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Political Pressures in TVE: Cascade Effects,
Morphology of Manipulations and Professional
and Personal Reprisals
Manuel Goyanes, Martín Vaz-Álvarez & Márton Demeter
To cite this article: Manuel Goyanes, Martín Vaz-Álvarez & Márton Demeter (2020): Political
Pressures in TVE: Cascade Effects, Morphology of Manipulations and Professional and Personal
Reprisals, Journalism Practice
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/17512786.2020.1772098
Published online: 31 May 2020.
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Political Pressures in TVE: Cascade Eﬀects, Morphology of
Manipulations and Professional and Personal Reprisals
*, Martín Vaz-Álvarez
and Márton Demeter
Department of Communication, Carlos III University, Madrid, Spain;
Democracy Research Unit, University of
Salamanca, Salamanca, Spain;
Department of Communication, Santiago de Compostela University, Santiago,
Department of Social Communication, National University of Public Service, Budapest, Hungary
The journalistic ﬁeld of Spanish public service broadcaster has
traditionally been questioned for its lack of political autonomy
because of pervasive news manipulations over the course of
years. Prompted by these challenges and growing sociopolitical
pressures to set a politically free public governance, this study
aims to explore how political pressures interfere in the news
production process in TVE, elaborating on their potential impact
at professional and practical level. Drawing upon 45 in-depth
interviews with TVE newsworkers, our ﬁndings ﬁrst illustrate the
reach and morphology of political pressures in TVE, examining
how the news production management structures the anatomy of
political interferences in the newsroom. Then, the study outlines
the main typologies of pressures, illustrating the main
consequences for journalists’labor conditions and journalistic
practice. We argue that both internal and external political
pressures are inextricably inter-related, showcasing their
structuration through a top-down cascade eﬀect.
Political inﬂuence; TVE; news
ﬁeld; journalism practice;
political interference; news
In recent years, the traditional functions of public service broadcasting (PSB) have been
challenged by a myriad of organizational, structural, and economic factors inside and
outside the news business (Bennett 2015; Hanretty 2011; Polonska and Beckett 2019). In
Spain, prompted by professional demonstrations and a questionable approach to public
governance when appointing upper and middle managers, TVE has received much criti-
cism (Soengas and Rodríguez-Vázquez 2014), laying the ground for a deep transformation
of the structure and management of this entity. Given this backdrop, a growing number of
scholars have raised concerns about the increasingly politically oriented nature of the
service; the growing manipulations of the news; and the lack of consensus in establishing
an independent and politically free institution, starting from the board of directors
(Humanes and Fernández-Alonso 2015). This study focuses on the extension, morphology,
and the practical and personal eﬀects of political pressures in TVE.
© 2020 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
CONTACT Manuel Goyanes email@example.com
*teaches at Carlos III University in Madrid and his main interests are in media management and sociology of communication
sciences. He has written about leadership, news overload, and business models. He is the author of Desafío a la Investiga-
ción EstándarenComunicación. Crítica y Alternativas, Editorial UOC.
This article examines the structure and potential eﬀects of political pressures in PSB in
Spain, elaborating on how the news production process and journalists’role have estab-
lished a framework for manipulating news at TVE. Drawing upon 45 in-depth interviews
with journalists working at diﬀerent sections and centers of TVE, our results reveal the
role of both like-minded middle managers and news workers in the consolidation and
naturalization of political pressures, triggering a top-down cascade eﬀect and challenging
of journalists’independence and autonomy as a result. We argue that internal and external
political pressures are inextricably related, having a critical impact both professionally and
personally on how news workers reﬂect upon their role in the organization. This study con-
tributes to ongoing discussions on the declining reliability of PSB in democratic societies
(Polonska and Beckett 2019), illustrating the main psychological and professional impli-
cations of political interferences on public news workers.
The Context of Spanish PSB: A Historical Overview
The birth and evolution of Spain’s public television TVE was strongly conditioned by the
context of its creation (i.e., right in the middle of Franco’s dictatorship). As a result, it
was not until 1982 when the ﬁrst statute of the corporation was approved. In 1982, the
Socialist Party won the elections, and in the same year, RTVE also ceased to be the only
television in the Spanish media market, as the Basque Country established its own regional
television without the central government’s permission. This situation forced the central
government to pass a law that regulated the conditions of this new media landscape in
an eﬀort to gain some control over RTVE’s new competitors (Bustamante 2008).
In 1988, Law 10/1988 of Private Television was passed, and since then, commercial
broadcasters were able to join the media landscape. Despite the Socialist Party’s rejection
of this idea during their ﬁrst years of government, private broadcasters ﬁnally entered the
market arguing for “providing a broader informative pluralism”(Piedrahita 1994). In 1990,
three new private corporations (Antena 3, Gestevisión Telecinco, and Sogecable) joined
RTVE and the regional public televisions. At the end of the 90s and during the early
2000s, the right-wing Popular Party came to power, and this period at RTVE was character-
ized by strong governmental interference and serious economic problems (Gómez-
Montano 2006). However, there were some regulatory novelties: in 2001, the 1980 RTVE
statute was reviewed to include some new entries on the integral sense of public
service and decentralization. At the end of the year 2000, new concessions for private
broadcasters were granted for Net TV and Veo TV, two corporations well-known for
their sympathy with the Popular Party.
