The shortcomings of the Spanish media system: high political polarization, weak professionalism and safety of journalists


Freedom of expression and free flow of information are cornerstones of democracy. Journalists are therefore crucial to the very functioning of democratic societies providing quality information to people, facilitating public debate and acting as watchdogs (Curran, 2011). International standards impose on states the positive obligation of guaranteeing an enabling environment for journalists to allow them to do their job without fear (Council of Europe, 2016). Still, the Media Pluralism Monitor repeatedly shows that journalists and other media actors are facing a series of threats and attacks (physical and digital) in several European countries (CMPF, 2017). From 2015 to 2019 the Council of Europe Platform for the Protection of Journalism has reported 655 alerts of serious violations, and its annual report states that the press freedom is more fragile now than at any time since the end of the Cold War (Council of Europe, 2019).

In order to prevent increasing threats, harassment and physical attacks, international institutions such as the European Union and the Council of Europe, have promoted measures to foster safety of journalists. The aim of this paper is to assess how Spain is implementing the Recommendation (2016) of the Council of Europe on the protection of journalism and safety of journalists and other media actors, and if it enables an environment favourable for conducting journalism.

Spain is an interesting case of analysis because of the convulsive political situation, with rampant corruption and citizens’ growing distrust towards political institutions. Furthermore, political instability and polarization has been growing in recent years, with four national elections in the last four years, the rise of a new far-right party, as well as the Catalan push for independence. In this context, the number of cases of attacks and threats to the safety of journalists has increased drastically (PDLI, 2019).

In order to achieve the objective above mentioned a qualitative analysis of laws and policy documents has been applied. It has been analyzed if Spain is putting in place all the safeguards included in the Recommendation adopted by CoE. Particularly, it has been studied if relevant domestic laws have been revised, when necessary, to ensure their conformity with State obligations and the goals of this recommendation.

Results show that Spain is adopting some of the recommendations, however some legal reforms limit freedom of expression and right of information. Additionally, the struggle between the Spain and the Catalan pro-independence movement resulted in political, judicial and police actions that have limited even further these basic rights. The number of attacks on journalists has increased. In October 2019 at least 66 journalists were victims of aggressions while doing their job, both from participants in demonstrations, but also from the police. According to journalists associations, arbitrariness of many police actions suggests that these attacks are aimed at intimidating journalists, intending to force them to be away from the places where the events occur and therefore avoid witnesses of the abuses they may commit.