Catalan referendum: attacks on journalists, biased coverage

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is appalled that media personnel were among the
victims of police charges against civilians during the illegal independence
referendum organized by the regional government in Catalonia, in northeastern
Spain, on 1 October.

According to figures provided by the Catalan government, around 850 people were injured as a result of the disproportionate use of force by police who had been deployed by the Spanish government. Those injured included press photographers and reporters who were covering the voting.

The most serious incidents occurred in and around the Ramón Lull School in downtown Barcelona, which served as a polling station. Several photographers were hit or injured in crushes, as the photo-journalist Juan Carlos Mohr reported on Twitter.

Xabi Barrena, a reporter for the Catalan daily El Periódico de Catalunya, was among the journalists attacked by Spanish riot police. He was struck by a police baton while using his mobile phone to film police charges inside the school. When he was on the ground, the police also kicked him.

Sofia Cabanes, a reporter for the digital daily NacióDigital in Terres de l’Ebre who also freelances for the Spanish news agency EFE, was filming a police charge in Sant Carles de la Ràpita, near Tarragona when a member of the Spanish Civil Guard (a gendarmerie-style force) struck her arm with his baton, knocking her mobile phone to the ground. When she tried to pick it up, one of the policemen deliberately stamped on her hand.

“We are appalled by the images of police violence coming from Catalonia,” said Macu de la Cruz, RSF Spain’s acting president. “The approximately 850 civilians reported injured included many reporters and photographers whose mission was to witness events and use their right to provide information.”

RSF also registered incidents and acts of violence on the eve of the referendum. A woman reporter for the La Sexta TV channel was harassed and threatened by a group of far-right demonstrators during a live report. While a crew with the Catalan public TV channel TV3 was covering a citizen vigil outside a nearby voting station, all four tyres of their car were slashed and its windows were broken.

Pro-independence crowds meanwhile constantly harassed Spanish TV reporters during their live reports, making it extremely difficult for them to work.

Rage within Spanish public broadcaster RTVE

Yesterday, the journalists’ association at RTVE, the Spanish public broadcaster that includes public television (TVE) and public radio (RNE), issued a statement accusing RTVE of bias and manipulation in its coverage of the referendum and the police violence.

At the same time, the TVE News Council (an independent body of journalists that monitors TVE’s impartiality), issued a communiqué calling for the immediate resignation of the entire TVE news management for “failing in the public service duty entrusted to it by the law as regards the provision of objective, accurate and pluralist reporting in its coverage of the events of 1 October in Catalonia.”

The communiqué added: “Not only did TVE make no special provision for an event of major importance, which would nonetheless have been easy to arrange, but also every effort was made to broadcast a partial vision of what happened.”

At TVE headquarters at the Torrespaña building in Madrid, journalists demonstrated their anger about TVE’s one-sided coverage of the referendum by brandishing placards with the words #vergüenza in Spanish and #vergonya in Catalan (which both mean “shame”).

“We express our solidarity with the journalists’ association at the public broadcaster RTVE, which has condemned RTVE’s one-sided coverage,” said Pauline Adès-Mével, the head of RSF European Union desk.

“We regret that RTVE has neglected its public service duties and is now offering one of the worst visions of journalism – biased news reporting. It is nonetheless encouraging to see the courage, dignity and ethics of the journalists who, in their actions, are making demands and trying to defend the public broadcaster’s prestige.”

Journalists at RNE, the public radio broadcaster, say it is unacceptable that RNE also failed to plan any special programming for 1 October.

“Members of the public who listened to Radio 1 or Radio 5 in the hope of learning about the latest referendum developments just heard songs or reports that had nothing to do with the news,” the RNE News Council says on its website.

The situation continues to be tense in Catalonia today, two days after the referendum, in which, according to the Catalan government, 90% of the votes were in favour of independence. Catalan unions called a general strike today in protest against the police violence during the referendum.

RSF’s Spanish section has created an online “letter-box” to receive reports of violence and abuses against journalists.

Spain is ranked 29th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

Published on
Updated on 04.10.2017