The left-wing Socialist Party returned to power in 2004 with José Luis Rodríguez Zapa-
tero as president, and in 2006, arguably the biggest step towards independence in the
history of RTVE was taken with the passing of Law 17/2006 (Bustamante and Corredor
2012). This law changed the method by which the president of the corporation was
appointed, who now needed the approval of two-thirds of the parliament, having been
previously evaluated by a committee of experts based on professional merits. In 2011,
the Popular Party won the elections defeating the Socialist Party, and Mariano Rajoy
formed a new right-wing government. After four months of administration, by virtue of
a Royal Decree, Law 17/2006 was modiﬁed to accommodate the appointment of the pre-
sident of RTVE by simple majority on a second round, thus de facto annulling the
previously stipulated majority of two-thirds of parliament. This last period of the Popular
Party’s administration has been regarded both by academics (Gómez-Montano 2006) and
in-house journalists as one of darkest periods of journalism at RTVE (García-de-Madariaga,
Navarro-Moreno, and Olmo-López 2019).
In 2018, a no-conﬁdence provision withdrew Mariano Rajoy from the government of
Spain and elected Socialist Party’s Pedro Sánchez as president. Sánchez’s arrival ushered
in a promise of transformation at RTVE and was received with a certain optimism. The
ﬁrst measures included the recuperation of the expert committee in charge of assessing
the eligibility of all candidates for the presidency of the corporation, and the need for a
reinforced majority of two-thirds of the parliament for the president’s appointment. Mean-
while, Rosa María Mateo, as a temporary unique administrator, was appointed by the gov-
ernment to run the corporation until the public tender process was fulﬁlled. However,
currently, the temporary administrator continues to act as president and the public
tender is on standby.
In conclusion, RTVE has historically struggled with maintaining a distance with the gov-
ernment, which has created not only an undesirable situation for professionals inside the
organization (García-de-Madariaga, Navarro-Moreno, and Olmo-López 2019) but has also
partially inﬂuenced the audience’s distrust in the public service media (PSM). RTVE’s fore-
most challenge in the coming years is reinforcing its relationship with the audience and
improving its image among them (Lamuedra 2012), but there is also a need for structural
reforms. While the media, commercial, technological, and political landscapes become
increasingly intertwined, PSM has a responsibility towards citizens to become more
approachable, diverse, and irrevocably independent. As academics call for a change in per-
spective to a more accessible, open, and advocate rights-based approach in PSM (Aslama-
Horowitz and Nieminen 2017), RTVE’s commitment to society must begin by shielding the
professional autonomy of its journalists.
The Autonomy of the Media Field under Political Pressures
The media in general, and PSB in particular, are ﬁelds that have always dealt with at least
two kinds of pressures. First, they struggle for autonomy from the economic ﬁeld, usually
called the market (Bourdieu 1998a). Second, it must ﬁght the continuous pressure from the
political ﬁeld (Hilgers and Mangez 2015). In the case of public PSB, political pressures are
usually more dominant: although state funding permits PSBto be—at least partially—free
from the market, the government often attempts, in return for this funding, to use PSB for
its own purposes (Benson and Powers 2011). Thus, similar to other ﬁelds in modern
democracies such as science, education, or the arts, journalism and media must also con-
stantly ﬁght for their autonomy (Bourdieu 1996).
Analyzing the autonomy of the ﬁeld of communication and media in a Bourdieusian
framework is a well-established research tradition (Benson and Neveu 2005; Hesmond-
halgh 2006; Myles 2010; Schultz 2007; Willig 2013). According to Bourdieu, autonomy
can be achieved in a complex system of competing ﬁelds. For media, these competing
systems are usually the market whose currency is capital return and politicswhose cur-
rency ispolitical power (Bourdieu 1991). Consequently, both market and politics seek to
dominate the ﬁeld of media to use it for their speciﬁc purposes (Benson 2006).
JOURNALISM PRACTICE 3
Regarding political pressures, the agents of the political ﬁeld (politicians, the govern-
ment, the state, political factions, and so on) also attempt to use the media in order to
broadcast their political agendas (Hesmondhalgh 2006). Politicians recognized early on
that mass media and television in particular “enjoys a de facto monopoly on what goes
into the heads of a signiﬁcant part of the population and what they think”(Bourdieu
1996, 18.). In the case of PSB, where the institutions receive funding from the state, this
pressure from political agents and interests can be very signiﬁcant, since there are
various “roles the state can play as owner, regulator, and funder of the media”(Hallin
and Mancini 2004, 49). Consequently, PSB’s independence from political pressures has
been one of the most discussed topics in journalism studies on PSB in recent years
(Bennett 2015; Hanretty 2011; Polonska and Beckett 2019).
Due to the aforementioned external pressures, media autonomy can be conceived in
two ways. The ﬁrst approach is in terms of external factors, i.e., independence from the
external pressures of competing ﬁelds such as markets and politics. The second way of
deﬁning autonomy is ascertaining ﬁeld-speciﬁc features; in the Bourdieusian perspective,
this is the determination of ﬁeld-speciﬁc agents, capitals, norms, and habitus (Bourdieu
1986a,1991). According to the original Bourdieusian idea, the ﬁeld is
the space of the relations of force between the diﬀerent kinds of capital or, more precisely,
between the agents who possess a suﬃcient amount of one of the diﬀerent kinds of
capital to be in a position to dominate the corresponding ﬁeld. (Bourdieu 1988, 34)
Habitus is deﬁned as certain durable and transposable dispositions or tendencies that
social agents have in order to be active during social actions (Grenfell 2008). Habitus is
also related to autonomy, since it is by the habitus that the agents of a speciﬁcﬁeld
can distinguish themselves from the agents of other ﬁelds. In the ﬁeld of journalism,
the agents of the ﬁeld develop ways of thinking, speaking, and acting that are diﬀerent
from the habitus of both political and economic agents (Bourdieu 1989b,1998b).
