Political polarisation is reflected in the media, which dangerously blur the line between information and opinion, thereby fuelling a tendency to denigrate journalism. Press freedom is also threatened by an increase in SLAPPs against the media and journalists.
The Spanish media landscape is characterised by a high level of concentration at the national level. The privately-owned media groups Atresmedia and Mediaset and the public radio and TV broadcaster RTVE represent more than 75% of the broadcast media sector. At the regional level, this sector is marked by a significant presence of public broadcasters allied in the Federation of Regional Radio and Television Entities (FORTA), which increases the risk of political interference. There is more diversity in the print media sector.
Like Spanish society itself, a segment of the media is polarised and increasingly replaces reporting with opinion, a trend that fuels public mistrust of journalists. Some media outlets have accused the government of refusing questions at press conferences, while extremist parties mount verbal attacks on the journalists they find troublesome. The far-right group Vox continues to spread false information and to deny journalists and the media access to its press conferences and other events.
The government and its parliamentary allies have tried to repeal the most controversial articles of the "gag law" throughout the current parliament but seem on the verge of failure. The lack of an agreement on this issue before the parliamentary elections scheduled for autumn 2023 would constitute a serious breach of one of the government’s flagship promises. The police continue to use their power to harass journalists and the courts sometimes favour the police’s version of events over that of journalists who are victims of police violence.
The high degree of media ownership concentration is accompanied by a lack of transparency about the significant level of influence that media owners exercise over government officials and politicians. This lack of transparency also concerns expenditure on advertising by both the state sector and major private-sector companies. Since the 2008 economic crisis and resulting loss of media sector jobs, journalism has become a chronically precarious profession.
Spanish society is tolerant and open to diversity, and journalists are rarely subjected to any pressure other than from the authorities. Parliament has begun the process of decriminalising “insults to the crown” and other offences against “the symbols of the state” that have hindered freedom of expression in the past.
The de-escalation of the conflict over the issue of Catalan independence, which had sparked major violence against journalists by demonstrators and the police, has drastically reduced attacks. Yet a growing number of journalists are facing harassment on social media, including by far-right and far-left politicians and trolls.