As editor-in-chief of local newspaper La Opinión in Murcia, Lola García selects content every day.
“Sometimes journalists cannot detach themselves from what surrounds them, so it is easy to get carried away. We need to be more alert than ever,” said García.
“Everything is polarised and, on many occasions, it is necessary to take sides. The key is to do it with truthful and fact-checked information.”
Indeed, the polarisation of Spanish politics, which became evident with extreme right-wing party Vox getting 52 seats in parliament last November, has been reflected in the media. Outlets show marked ideologies and provoke opposing and radical opinions.
In certain cases, this exaltation of ideology turns journalists into advocates for one side or the other. “The role of journalists as analysts is being left aside,” Momoitio said.
This also happens when pitching ideas for pieces or investigations.
Investigative journalist Paula Guisado, who works for national newspaper El Mundo, thinks the difference between self-censorship and a simple choice of content is “very subtle”.
“In my case, it’s a matter of knowing what the media outlet I work for prefers to publish. I invest my time in pitching topics I know will be better received. In corruption scandals, for instance, we all know El Mundo prefers to talk about PSOE [the left-wing party now in power] and El País would rather investigate [the right-wing] PP.”
Rather than seeing this as self-censorship, Guisado says it is “taking advantage of the environment you are working in”.
But García said: “When decisions are made based on non-journalistic criteria, it is self-censorship. When media business, ideology or other interests come into play, the pressure on journalists is intense.”
Job insecurity lies at the heart of this issue. The aforementioned 2016 Annual Report of the Journalistic Profession noted this pressure comes mostly from “people related to ownership or management of the media outlet”, especially when it comes to freelancers. In addition, failing to give in to the pressure can lead to consequences including, in many cases, being dismissed.
Luis Palacio Llanos, who oversees these reports, sees a possible relationship between the precariousness of the industry and self-censorship. “Between 2012 and 2018, and probably before that, unemployment and job insecurity was the main professional concern for Spanish journalists, according to our annual surveys. In 2019, this fell to second place, surpassed by bad pay, another sign of a precarious industry. In addition, journalists always rated their independence when carrying out their job below 5 on a scale of 0 to 10. Over the past few years, less than a quarter of journalists stated they had never been pressured to change significant parts of their pieces.”
The financial crisis that began in 2008 had a lot to do with the rise of self-censorship among journalists. The fall in advertising caused thousands of layoffs and the closure of hundreds of media operations. By 2012, more than 6,200 journalists had lost their jobs, according to the Spanish Federation of Journalist Associations. By 2014, 11,145 journalists had been fired and 100 media outlets had closed.
Momoitio believes the crisis and self-censoring go hand in hand. “The audience demands a very compassionate journalism, which does not take you out of your comfort zone. Journalism is going through such a long crisis that it has to adapt to these requests.”
Palacio added: “Surely the crisis and the deterioration in working conditions have been the main factors in the increase in self-censorship. This has been superimposed on a structural crisis that began at the end of the 20th century alongside the expansion of digitalisation.”
Digital is, of course, another aspect. Social media was central to the Pikara episode. In a time when information reaches millions of people in a matter of seconds, the reaction of a large digital audience can make journalists more vulnerable – and cautious.
“Social media greatly promotes self-censorship,” said Momoitio. The audience “follows you because you tell the stories they want to hear, from their perspective. That is very dangerous and irresponsible”.
García added: “Social media is a double-edged sword. There is greater projection, but it can trigger uncontrolled reactions.”