Nowadays, digital media platforms oﬀer various alternatives to PSB, and consequently,
PSB has lost a signiﬁcant part of its traditional audiences as well as a great deal of its
market share, making it increasingly dependent on state funding (Benson and Powers
2011). Given its economic dependence on the state (Brevini 2013), it is not surprising
that the political ﬁeld has become more involved in demanding a say in PSB’s operation
(Collins et al. 2001). Over the years, an extensive debate has emerged on the proper role of
PSB and its independence from political pressures (Farooq, Rbiha, and Aguenaou 2015;
Figueiras 2017; Mermin 2004; Nyarko, Mensah, and Owusu-Amoh 2018; Newton 2016).
Lamuedra, Martín and Broullón-Lozano, based on the report by the International Press
Institute, emphasize, “concerning the speciﬁc warning about the national public broad-
casting corporation RTVE, the report also condemned the lack of independence, infor-
mation manipulation practices, the pressure brought to bear on professionals and the
internal purges”(Lamuedra, Martín, and Broullón-Lozano 2019, 1531–1532).
According to media scholars, political independence of the ﬁeld implies PSB employees
making their day-to-day decisions without political subordination and not being subjected
to threats from politicians (Hanretty 2011). In Bourdieusian terms, they should be able to
live by the autonomous habitus of the ﬁeld (Bourdieu 1977,1989b). Nevertheless, as
Benson and Powell argue, the government always has and will try to inﬂuence the
operations of PSB; the question is to what extent is it possible to maintain the autonomy of
PSB in the face of continuous political pressure (Benson and Powers 2011).
In the case of RTVE, political pressures have become so intense as to have seriously
endangered the autonomy of the journalistic ﬁeld, raising concerns among citizens
and academics about the real public value of the entity in question. When the autonomy
of a given ﬁeld, in our case, of the Spanish public media ﬁeld is low, participants tend to
develop a habitus that might be diﬀerent from the habitus of agents working within an
autonomous media ﬁeld (Bourdieu 1989b,1996,1998b). Signiﬁcant shifts in professional
habitus mediated by agents that communicate between diﬀerent ﬁelds (Rothenberger,
Auer, and Pratt 2017), such as journal editors who mediate between political demands
and professional journalistic values, might undermine participants’autonomy (Bourdieu
1989a). However, this struggle could also respond to the ﬁeld’s norms and the habitus of
its agents, and as a consequence, a modiﬁed ﬁeld-structure could evolve (Bourdieu
1996). Understanding the process of constructing or reconstructing a professional ﬁeld
like public journalism is therefore essential to analyze the structure of external and
internal inﬂuences. Based on this theoretical framework, we pose the following research
RQ1:What is the reach and nature of the political pressures on the ﬁeld of journalism and
media in the case of RTVE?
RQ2: How are political pressures structured, how do they externally form the journalistic ﬁeld,
and how does the news production process enhance or hinder their potential?
RQ3: How do political pressures aﬀect newsworkers’habitus both professionally and
In order to answer our three research questions, we conduct 45in-depth interviews with
journalists working at TVE. These interviews took place between April and September of
2019, during the ﬁrst and second general elections called by Pedro Sánchez and being
Rosa María Mateo the temporary unique administrator of RTVE. By using public lists of
workers’names at RTVE and pre-made possible email structures, we started to contact pro-
fessionals of diﬀerent regions, areas of expertise, and, when this information was publicly
available, union aﬃliation. At the same time, there was an attempt to make parallel contact
through private messages on Twitter in the event that no response was received from the
company email address after a period of 5–10 days.
After having established contact and agreed on a meeting time, the interviews usually
took place between 5 and 15 days after the acceptance. Once the interview was com-
pleted, every respondent was asked, on a voluntary basis, to name another informant at
RTVE who could contribute to the study and develop more precise (snowball sampling),
objective-oriented interviews. This procedure resulted in a sample that was fairly
diverse, as it included respondents with diﬀerent educational backgrounds, responsibil-
ities, levels of experience in the organization and geographical locations. All the intervie-
wees were granted anonymity in order to protect them from possible consequences
within the organization. When asking interviewees for references of other possible
JOURNALISM PRACTICE 5
respondents, the name of the person who referred them was never revealed, unless the
latter gave explicit consent thereto.
The questionnaire of the interviews included three subsections, starting with general
questions about political pressures and interference, the past and present eﬀects of
these pressures in the newsroom and how they were materialized in practice (mor-
phology). Before starting the interview, a set of general questions about the interviewee
was asked: professional background, experience in the organization, responsibilities,
and the perception of its work conditions and work stability. At the start of every interview,
respondents were told once again that their answers would be treated anonymously, and
were speciﬁcally asked to respond to the questions using as many examples as possible.
