Coverage of Catalan Referendum Subject to Spanish and Catalan Meddling

Since Oct. 1, Catalonia has been in limbo due to the results and subsequent controversy surrounding their recent independence referendum. Ninety percent of all participants voted yes for independence, according to The Guardian, with 770,000 votes lost amidst the violence between Catalan voters and Spanish police.

While the Spanish actions against the referendum are well documented, the Catalans have also not been completely innocent in their own reporting of the referendum.

According to a Spanish branch of Reporters Without Borders, a report on the Catalan referendum titled Respect for media in Catalonia was published in the days before the election, with details concerning how the Catalan government and other Catalan actors have influenced the reporting of the referendum.

According to the report, several journalists, such as Politico Europe’s Ryan Heath, have been harassed by pro-Catalan trolls after commenting or sharing news or opinions interpreted to be against the referendum.

Along with Catalan media trolls, the Catalan government has also pressured the media to create a specific narrative towards the independence referendum, according to another portion of the #RespectPressCAT Report.

The report details how Independista politicians have harassed journalists on Twitter for displaying opinions contrary to the idea of Catalan independence. The Catalan government also pressures the foreign press to have a favorable viewpoint towards Catalonia.

For example, French journalist Elise Gazengel states that she has been pressured by the Catalan government, noting that representatives from the Catalan government have used Whatsapp to recommend specific articles or even correct language when writing about events in Catalonia. This sort of direct contact regarding coverage is less utilized in western countries.

According to Al Jazeera, both sides suffered from polarization during the run up to the referendum.

On the Catalan side, pro-independence voices on Catalan television projected a message of clear support for independence, rather than promoting any debate over the pros and cons of Catalan independence. Spanish  daytime talk shows–known as “terulias”–have also become a clear source of bias towards independence, lacking representation from anti-independence voices.

On the Spanish side, things are also biased. While the main national Spanish broadcaster, TVE was not as unbalanced as Catalonia’s regional broadcaster, it was also prone to the same kind of reporting.

According to Telesur, members of TVE Catalunya took a stand against the coverage of the referendum due to the way it was reported by the agency. In an open letter on Twitter, journalist Anna Grimau attacked the Spanish state media outlet, stating that the staff does not stand by the agency’s reporting.

She said that journalists were “not allowed to edit the information related to the events, specifically those relating to the way Madrid has reported police actions,” and “…during live coverage, [journalists] were pressured into not talking freely about the action of the police and to minimize these actions.”

This report demonstrates the flaws in reporting from both sides. Such biased reporting contributes to an environment of confusion in Catalonia, possibly deepening the crisis.

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