11:58 GMT +315 October 2018
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    How Spanish Mass Media Outlets Manipulate Information

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    Diego Gonzalez
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    Sensational news from Venezuela on the front pages of various newspapers was aimed at drawing the public’s attention away from the elections in Spain.

    The first minutes of news reports are dedicated to the Spanish People’s Party, which receives three times as much media coverage as other political parties. Seasoned journalists are being replaced by inexperienced colleagues loyal to the ruling party.

    Tweet translation: The graph shows the share of the People’s Party’s media coverage in Spanish TV news reports

    This is how public opinion manipulation perpetrated by state-owned Spanish mass media looks like today.

    Privately owned mass media outlets don't fare any better: the Mediaset and Atresmedia media groups maintain a classic duopoly as they control 55 percent of private TV airtime.

    READ MORE: Elites Use Media as Tool to Suppress Masses, Manipulate Minds – Chomsky

    When it comes to print media, there are three primary publishing groups that control public opinion: PLANETA, the biggest publisher in the Spanish-speaking world; Vocento, which controls 14 outlets; and PRISA, which owns scores of newspapers, magazines, radio and TV channels, along with the daily El Pais.

    El Pais is the second most circulated daily newspaper in Spain, espousing left-wing views. Since last year, the newspaper is being constantly plagued by fake news accusations, with the allegedly distorted stories being mostly related to Russia, Catalonia and Venezuela.

    Screenshot of El Pais article and of the Twitter post
    © Photo : Screenshot
    Screenshot of El Pais article and of the Twitter post

    Photo translations. Left: According to Belgian police, over 10,000 people took part in pro-independence protests for Catalonia in Brussels. Right: According to the official data, 45,000 people attended a Catalan rally in Brussels.

    According to the latest report by the Center for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom, Spain ranks first among countries where the "political independence" of the press is in peril.

    "There is a handful of companies in Spain which control the flow of information, there's no pluralism," MEP Mariana Albiol (United Left) told Sputnik. "These are commercial groups which only provide information on issues related to their interests, because everyone knows that those who pay also decide what to talk about and how to do it. The only way to establish fair access to information for the people is to ensure that the media isn't controlled by rich companies. This is why we are now trying to at least restore justice to public TV."

    The RTVE Issue

    The state-owned Spanish Radio and Television Corporation (RTVE) which controls only 10 percent of the media space in Spain is the first source of complaints.

    The corporation's employees started openly talking about public opinion manipulation, with their statements ranging from hashtags on Twitter to wearing black clothes while on air, in mourning for the right to work with trustworthy information.

    READ MORE: We Do Not Need the MSM Anymore

    "During the last six years we detected a large variety of opinion manipulation methods. Any information that could harm the People's Party either wasn't aired at all, got censored or was simply reduced to brief messages." The primary guideline is, "publish a brief news report when the public is least expecting it, and offer no explanations," Alejandro Caballero, RTVE's News Council President, told Sputnik.

    The News Council was established during José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's tenure as Spain's prime minister (2004-2011), and regularly publishes reports about freedom of speech violations and censorship.

    "The reports are becoming larger and more comprehensive. Previously, they were only four- or five-pages long, but now each quarterly report contains about 80-90 pages," Caballero remarked.

    News report editing.
    © Photo : Screenshot
    News report editing.

    Photo caption: The first version contains a phrase "Dictator Franco", written by the anchor. Ten minutes later it is replaced with the second, edited version which does not contain the word "dictator."

    Sputnik has examined one such 236-page report for May-June 2018, which describes about 70 examples of manipulation, some of which were especially crude.

    On June 18, 2018, Pedro Sanchez, leader of the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party and representative of the country's political opposition, insisted on removing the remains of "Dictator Francisco Franco", as he called him, from the memorial complex known as the Valley of the Fallen.

    This story made headlines across the country and became top news, but Spanish public TV refused to call Franco a "dictator."

    READ MORE: UK MSM are Liars!

    In light of all the violations, and following a change of government in June 2018, TVE installed a temporary sole head of the corporation.

    However, not everyone is pleased with the changes. Early in September, leaflets and articles describing employee turnover at TVE conducted by the new administration, began circulating within the Spanish media system. The new management is being accused of doing the same things that the previous management did.

    A document titled "Platform for Free RTVE" — anonymous, but allegedly already signed by 50 professionals — has started circulating within RTVE, calling to "avoid oppression and repressions" in public TV. The paper blames the new management for creating "an organized party system which prioritizes lofty positions and editorial policy control over neutral public service."

    Jose Javier Esparza, a journalist whose name  has been synonymous with the conservative TV channel Intereconomia, claims that since the Socialist Party took power "things only got worse" and "the country has resigned to the need to maintain an expensive mechanism of public communications."

    How It All Began

    During the first years of his first term as the Prime Minister of Spain, Mariano Rajoy changed the mechanism for the election of RTVE's head, bypassing the existing procedures.