Audio recordings were made of all the interviews, using a maximum of three diﬀerent
devices (phone, computer and portable recorder) to ensure the quality of the recordings,
which were then stored and encrypted in a computer. After being labeled accordingly, the
interviews were transcribed verbatim in order to implement a thematic analysis of data.
For the thematic analysis, the six-step process proposed by Braun and Clarke (2006) was
followed, starting with an overall reading of all the interviews in order to codify and
select the main themes. Later, these themes were revisited and reviewed, and ﬁnally
reﬁned before being reported.
Political Pressures in TVE: The Role of Like-Minded People
All the interviewees acknowledged the existence of political pressures in their daily work in
RTVE. In fact, they normalized the reach and range of such pressures and thus, the lack of
autonomy in the journalistic ﬁeld. By highlighting this general lack of autonomy, our par-
ticipants seem to agree that the crucial feature of political pressures is not their existence
per se, but the “capacity”or “legitimacy”of the newsroom to manage, cope, or respond to
such pressures. This normalization clearly results in considerable changes in habitus, since
professional habitus is, in a signiﬁcant part, a “result of an organizing action and it also des-
ignates a way of being”(Bourdieu 1977, 214). Participant 17, for example, reﬂected on the
existence of political pressures as follows:
Yes, as in any other media, in the best case scenario, we receive some suggestions, or in the
worst, pressures. This has always happened; it’s the eternal dialectic between the political
powers and the professionals. The key is to have the ability to respond to these suggestions
While all the participants acknowledged the existence of political pressures during the
course of their professional careers, the eﬀects of such pressures may vary according to
the ruling government and the legitimacy and independence of the management staﬀ.
In this sense, all the participants acknowledged that both PP (Popular Party) and PSOE
(Socialist Party) attempted—with varying degrees of success—to inﬂuence the PSM to
their beneﬁt, as the following participant comment illustrates: “In this sense, RTVE has,
in practically every era, been a governmental media.”(P27)
Despite the general political interferences in the newsroom in the history of TVE, most
participants seem to agree that the most recent period in which the ﬁeld of journalism
enjoyed more professional freedom and autonomy was during Rodríguez Zapatero’s
government. This corresponds to a well-known observation, according to which the
decline of external pressure is in tandem with increasing autonomy (Bourdieu 2000a).
According to our interviewees, the application of Law 17/2006 to select a president by con-
sensus served to “armor”the independence of the organization, and although the news-
room was still subjected to political interferences, the strength and legitimacy of the
management staﬀprevented such pressures from being deployed in practice. Participant
15 perfectly summarized many of our participants’ethical concerns about the virtue cycle
during Zapatero’s presidency: “There was a period of some years during Rodríguez Zapa-
tero’s presidency in which RTVE, at least in the informative services, was fairly indepen-
dent. I’m not saying there were no pressures, but these had no eﬀect or consequences.”
On the contrary, most participants clearly acknowledged that it was under the presi-
dency of Mariano Rajoy and José Antonio Sánchez as general director of RTVE that the
ﬁeld was less autonomous since “more control over the information and political manip-
ulations were exercised”(P5). For example, Participant 30 reﬂected upon the relevance of
Law 17/2006 and the arrival of Mariano Rajoy as follows:
The 2006 statute was a step towards independence, but then came the Royal Decree-Law [sti-
pulated the appointment of the general manager through an absolute majority and not by
consensus]. The Partido Popularrepealedit when Mariano Rajoy came to power, which was a
step back. (P24)
Traditionally, the structure of political interferences in Spanish public television(s) was
built on the appointment of staﬀconnected with the ruling party. According to our
ﬁndings, this strategy of “selection”of political commissioners—instead of independent
professionals—is a pervasive tactic in the history of TVE, and the main subterfuge to inte-
grate the political discourse of the ruling government into daily news content. Through
the appointment of hierarchies attached to the principles, norms, and values of the
ruling government and the recruitment of in-house news workers willing to collaborate
with the oﬃcial political discourse (what our respondents refer to as “the parallel news-
room”), politicians control the informative output of the television, while independent
in-house journalists are “pressed”to comply with formal “guidelines”on how to “manip-
ulate”news contents on demand. “The key is to have personal relationships with a clear
link with the Popular Party or to the person who appoints them in that position,”Partici-
pant 3 states. This phenomenon is a typical example of what Bourdieu calls the struggle for
doxa, which refers to the ﬁeld-speciﬁc truth that “always takes place under the control of
the constitutive norms of the ﬁeld and solely with the weapons approved within the ﬁeld”
(Bourdieu 2000b, 110). Thus, the journalistic ﬁeld could be pressured through its own cur-
rency or “weapons”that are the means of news production and dissemination.
