On Friday, Spain's Senate will vote on measures proposed by PM Mariano Rajoy designed to halt the Catalan independence push, which along with dismissing the regional government would also include power over the Catalan Media Corporation (CCMA) – the body capable of removing or replacing the people in charge of TV3 and Catalunya Ràdio, which receives part of its funding from Catalonia’s regional government.
Spain's Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría told radio station Onda Cero on Monday that the Madrid government's "intention with public media outlets is to return them to neutrality" but the move has provoked concern and significant criticism from media bodies and workers across the country.
The news council (Consejo de Informativos) at Spanish state-owned public media corporation RTVE, which is tasked with ensuring the objectivity of channels like TVE, reacted by insisting that "public media outlets should serve citizens, never governments".
TV3 y el artículo 155. Comunicado conjunto de los tres Consejos de Informativos de RTVE. pic.twitter.com/3VEZJSp6ce— C.Informativos TVE (@CdItve) October 23, 2017
A union for workers at the Spanish capital's public broadcaster Telemadrid also slammed the central government's move, saying it was against "any kind of political interference in any public or private media outlet" and adding that "subordinating public media to political power affects both social and political pluralism".
The European Federation of Journalists, which represents 320,000 journalists in 43 countries, added its voice to the criticism by denouncing what it called "unacceptable political interference in the management of public service media".
Basque public broadcast service EiTB called the planned intervention "an attack against democracy and freedom of expression," while condemnation also came from media workers in Galicia, and Valencia. Leading Spanish journalist Ana Pastor questioned whether the Spanish government's goal is really to ensure neutrality. The 39-year-old, known for her no-nonsense style of journalism, has previously accused the governing PP of having her axed from TVE "for carrying out journalism".
Independent watchdog Freedom House, which assesses challenges to freedom and advocates political rights and liberties across the globe, expressed concern over the situation in Spain to The Local.
"Intrinsic to the playbook of modern authoritarians is control of state media. In both Hungary and Poland, governments that are hostile to democratic norms took over the state broadcasting entities and transformed them into instruments of propaganda. The same is also true in several Latin American countries. Freedom House always looks on state interventions in the administration of public media with concern, and this would certainly be the case in the Catalan case," Arch Puddington, Distinguished Scholar for Democracy Studies at Freedom House told The Local.
"I want to be careful in my judgement. I am not familiar with the Catalan state media. Was the state media playing a neutral role or was it serving as a cheerleader for the independence movement? The issues are obviously of some complexity. Clearly, however, the credibility of the state media would suffer substantially if the public perceived that it was being used for political purposes by government in Madrid," he continued.
"The best outcome would be a quick return of the Catalan media to its former status along with measures to ensure that it functions free of excess political influence."
TV3 has been subject to accusations of bias in the past, including by non-profit organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which in a report from earlier this year judged the outlet's news reporting to be in favour of the Catalan regional government. Along with Rajoy's PP, the opposition PSOE also argues that TV3 is not neutral.
The CCMA insists however that its media outlets "reflect the diversity of our society and stand as a guarantee of truthful, objective and pluralistic information".
"The CCMA stands firm by its mission to offer all the citizens of Catalonia, in compliance with its Parliamentary mandate, a public service of the highest quality, committed to ethical, democratic and pluralistic principles," it said in a statement released in response to Madrid's plans to intervene in its operation.