    "Since the 2011 election, the People's Party has maintained an absolute majority in the Congress. And the reform of the law on TV and radio broadcasting has allowed the absolute majority to completely control RTVE," political analyst Manuel Rodriguez told Sputnik.

    The election process has therefore turned into a purely bureaucratic procedure requiring no agreements between political factions.

    READ MORE: Who is NSA Whistleblower Bill Binney, Dragged By MSM as ‘Conspiracy Theorist’?

    Following the introduction of these legislative amendments, the number of councilors was decreased from 12 to 9, and in June, without prior approval, Leopoldo Gonzalez-Echenique was appointed the first head of the corporation.

    This intervention into media legislation heralded a number of crude violations.

    A simple pattern was employed: the information was presented at an angle favorable to the existing government (the People's Party).

    TVE employees described the coverage of the Catalan referendum as biased, claiming that TV there acted as a government representative.

    Tweet translation: As a TVE journalist, I feel ashamed when watching how biased a news report is. This is manipulation.

    The reports about corruption scandals involving high-ranking members of the People's Party were kept to a minimum.

    When Mariano Rajoy was testifying in court about the Gurtel case (the biggest corruption scandal in Spain's recent history, and which put an end to Rajoy's career), La 1 TV channel was broadcasting a report about grain.

    RTVE employee's tweet translation: I told Montoro about the examples of media manipulations in RTVE, reported by employees using the hashtag #AsiSeManipula. His response was: if you don't like it, transfer to a different channel.

    Tweet translation: When even the Spanish national football team can't be called ‘Red'

    The new editorial policy even forbade calling Spain's national football team "Red" (La Roja) as it is popularly known. The reason for this ban was simple — red is the color of the Spanish Socialist Party.

    Incorrect infographs meant to mislead the audience were being published.

    RTVE showed incorrect infographics
    © Photo : Screenshot
    RTVE showed incorrect infographics
    Correct infographics
    © Photo : Screenshot
    Correct infographics

    This PR policy by the People's Party has caused a severe backlash and caused journalists to take decisive action.

    In addition, media manipulations in favor of the existing government haven't been limited to just the Madrid community.

    "Local media in other regions of Spain, even if they adhere to other political views, have been doing the same," Caballero remarked.

    All About Venezuela, Little About the Elections

    At the time of his appointment as the head of RTVE, Leopoldo Gonzalez-Echenique didn't have any experience in mass media — his background was in hotel management.

    According to Manuel Aguilar, who worked for 30 years as editor at RTVE, Echenique's management style was deemed as "too soft" by the ruling party's leaders, and in September 2014 Gonzalez-Echenique resigned.

    When the new RTVE president, Jose Antonio Sanchez, took the helm, his first task was to provide media coverage for the 2015 election.

    READ MORE: Lavrov Trolls Spain at UN, Says Russia 'Busy Meddling in Catalonia's Elections'

    Sanchez turned out to be a tougher boss that his predecessor; prior to his appointment to RTVE he worked at the Telemadrid TV channel.

    According to Aguilar, Telemadrid "served the conservative government." "Sanchez definitely was a politician. Even when making an address in the parliament once, he admitted that he had always voted for the People's Party," Aguilar told Sputnik.

    Prior to the election, "the authorities probably panicked, fearing the possible triumph of the party Podemos and other political factions," Aguilar adds.

    The election campaign was chaotic. The first general election took place in December 2015, but none of the parties was able to obtain the majority needed to form a government.

    However, the development that caught everyone's attention was the defeat of the country's biggest political factions, the People's Party and the Socialist Party.

    Even the intervention by the King of Spain himself ultimately failed to fix things, and so a new election was held in September 2016.

    In this situation, Spanish public TV once again played a pivotal role. According to a News Council report accessed by Sputnik, the old strategy of blowing out of proportion mistakes made by the opposition while lauding the ruling party's successes was once again employed during the election campaign in May 2016, along with a new twist — Venezuela.

    From May 19 to May 31, 2016, news reports about t Venezuela being in throes of a serious crisis were actively circulated. In the context of Spanish politics, this could be regarded as dealing a blow against the party Podemos, which favors Latin American style socialism.

    "A total of 71 minutes of news reports were dedicated to this topic in May," the report states. Out of the 62 news broadcasts in May, 35 contained news from Venezuela.

     "During May, the news from Venezuela received twice as much coverage as unemployment, considering that according to surveys, unemployment is the chief concern of the Spanish people (75.3 percent of respondents). Meanwhile, Venezuela wasn't mentioned among the issues people took an interest in. Unemployment only received about 0.8 percent of airtime during news broadcasts," the document notes.

    The election was held on June 26, 2016, and on October 31, Mariano Rajoy's second tenure as prime minister began.

    Parallel editorial offices

    One of the strategies employed by the government while dealing with RTVE involved getting rid of the old guard and replacing them with more loyal journalists from regional media outlets. The victims of such personnel cuts described it as the creation of "parallel editorial offices."

