As we’ve come to expect, Spain’s Electoral Board has once again decided to curtail the freedom of expression of journalists working for TV3, Catalonia’s public TV broadcaster, prohibiting the use of certain words, since they consider that they carry an ideological bias which threatens journalistic neutrality. Naturally, TV3 has already released a statement challenging the decision and it finds itself obliged to warn viewers, before each news programme, of the language restrictions which have been placed upon them. The list grows longer with each general election: political prisoners, exile, president in exile, Council of the Republic and Assembly of Elected Officials. In the case of the latter two, which are institutions that already existed with the same name, TV3 is obliged to add "self-appointed" or "self-proclaimed" to their names.
Spain’s Electoral Board is exercising a form of policing of news neutrality. However, its criteria show more of the very same bias it proclaims to avoid. All words carry some ideological baggage, and journalism (of all kinds, not just the TV3 variety) has the obligation to choose its words carefully. Such is the responsibility of every reporter. This is precisely what journalism is all about: a social contract which is made between journalists and consumers, governed by a code of ethics which must be respected. What the Electoral Board has done is to overstep its bounds by exercising a form of censorship which is more typical of another kind of regime. Not only do they prohibit words, but they even insist they are used in a certain way in order to create a mental framework of their liking. They are simply engaging in political interference, under the guise of policing journalism.
But the most surprising and depressing part of the whole thing is the way in which journalists from other channels have tiptoed around this outrage. Other networks, for example Spanish private channels, may have the right to discuss whether there is such a thing as a political prisoner or whether part of the Catalan government is in exile, fleeing from justice or just abroad. But what is undeniable is that we now have a public TV channel in Spain which is prohibited from using certain words under threat of a financial penalty. All for the simple fact that a political organisation considers these words to have a political connotation which is not in line with their own ideology. And faced with this censorship, no TV channel, whether public or private, has come to the defence of the rights of TV3 employees and has defended the freedom of expression to which all journalists are entitled. When a colleague’s freedom is curtailed, they ought to stand up and defend them, in the same way as when a fellow journalist is assaulted, since censorship is a form of aggression. The fact that the media and journalists, precisely those who are charged with safeguarding our democracy, should stay silent and even approve of such coercion, shows the danger facing everyone’s rights and freedoms.