Similarly, one participant noted that another strategy to exercise political inﬂuence is to
assign political information tasks to in-house journalists who “sympathize”with the ideol-
ogy of the ruling party: “There’ve been all kinds of cases. I’ve known cases in which the
person belonged to that party. Others just feed from that party’s ideology and end up
being perceived as kind by those parties that appoint them in those positions,”Participant
23 states. However, the vast majority of journalists working in the “parallel newsroom”
were hired professionals who came from news organizations or press cabinets with a
clear right-wing orientation, as Participant 26 describes:
JOURNALISM PRACTICE 7
Basically in these last years, they were people coming from outside the organization. The news
programs chief, Gundín, came from outside; one of his go-to’s came from outside the organ-
ization too. They also brought in Álvaro Zancajo, who came from outside RTVE too. Even the
president, José Antonio Sánchez, came from outside too, but he had had another period as
president of the organization earlier—a pretty dark period too—and his commitment to
public service is very relative. (P26)
Echoing this perspective, Participant 6 clariﬁed:
A lot of them come from outside. Especially when the Popular Party is governing, most news
programs chiefs came from outside. The lady that they appointed for the morning news ser-
vices also came from the Popular Party, the director that we had later too was external …In
news programs especially, they are all journalists that come from ideologically-related media;
the last news programs chief came from La Razón, for example. (P6)
Origin, Production, and Morphology of Political Pressures in TVE
The structure of political inﬂuences is determined by the process of news pro-
duction itself. Three positions are responsible for managing the news production
process of political information in TVE: editors, heads of sections, and journalists.
According to our ﬁndings, the news selection process begins with the arrival of
national agencies’daily agendas (mostly from Europa Press). Generally, the pro-
duction process has a cascade eﬀect: leaders, either the news editor or the heads
of sections, propose the topics and issues to be covered; select them according
to their newsworthiness; and set up a hierarchy. After news selection and editing,
journalists are told to cover the selected news items with clear “orientations”and
“guidelines,”although the process may occur in a reverse manner: journalists or
heads of sections “sell”the news stories to editors who then decide whether their
coverage is appropriate.
Participant 19 clearly explains the process of news production management in TVE:
Every morning, there’s a meeting with a representative from the management, the newscast
editors, and the heads of all sections, and that’s when the newscast time is divided up. Later,
throughout the day, that menu can vary, and this does not happen through a global meeting,
as it is the responsibility of the management and the editors, who directly make changes to
Similarly, Participant 17 described how the news production process is typically executed:
Usually, in Madrid, every day at 10 in the morning and then at 5 in the afternoon again,
there’s a meeting of all the section heads and the editors. Theoretically, at those meetings,
the section heads propose their topics, and the editors tell them when they’ll be given in
However, as previously mentioned, this directionality is often challenged, as journalists
and heads of sections may propose the main topics and issues to be covered, as Partici-
pant 10 mentions:
The section head proposes a series of topics, which are ‘sold’to the editor, and the editor ends
up buying them. It is he who decides the elements with which he’ll compose the newscast.
Many times, it’s the journalist who proposes, but sometimes, it’s the editor who proposes
to the journalist, and this changes on a cases-by-case basis.
The professional roles of the diﬀerent newsworkers involved are determined by their
respective responsibility in the selection and treatment of the news production. On the
one hand, heads of sections “generally propose news to the editor”(P14), while the
editor “decides what is going to be news, with the approval of the information director”
(P12). According to our ﬁndings, it is always the editor who has the “last say”in the pro-
duction process, while the heads of sections are in charge of “selling information to the
editor”(P8). Under this hierarchical structure, it is the informative director who eventually
decides whether a piece of news “is covered or not.”Participant 23 clearly elucidated the
chief roles of the professionals involved in the news production process:
In the decision-making process, it’s the head of section who sells the news to the editor, who
has the last word over what goes into the newscast, apart from the chief of news programs.
The journalist is the one in charge of shaping it. (P21)
Throughout this process, the role of journalists fundamentally is to “create”the news and
be “in touch”with reality in order to provide a more or less accurate idea “of what is going
on out there”(P3). Their role, however, is not only limited to news production, but also
involves creating a clear approach towards news creations. However, although the vast
majority of news workers do not participate in the meetings that set the news of the
day, they generally do have a take on the perspective of news production through
reasoned discussions with their head of sections. In general terms, journalists shape the
news and subsequently undergo a process of “editorial review,”in which they may also
“ﬁght”to convince their managers that their criteria should be taken into consideration,
as Participant 18 illustrated:
Journalists have to craft the news, whilst also adding their critical perspective. They have to
apply their journalistic criteria. For example, you have to ﬁght for the time you need to
explain your news, like by saying, ‘This needs one minute and a half because I need to
make these statements ….’They have to ﬁght for their news too.
In general, political inﬂuences may be internal or external. External inﬂuences are easy
to conceptualize: they simply mean the pressures from a given ﬁeld of power towards
another ﬁeld. In order to provide a ﬁeld-theoretic explanation of internal inﬂuences, the
concept of habitus needs to be considered again. Those agents that originally internalize
external pressures, basically internalize the norms and values of the external ﬁeld, which in
our case, include the norms and values of the political ﬁeld. They build these norms as part
of their habitus; as Bourdieu states, habitus is “the product of the internalization of the
principles of a cultural arbitrary capable of perpetuating itself”(Bourdieu and Passeron
1977, p. 31). Thus, internal inﬂuences might be considered as internalized external inﬂu-
ences, similar to how habitus is always an internalization of norms that are originally exter-
nal (Bourdieu and Passeron 1977).
