Spain’s govt said to be purging critics

Published Aug 07, 2012 12:00am

A GOVERNMENT making a raft of public spending cuts might not be expected to win many friends. But critics of Mariano Rajoy’s right-wing Partido Popular (PP) claim that a series of departures from Spain’s leading state broadcasting organisations are a sign that it will not tolerate any criticism.

A number of journalists who have presumed to question the administration’s austerity policy have been purged from the national RTVE radio and TV channel. And recently the most high-profile exit in months — that of Ana Pastor, the presenter of Los Desayunos de TVE, a popular breakfast news magazine programme — was announced.

Spanish politicians tend to get an easy ride from the press and rarely face a grilling. Pastor, however, has a reputation for calling the people she interviews to account and asking difficult questions. “They’re getting rid of me for acting as a journalist,” Pastor declared, adding that it was a political decision.

On July 4, the channel said Pastor was leaving after refusing the offer of a job as a presenter of a night-time programme. For her part, Pastor said: “I thought they were going to offer me something [else] but there was nothing of substance. The head of news said we should both think about my future but it was all vague. He said let’s see what happens between now and January. They didn’t want to say I was sacked, but I was, and I’m not one to hang around earning public money and doing nothing.”

Pastor said that it was clear that politicians “don’t like uncomfortable interviews”, while another source at TVE said the government was “allergic to discussion”. The departure — one of a number of controversial exits critics insist are sackings — comes after the removal of Fran Llorente, the RTVE head of news whom the government accused of political bias. Pepa Bueno, a former news anchor who, according to one source, “would have been sacked if she hadn’t already left last month”, said Llorente was under constant pressure from PP officials.

“I never received any sort of political instructions from Llorente,” Bueno added. “He always took the heat and left the rest of us to get on with being journalists.” Some 70 per cent of staff voted against the appointment of Llorente’s successor, Julio Somoano.

Since 1980 RTVE staff have been public appointees. In 2006 the law was changed so that appointments had to be approved by a two-thirds majority of parliament. This year the PP used its overall majority to scrap the 2006 amendment and has begun staffing the channel with veterans of the last PP government, which lost power in 2004 in the wake of the Madrid bombings. TVE was found guilty by Spain’s high court of ‘manipulation’ during its coverage of the 2002 general strike. This manipulation included the spectacle of reporters standing in deserted city centres insisting that life was going on as normal.

In January 2010 TVE stopped carrying advertising and was funded by a 550m euro state subsidy plus 500m euro raised by levying a special tax on telecommunications of 0.9 per cent of pre-tax profits and three per cent in the case of privately owned TV channels, both of which have appealed to the European court against the imposition of this tax. —The Guardian, London

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