Women in management positions, for example, are paid 41 per cent less than men, according to Alonso, who also points out that the company’s radio branch has no women in its most senior posts.

RTVE workers plan to wear black every Friday until the governing party relents on the appointment of a new chairman. This protest, however, is part of a broader trend in Spain in recent weeks of women denouncing cultural and sexual abuses.

The decision by a Pamplona court last month to absolve five men of the gang rape of an 18-year-old woman unleashed a wave of street protests. Opposition politicians, government ministers and even the chairwoman of Santander bank, Ana Patricia Botín, all denounced the verdict.

That case has led to many women sharing their experiences of sexual harassment, abuse and rape under the Twitter hashtag #cuéntalo (“tell”), a trend that has also spread to Latin America. “We’re united,” said Alonso. “The feminist movement [in Spain] is transversal and welcoming, and finally we feel like we’re not alone.”