The evidence from our ﬁndings reveals that the pressures are mainly internal and are
therefore directly exercised by the heads of sections, editors, or diﬀerent political commis-
sioners, and are “presumably”derived from the pressures received from political oﬃcials of
the ruling government (P14). There is a cascade eﬀect on the way in which internal political
inﬂuences are deployed, emanating from top political hierarchies and reaching the news-
room by a series of interactions. Internal political inﬂuences may become public because
journalists detect them and reject the basic “guidelines”and “orientations”required for
JOURNALISM PRACTICE 9
news production. However, when inﬂuences are accepted, for example, when the “guide-
lines”or the “dictates”are followed by hired personnel, they do not have personal eﬀects
but only practical ones (manipulations). However, when political inﬂuences are neglected,
the eﬀects are both personal (reprisals) and practical (manipulations). Many participants
explained the morphology of internal inﬂuences in the following terms:
The heads of section apply the pressures, following the instructions of the ruling party. (P7)
Internally, bosses try to inﬂuence how you should do your job, so you say what they want you
to say. (P9)
All the participants acknowledged the existence of political inﬂuences, because they have
been internally subjected to them by the heads of sections or because they have been
externally contacted by press cabinets. Internal pressures bear on how news stories are
approached, modiﬁed, or simply ignored. In any case, the conﬂict between management
and the newsroom arises when journalists disagree with the political discourse set by pol-
itical commissioners. External political pressures, on the other hand, are typically executed
through direct calls from press cabinets representing the interests of political parties or
candidates. Participant 7 explained her usual experience: “What’s normal is that press cabi-
nets call, even when they’re not in the government: ‘Hey, I didn’t like this …how can you
end the newscast like that?’” Similarly, Participant 4 reﬂected upon the diﬀerences
between internal and external inﬂuences:
When they come on behalf of political parties, it’s the press cabinet chief that calls, but when
they come on behalf of your bosses, that’s when the pressures are presented in the form of
suggestions: ‘change that text,’‘take this statement out and not this one,’etc.
Practical and Professional Eﬀects of Political Inﬂuences in TVE
The eﬀects of political pressures are manifested according to their practical or professional
implications. The practical eﬀects include a myriad of examples pertaining to what our
interviewees consider as “manipulations,”including “suggestions”for changing texts or
the inclusion of biased information, which generally translates into “not to speak badly
of the ruling government”(P19). On the other hand, the eﬀects of political inﬂuences at
a professional level are deployed through reprisals and executed when these “sugges-
tions”or “recommendations”about the treatment of informative content are not strictly
followed by newsworkers. These external political pressures reshape the journalistic
ﬁeld’s structure and operation to a signiﬁcant extent, as they have serious eﬀects on
both journalistic capital and the habitus of journalists. According to Bourdieu, the pro-
fessional practice of a given ﬁeld’s agents can be expressed by the following equation:
“practice results from relations between one’s dispositions (habitus) and one’s position
in a ﬁeld (capital), within the current state of play of that social arena (ﬁeld)”(Grenfell
2008, p. 51). When agents with greater power (meaning more capital) tend to normalize
political pressures and make them a part of the ﬁeld’s normal operation, then they
might become an accepted norm, and through the internalization of norms, they will
become a part of the professional habitus (Bourdieu 1986b).
The morphology of the manipulations implemented is manifold and diverse. Typically,
they are executed through two main strategies: (1) the emphasis on data, news, or
information that beneﬁts the ruling party and which the government wants society to be
aware of, and (2) the concealment of news, data, or information that harms or challenges
the government. The ﬁrst strategy involves political measures approved by the ruling gov-
ernment (such as laws, decrees or subsidies), strengthening of the government’s ideology
or doctrine on a given issue, or emphasis on the political opposition’s corruption cases of
the political opposition. Regarding this last scenario, many participants also referred to
strategies of counter-programming, in which relevant news about the opposition (the cel-
ebration of a national congress or the selection of new regional or national candidate) is
replaced by party politics of the ruling government. Regarding the second strategy, our
participants included cases of corruption of the ruling government or measures to
reduce state spending (economic cuts). Both the aforementioned inﬂuences correspond
to the processes that Bourdieu (1988) called “struggle at the ﬁeld.”With regard to the
struggle between political and journalistic ﬁelds, the corresponding types of capital are
political capital, manifested by political power, and journalistic capital, manifested by pro-
fessional values. The political ﬁeld could increase its control over the journalistic ﬁeld by
lessening the capital of the latter (Bourdieu 1996). As our evidences suggest, this can be
done either by determining what journalists can or cannot write about, since both
kinds of inﬂuence undermine the professional practice of journalists, and consequently,
the autonomy of the journalistic ﬁeld itself.
