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Truly independent? State TV sorry for burying Catalan sovereignty march

Massive Diada demonstration only warranted fifth slot on evening newscast

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A scene from Tuesday's massive march in Barcelona.

Following the avalanche of criticism over its deficient news coverage of Catalonia’s massive pro-independence march on Tuesday, RTVE admitted to “an erroneous assessment” of the event’s newsworthiness.

The state broadcaster placed the news story in fifth spot during its 9pm newscast, whereas every other Spanish station — and even the BBC — opened with the massive march, which drew around 600,000 people according to this newspaper’s estimates (or 1.5 million according to the nationalist Catalan government of Artur Mas).

“We accept that we made a mistake,” said a spokesman for a station that has historically been accused of a pro-government bias by favoring the views of either the Socialists or the Popular Party (PP), depending on who happens to be in power. The conservative PP, which favors a centralized Spain over strong regional power, has a history of confrontational relationships with nationalist parties, especially Basque and Catalan ones.

The RTVE spokesman noted, however, that the actual coverage of the Catalan march was beyond reproach even if its importance was underestimated.

The station’s newscast council, however, has a very different opinion. This body, which represents RTVE journalists, says that the coverage violated the station’s stylebook, which mandates that the public network must defend citizens’ right to “truthful and independent information.”

The 9pm newscast opened with the visit by Finland’s prime minister and the “good vibes” between Mariano Rajoy and Jyrki Katainen

Journalists called the incident a case of “bad practice” and said that this kind of attitude is seriously detrimental to TVE’s credibility and audience ratings. “To relegate to the 20th minute of the newscast a massive pro-independence march that collapsed Barcelona’s city center goes against the principles that a newscast must be based on. Without a doubt, because of its general interest, meaning and proximity in time, it should have been the top story,” the council’s press release read, adding that while many foreign news programs opened with the Barcelona demonstration, “the TVE newscast delayed it in order to conceal its magnitude.”

Instead, the 9pm opened with the visit to Spain by Finland’s prime minister, and underscored the “good vibes” between Mariano Rajoy and Jyrki Katainen. News of the Catalan march came after coverage of the 9/11 anniversary, the moratorium granted to Portugal to meet deficit targets, and an update on the case of the missing children Ruth and José Bretón.

Dozens of people criticized TVE’s news coverage on the online social network Twitter, noting that the BBC opened with news of the historical Barcelona march. “The BBC considers it an opening news story while TVE does not. The CNN hires journalists that TVE fires [a reference to Ana Pastor]. Something smells bad at [RTVE headquarters] Torrespaña,” read one of the messages.

RTVE is already struggling with falling audience ratings as well as a major budget reduction of 204 million euros. The PP government recently repealed 2006 legislation establishing that the president of RTVE needs the support of two thirds of Congress. Now, nothing more than absolute majority is required, and the PP already has that, meaning it is free to appoint anyone it likes.