Spanish state broadcaster drops 'censorship' plan

AFP , Thursday 22 Sep 2011

The Spanish state broadcaster, RTVE, withdraws plans to allow political representatives to have access to the editing system for news reports

Spain's state broadcaster buckled in the face of widespread outrage Thursday and abandoned a plan to let political representatives review news stories before they air.

The RTVE board -- composed of major political party and union representatives -- stunned journalists by deciding Wednesday to give themselves access to the station's internal editing system for news reports.

It would allow the politicians to see all the journalists' headlines, videos, interviews and connections in real time -- while they are being worked on and before they are shown to the public.

The move, which came ahead of a general election on November 20, was swiftly condemned by journalists, party leaders and the public, with some likening it to a return to the practices of the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco.

"It opens the door to advance censorship, political control and all kinds of pressure," charged the RTVE news committee, made up of representatives of the channel's news services.

"This decision is a direct attack on the freedom and independence of journalists since it allows for the control of the content of newscasts while they are being prepared," it said in a statement.

Four RTVE board members from the conservative Popular Party, which is riding high in opinion polls, had made the proposal at Wednesday's meeting.

With the abstention of the ruling Socialist Party members of the board, the proposal was passed.

But on Thursday, in the face of the fierce backlash, the Popular Party members of the board backpedalled and vowed to reverse the decision in an urgent meeting Friday.

In a statement, they said they proposed the measure because "they felt it was useful for the board and without any intention to interfere in the work of the professionals."

"Given the opposition and unease this decision has raised among the workers of the company and wide sectors of public opinion, we have reconsidered this decision and request its cancellation in an urgent meeting of the board called for that purpose," they added.

The evening newscast on RTVE's main station TVE consistently tops the ratings.

In a sign of protest against the measure, public radio RNE on Thursday morning played the music that featured at the start of cinema newsreels during Franco's 1939-75 dictatorship, which contained heavy amounts of propaganda.

"This is a proposal that takes us back to a past that we thought we had forgotten, where freedom of information did not exist," the Federation of Journalists' Association of Spain said in a statement.

Popular Party leader Mariano Rajoy said it "had been wise to rectify" the decision while the Socialist prime ministerial candidate for the next general election, Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, called the move "a mistake".

"I don't agree with it and I hope the board rectifies the decision," the former deputy prime minister said.

The use of public television for the promotion of the government continued even after Franco's death in 1975.

During the 1986 referendum campaign on Spain's membership in NATO, TVE was widely seen to have been used to bring the electorate around to the ruling Socialists' new-found point of view in favour of membership.

But over the years the public broadcaster has fought hard to free itself from accusations that it is manipulated by the government and polls show its newscasts are now the most trusted by the public.

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