When political “orientations”or “inﬂuences”originating from the upper echelons are
ignored, individual journalists generally withdraw their by lines, and another news
worker who “sympathizes”with the “doctrines”or “dictates”of the ruling government
takes over in the process of news production. Many of our interviewees acknowledged
that throughout their careers as journalists in TVE, they have had to withdraw their
bylines from political news pieces due to the manipulations executed or the clear guide-
lines given. Participants 3 and 23 explained the proportion and phenomenology of
unsigned information in TVE:
In the newscasts of the last period, there were newscasts in which 80% of the pieces aired
were unsigned. And this means that the contentwent against the journalist’s opinion. (P3)
I would refuse to sign when it reached a point where I no longer agreed. That is a right we have
set in RTVE’s charter, and it’s the way in which we resolve those kinds of situations. (P23)
The procedure for not signing a piece of news, however, is quite challenging. Many par-
ticipants acknowledged that the Statute of Journalists’Rights and theConsejo de Informa-
tivos fully support them when these conﬂicts emerge. However, all of them also stated that
they cannot refuse to produce news, and therefore, despite disagreements that might
arise in relation to the perspective of a piece of news, they must produce it and ﬁght
for journalistic ethics to prevail over political interests, as Participant 12 noted:
You can’t refuse to work, because you can be ﬁred for that. You can’t say in any job that
you refuse to work; what you can do is ﬁght for it to be right. I remember pieces that I
refused to sign; there must have been only two, because they usually don’t even ask
you to do the pieces if they know you won’t agree, or sometimes, we end up arriving at
a compromise. (P1)
Once the journalist withdraws her/his signature and thus challenges the authorities of the
public television, what typically follows is a consequence at a professional level, i.e., a
JOURNALISM PRACTICE 11
reprisal. From a ﬁeld-theoretical perspective, this can be understood as an agent with less
capital trying to struggle with an agent with more capital, meaning that the former provokes
the position of the latter. As the ﬁeld itself can be conceived as a “competitive game or ‘ﬁeld
of struggles’in which social agents strategically improvise in their quest to maximize their
positions”(Grenfell 2008, p. 54), resistant journalists can be considered as either agents who
ﬁght for the professional values of the ﬁeld, or as agents who strive for higher positions in
the ﬁeld. Thus, from a Bourdieusian perspective, resistant journalist are active agents who
not only merely refuse the position of other agents, but also strive for better positions as
they have a “feel for the game”(Bourdieu 1989a, p. 64).
The majority of journalists interviewed who have refused to accept political pressures in
the news production process claimed that they had suﬀered reprisals from their direct
heads of sections, editors, or directors. The morphology of these reprisals may also vary
depending on the conﬂict, and above all, the newsworker’s persistence over time. There-
fore, the reprisal varies depending on whether a particular journalist “understands the
message”and stops reporting cases of political pressures and adapts to the “orientations”
of their superiors, or whether, on the contrary, they continue with their “wayward”behav-
ior. Our evidence revealed that many reprisals have occurred at a professional level, all of
them stemming from conﬂicts over the execution of political inﬂuences and newsworkers’
subsequent complaints to the Consejo de Informativos. The most common included the
cancelation of correspondent and presenters’contracts, assignment to night or
weekend shifts, change of program, reduction of salary bonus, etc. Below, we cite
examples of some of the reprisals suﬀered by the interviewees:
Particularly, with the case of Fernández-Díaz’s audios, I refused to sign the report if the audios
were not included, and as I saw this that this had no eﬀect, I refused to sign and to put my voice
in it. After that, I left on holidays, and when I came back, I was no longer in the newscast. (P15)
Yes, at a personal level, having to ﬁght with those situations has made me lose my job as a
correspondent and have all my salary supplements taken away, leaving me just with a base
salary. That and being banned for ﬁve years from political news. (P24)
These professional reprisals had important psychological implications for the majority of the
interviewees. Therefore, political pressures, when not fulﬁlled, had an eﬀect of liquidation of
trust between management and journalists, leading to reprisals that had psychologically
consequences in the newsroom and generated personal problems among professionals:
This aﬀected me deeply; my dream had been to work in public television and in the newscast,
and being kicked out for trying to do my job right was a trauma that was diﬃcult to accept, I
had to consult a psychologist. I had severe depression for 4 or 5 months. Of course, you under-
stand why they remove you, but you just can’t deal with it. I had a very bad time. They called
me to the oﬃce and told me I was no longer going to work in the newscast and put me in the
early morning shift. (P8)
Discussion and Conclusion
This article explored, described, and examined the nature of the political pressures against
the autonomy of the media ﬁeld as it has emerged within Spain’s main Public Service
Broadcaster, RTVE. As extant research on the role of PSB in society has shown, it is of
especial relevance for a democracy to maintain its PSB as independent and autonomous
(Bourdieu 1996), and free from any political interference that could jeopardize its credi-
bility and objectivity (Humanes and Fernández-Alonso 2015; Soengas and Rodríguez-
Vázquez 2014). Drawing upon 45interviews with TVE journalists, we oﬀer ﬁve insightful
contributions to this line of inquiry.
First, as previous studies on the eﬀects of political pressures on journalism practice have
noted (Soengas and Rodríguez-Vázquez 2014), our ﬁndings provide empirical support for
the growing trivialization of political pressures inside PSM. This trivialization implies that
the professional habitus of Spanish journalists has somehow adapted to the lack of auton-
omy, or in other words, the political ﬁeld’s ingression to the journalistic ﬁeld has become,
from a meta-ﬁeld perspective, part of the norm. Accordingly, in a Bourdieusian sense, the
Spanish PBS can be even considered to be a communicative aspect of the political ﬁeld.
Our results provide insightful evidence for the role of party politics in the execution and
emergence of political pressures at TVE. Although political interferences seem to exist
regardless of which political party is in power, our ﬁndings indicate that it was under
the right-wing Mariano Rajoy’s term of government and José Antonio Sánchez’s presi-
dency at TVE that these political interferences and manipulations were particularly
marked. On the other hand, the socialist government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero
was noted as the most favorable period for independence and professional quality
(García-de-Madariaga, Navarro-Moreno, and Olmo-López 2019; Gómez-Montano 2006).
