The way in which the media covers Spanish politics has received a lot of attention recently. Accusations of bias, hard to believe I know, have been freely made and with the country in an election campaign there is a greater focus on the coverage given to each political party. An interview recently on the state channel RTVE 1 with the secretary general of the Partido Popular, Maria Dolores de Cospedal, sparked a big row. De Cospedal backed claims made by other members of her party that the channel's news coverage is biased against the PP. The journalist conducting the panel interview/discussion, Ana Pastor, subsequently came to the defence of her employers.
What made the event unusual and more newsworthy was that Pastor spoke back against the politician. Interviews with Spanish politicians tend to be notoriously soft, and it's extremely rare to see an interviewee being given a hard time. Pastor had already gained some kudos a few months ago for a robust interview she did with the Iranian president, and I remember thinking at the time that it was just a pity that journalists here couldn't do the same with their own politicians. In the case of the De Cospedal interview the PP was naturally outraged that one of their leaders couldn't launch accusations on TV without being being answered. Of course they are more used to the manipulative and servile approach adopted by the regional channels they control, such as Telemadrid or Canal 9 in Valencia.
RTVE may not yet be the model of objective journalistic coverage but there is no doubt that it has been significantly less partial under Zapatero than it was under his predecessor. I still remember the Aznar years and those news bulletins that would almost always begin with the depressing words "el presidente del gobierno ha dicho". The post of head of RTVE was more or less interchangeable with that of being Aznar's press representative, and it was this kind of direct political control that has become the model for the dreadful pseudo news coverage that has become the norm in Madrid and Valencia. Zapatero cannot be accused of operating the same kind of policy and the top job in the corporation was agreed with the PP. The latter party just adopts a standard policy of accusing all the media who do not directly favour them of being biased.
Thankfully, there have also been hopeful signs of resistance from sections of the media to kid glove treatment of politicians. The increasingly common habit of press conferences being called where no questions are permitted from journalists has finally produced a backlash. Many individual journalists and some associations have signed a petition under the name of #sinpreguntasnocobertura where they call upon all members of the profession not to cover political events when journalists are not allowed to ask questions. It's a welcome step against the increasing management of political coverage by the parties, who already get their canned segments of speeches carried automatically by news bulletins.
Politicians on all sides can act in this way, PP leader Mariano Rajoy seems to give at most a couple of press conferences a year but there are also government ministers who adopt similar tactics with their public declarations. For the campaign to be truly effective it also needs the politically docile sections of the press to back it too. This presents difficulties for a certain brand of journalist. A press interview a few days ago with Valencian president Francisco Camps included a gem from the interviewer about how he didn't want to press Camps too hard on the Gürtel corruption case because he was not a Navy Seal! The battle has to be fought within the profession itself as well as against those who seek to manipulate media coverage in their own interests.