The pressure on the media
In 2017, Joan Maria Piqué, then director for external communications at the Generalitat, included all correspondents in a mailing list in order to send us everything that, in his opinion, would help us understand Catalan reality from the perspective of the regional government. This direct contact let us receive news, reactions, images and videos almost in real time, as soon as events happened. But, through it, the Generalitat could also send us its propaganda, data it was especially interested in sharing, and advise us to consult this or that (pro-independence) expert on certain matters so we could get their biased vision of events to better guide the focus of our reports. Sometimes, we received an article on a PP corruption scandal or on the lack of independence of certain public institutions. Any excuse was a good to convey the worst possible image of the Spanish State. We were also advised on which Catalan-written news websites to follow or which blog articles to read. I even remember receiving, on a Saturday morning at 9:00am, a XVIIth century quote from a historical figure trying to inform us on the prosecution that Catalans have suffered throughout the years at the hands of Spaniards…
Other times, we were sent articles from colleagues as examples of ‘good journalism’. Other colleagues complained about receiving comments on some of their pieces that someone disliked, or even public reprimands on Twitter, in the most blatant cases of pressure. This situation has been reported by Reporters Without Borders (RWF). Henry de Laquérie, correspondent for radio station Europe 1 in Barcelona, witnessed how the press chiefs of one of the Consellers [Catalan regional ministers] prepared a list of correspondents: they included comments about each and every professional on the list, such as “strongly committed with the Catalan issue” or “very critical with secessionism”.
The Generalitat used this direct line with correspondents to tell us what, in their opinión, we should or shouldn’t write if we were trying to do a “serious” job. For example, a communications director didn’t hesitate in trying to make me abstain from mentioning certain questions, such as the social rupture that politics were causing in Catalonia, suggesting that I was not legitimated to write anything about that as I didn’t live there. He also boycotted me for a period of time because I had retweeted the report from RWF about the pressure on journalists by Generalitat. And he warned me to be careful with my posts on Twitter if I didn’t want to “lose sources…”.
On the eve of the the October 1st referendum, and also during the days after it, some secessionists privately admitted that Spain was a “European democracy”, so they were safe pushing farther on their unilateral measures without “fear of anything serious happening”. Publicly, though, they protested against “the comeback of Francoism” and the “harsh repression”.
Privately, they explained to me that the application of art. 155 could be good to force a reaction from the international community. Publicly, when Madrid looked into the possibility of resorting to that instrument, they claimed against the outrageous curtail liberties in Catalonia, that seemed to remind other times.
Privately, they said that jail was a risk they had already assumed. Publicly, they assured that prison was pure revenge, a blatant and baseless injustice that revealed the absence of an actual separation of powers.
Privately, they told me that, should Madrid prevent the referendum or refuse to negotiate, there would be a “permanent occupation of the streets”, a “Maidan”, like in Ukraine. Publicly, they fumed any time someone dared to express fear that the conflict could drift towards violence.
Privately, they explained that the only issue up for negotiation was the referendum to be held, or the conditions for the split between Spain and Catalonia. Publicly, Puigdemont insisted that he acted in good faith, asking, simply, for a “dialogue” without prerequisites.
As the months passed, Catalan leaders lost credibility before a big part of international press, as I was told by a female manager of an important news agency. However, they had a great advantage: the utter lack of a communications strategy from Moncloa towards international media. […]
Public media under control
I’m at the bar in a hotel in Barcelona to have a coffee with a communications director at PDeCAT with whom I’ve had a mutual-trust relation for years. It’s June 2017 and the situation is becoming more and more tense. We’re having a casual conversation about the upcoming referendum on October 1st. I express my doubts about its legitimacy, about the guarantees that can be offered in the case of a consultation held unilaterally, about the consequences that defying Madrid may entail. And he utters a sentence that deeply shocks me: “If we buy two advertising pages in Le Monde, you will write what you’re told by your bosses…” Upon noticing my anger, he admits, embarrassed: “Well, that’s the way things work here”.
This confession is very revealing: it proves the Generalitat is used to controlling the editorial line in private media through subsidies, institutional advertising or appointments; and that the same happens with public media, where secessionists have placed supporters or outright pro-independence militants.
The power of the Generalitat over the media is not a secret, but in Catalonia no one seems to find it shocking […]
After watching public Catalan TV for hours and checking its ideological bias on its news broadcasts and talk shows, on the selection of their guests and the subjects, including something anecdotic but revealing like giving the weather forecast exclusively for the Països Catalans (“Catalan countries”, that include the French Roussillon), no matter there are thousands of citizens in Catalonia that use the train daily to go to Madrid, in October I decided to visit TV3 to prepare a story.
I interview there its director, Vicent Sanchis, an elated man, always with an ironic smile on his face […]
He believes that, if there is criticism against TV3, it’s due to the fact that public TV is, with the police and the school, one of the “three main pillars of a State”. He has no doubt that its task is essential, as he explains that it “must represent the social majority of this country” which, as he assures without hesitation, is “pro-independence”. […]
During the interview, Sanchis –vice president at Omnium Cultural between 2008 and 2015, not only boasts about being one of the main organizers of the big demonstration held in 2010 against the Constitutional Court ruling under the slogan “We are a Nation. We decide” but he also proudly mentions that it was himself who “invented the slogan”.