    "There was a clear political strategy, with the management replacing chief editors. Competent specialists were pushed aside regardless of their political views; the personnel changes affected representatives of progressive and conservative forces alike. The obedient journalists were the ones who were favored," Alejandro Caballero explained.

    Tweet translation: When you are forced to end videos with opinions approved by the government, and you refuse, other journalists end up doing it.

    Jose Antonio Alvarez Gundin, who previously occupied the post of deputy chief of La Razon daily, which espouses right-wing views, and became appointed as director of TVE's Information Services, deserves a special mention.

    Other employees hailed from similarly-aligned private media agencies related to religious and economic spheres.

    Some new employees didn't have any working experience.

    "Most of them were willing to obey and not to engage in actual journalism at all. These employees were especially vulnerable in terms of their employment prospects, which made them especially malleable," Caballero said.

    According to him, this process left a trail of employees who were cast aside.

    "There's a whole floor called the Valley of the Fallen, where those who were driven from their previous workplace gather," he said.

    Decisive Action

    Employees of the Spanish radio and TV channel decided to jointly voice their concerns about media manipulations just as the People's Party barred the renewal of RTVE's Administrative Council and leadership.

    Translation: When the management summons you to ask you who your friends are, to determine whether you belong to their team

    Starting in April, journalists also began wearing black clothes, as if in mourning, while on air, in order to voice their discontent, with the initiative quickly attracting considerable attention and being dubbed "Black Friday."

    At the same time, RTVE employees started personally describing instances of censorship they had encountered, using the hashtag #AsiSeManipula.

    Tweet translation: We ask the People's Party representatives to read #AsiSeManipula. No one can remain indifferent when such outrageous things take place. How can you keep blocking RTVE's renewal? Is this the BBC you want to get?

    Manipulation on a Global Level

    In May 2018, the scandal reached the international level when the European Parliament Committee on Petitions sent the Spanish government a letter, voicing the committee's concern over allegations of media manipulation and bias on Spanish TV.

    In April 2015, The Financial Times claimed that Spanish mass media were attempting to aid Mariano Rajoy and his party, while at the same time "silencing the voices of the opposition."

    As Mariana Albiol explained, the TVE affair reached the attention of the European Parliament because the censorship had reached levels that violated EU media regulations.

    "The European Parliament decided to launch hearings on this issue and form a committee which would study journalists' paranoia about the alleged incursions by Russia. We said that before staring into another person's yard, we should check what's going on at home — for example, to take a look at what's happening in Spain," she said.

    Translation: When we say only the good things about "friendly" countries and only the bad things about "bad" countries.

    Many people tend to blame the problems plaguing TVE on the lack of funding.

    The European Broadcasting Union report compares RTVE with other European public broadcasting companies: German ARD, British BBC, Italian RAI and French FranceTV.

    The report shows that RTVE's European counterparts surpass the Spanish broadcaster in both in terms of budget (RTVE — 974 million euros, RAI — 2.8 billion euros, FranceTV — 3.2 billion euros, BBC — 6 billion euros, ARD — 6.4 billion euros) and the number of employees (RTVE — 6,295 employees, BBC — 21,271 employees, ARD — 22,711 employees).

    According to El Pais, all the TV channels surpass RTVE in terms of audience and people's trust, citing a survey conducted by Pew Research Center. The report, also mentioned by DPA, also states that there's a direct correlation between each of the European broadcasters' economic capabilities and their audiences.

    In 2017, RTVE barely reached 10.4% of the required number of viewers, while in 2008 this number was 16.9%.

    "Only 57 percent of respondents in Spain said that they trust RTVE broadcasts in general, which is a lot less than the 79 percent of Britons who trust BBC or the 80 percent of Germans who trust ARD," El Pais claims.

    On June 1, 2018, Mariano Rajoy was impeached and RTVE's leadership immediately resigned, but the uncertainty remains to this day.

    On June 7, Pedro Sanchez of the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party became the prime minister of Spain and Jose Antonio Sanchez left his post as RTVE president, with Rosa Maria Mateo being appointed as the temporary head of the corporation.

    Boomerang Effect

    Sputnik attempted to contact Ramon Moreno, People's Party spokesman in the congressional TVE Commission, in order to obtain his commentary on the uncovered examples of media manipulation, but he declined to do so, citing "personal reasons"; other members of the People's Party also declined to answer Sputnik's questions.

    In the Spanish congress, Moreno blasted the current management of the public media, subjecting them to the same kind of criticism that his party's administration had previously endured.

    "RTVE's new management cares more about persecuting and driving away professionals than offering fair and independent public service," he said, adding that the situation with manipulation on TVE is "alarming."

    The situation at RTVE is but one example, as the problem of media manipulation transcends the scope of television and even public space.

    Also, this problem cannot be solved by merely changing the government. Things still remain the same in the autonomous communities from where RTVE draws its new recruits in order to enact its media manipulation strategy; it affects not just the People's Party, but other political forces as well.

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