Bias in terror news

Distance from the scene of the events clearly determines the television narrative.

Perception of authority figures. During the minute’s silence observed in Plaça de Catalunya, Catalan president Carles Puigdemont could not be seen whenever the other political leaders were on camera, with only king Felipe and Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy appearing as the main dignitaries. This fact alone speaks volumes. The Spanish public TV network provided the broadcast signal via the Spanish government’s HQ in Madrid. It was a subliminal political message that aimed to manipulate our perception of reality: Spain as the focal reference, with the Catalan institutions kept out of the picture.

Emphatic celebration of political unity. On “Al rojo vivo”, anchor Cristina Pardo’s exaggerated insistence on the cooperation between the Spanish authorities and their Catalan counterpart bordered on ludicrous. Something which Catalan media regarded as a logical, secondary issue triggered much celebration on Spain’s La Sexta: “It is very comforting to see all the political parties presenting a united front”. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is a very important picture, one which shows that this country stands united against terror”. “A much-needed and critically important image of unity”. It sounded as if the message had an ulterior motive, well beyond what is reasonable.

Geographical inaccuracies. Distance and a lack of familiarity with the local area distorts locations. On Spanish TV networks, Alcanar became Tarragona. And later, so did Cambrils. From a Catalan point of view, this redrawing of the map is confusing. Mispronouncing place names, such as Ripoll, is also indicative of the gap between the story and its reporters.

Watering down Catalonia’s identity. “No tinc por” (“I am not afraid” in Catalan, the phrase that people were shouting in Barcelona city), was translated for “No tenemos miedo” (“We are not afraid” in Spanish) on Spanish TV. At no point did they indicate that it was a translation of the original sentence in Catalan.

Civic irresponsibility. While Catalan public broadcaster TV3 insisted on encouraging the public to trust official sources and the messages from the Catalan police, guests on Antena 3’s “Espejo público” cast doubts: “The Catalan authorities aren’t being transparent”, “Oddly, the Catalan police are keeping us in the dark”. Such comments were meant to sow fear and confusion. The importance of information management in a crisis was construed as a climate of deceit, with the news programme taking on the role of truth-finder, thus contributing to the spectacle.

Fact-twisting. On Spain’s Telecinco, both “Espejo público” and “El programa del verano” pundits kept linking terrorism with Catalonia’s independence process. A guest on Antena 3 stated that “Catalonia has become the ideal breeding ground for all these people [the jihadi terrorists] to get organised”.

Invasion of privacy. Far from ensuring that the identity of the victims was not disclosed, Telecinco kept trying to get hold of any relations to express their condolences on the phone while on the air. Anchorman Joaquín Prat said to the cousin of a man who had just been murdered in the attack: “the van rammed right into them, didn’t it, Ángeles?”. And he went on and on with his tearful condolences.

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