Second, our study contributes to the ongoing theoretical discussions on the structura-
tion of political pressures in PSM newsrooms (Bennett 2015; Bourdieu 1996; Hanretty 2011;
Polonska and Beckett 2019). Our ﬁndings ﬁrst illustrate that the conﬁguration of such pol-
itical pressures is fundamentally based on the appointment of like-minded professionals.
According to our ﬁndings, the appointment of middle managers and the board of direc-
tors without the needed political consensus and professional backing turn these pro-
fessionals into illegitimate agents in the eyes of the newsroom. These appointed middle
ﬁgures were not generally advised to conduct any political manipulation, but rather had
a shared and foreknown political vision on how the informative service output must or
should be to favor the agents who had diligently positioned them. Therefore, the public
service, far from being a normative entity, transformed into a sort of “quid pro quo”
tool to ameliorate the image and reputation of the ruling government. Thus, a noticeable
political agenda was pushed through the PSM discourse, impairing the relation with its
audience and the overall perception of PSM by the Spanish population. Again, all these
phenomena contradict the Bourdieusian conception of an autonomous societal ﬁeld,
and this ﬁnding leads us to conclude that while journalists might develop a habitus
through which they can reconcile with political pressures, the audiences strongly resist
accepting the lack of autonomy in PSM.
Germane to the structuration of political pressures inside the newsroom, our study also
hints that political interferences are not only contingent on the appointment of closely
tied professionals, but also on the supportive attitudes of newsworkers who have tra-
ditionally sympathetic with governmental views. Therefore, underpinnings of political
pressures can be found both in the appointment of like-minded individuals and suppor-
tive newsworkers who are typically assigned to the most controversial issues. This triggers
growing grievances among “non-compliant”professionals, who in many cases, are down-
graded to covering marginal issues. Simultaneously, the normalization of certain politically
JOURNALISM PRACTICE 13
motivated editorial guidelines lead the least experienced journalists to assume those par-
ameters as journalistic habitus in order to avoid potential conﬂicts.
Third, our study describes and explains in detail how political pressures are engendered
and the roles diﬀerent newsworkers play in structuring and naturalizing their professional
habitus in theory and in praxis. We ﬁrst illustrate the emergence and consolidation of pol-
itical pressures through the news production process that also naturalize the continuously
decreasing autonomy of the ﬁeld, which goes in tandem with the changing habitus of
journalists. Our empirical ﬁndings reveal that news selection and production are set in
daily meetings, during which the most suitable perspective for news contents are also
During the process of this negotiation, when journalists assume that they can no longer
preserve and defend their journalistic instinct, they typically withdraw their signature from
the piece. These discussions, where news values are manipulated in order to shape a par-
ticular political vision, showcase how the management staﬀtry to legitimize bias through-
out the news production process. This intention to manipulate information with
discussions that are seemingly about journalistic criteria seems to be the element that
launders those political inﬂuences into the news production habit. Consequently, some
journalists perceived this process as a normal part of the ﬁeld of struggle, as “part of
the job”became the standard for news making. When political pressures are considered
as one of the ﬁeld’s accepted norms, then the journalistic ﬁeld not only loses its autonomy,
but the “norm of accepted political pressures”becomes the habitus of the ﬁeld’s agents as
Fourth, our study complements extant research on the morphology of political and
commercial pressures in the newsroom (Goyanes and Rodríguez-Castro 2019), by
arguing that, in the case of TVE, external and internal inﬂuences are inextricably inter-
related. The analysis of the structure of the way in which political pressures reshape the
journalistic ﬁeld is, from a ﬁeld theoretic point of view, extremely important when explain-
ing the exact character of changes in the norms, habitus, and autonomy of the ﬁeld.
Internal political inﬂuences at TVE are a direct consequence of the questionable procedure
by which the president and the diﬀerent political heads of section are designated, typically
by direct appointment. Internal and external inﬂuences are established through direct edi-
torial guidelines, typically set by like-minded professionals, which through a cascade
eﬀect, internally pressurize newsworkers to favor the political views of those who
appointed them. Consequently, the ﬁeld’s autonomy is undermined by not just the inva-
sive pressure of an external ﬁeld, namely politics, but also by agents of the journalistic ﬁeld
itself. This process is, on the one hand, fostered by editors who are willing to let political
pressures aﬀect news production, and on the other, implicitly fostered by those journalists
who are willing to consider political pressure as a norm, and consequently, make the
acceptance of political pressures, again, part of their professional habitus.
Beyond the cascade eﬀects of the merging internal/external political inﬂuences, our
results also illustrate that a common type of external inﬂuence at TVE are those that are
potentially executed by political press cabinets. Typically, these pressures are deployed
by direct calls to individual newsworkers with the intention of challenging, confronting,
or showing discrepancy with their professional views on the content produced. These
pressure tactics are used by press cabinets to deliver their viewpoints on a story by
trying to manipulate journalists’output. They are easily applied when there is no
intermediary between the organization’s upper management and the press cabinet. This
intermediation usually occurs through a manager ﬁgure in the newsroom with editorial
power who replicates these pressures, thus leaving the journalist in a weaker position
to deal with them. These powerful, intermediary agents are the promoters of an intersec-
tional political-journalistic ﬁeld where political pressures are increasingly naturalized and
where accepting political intervention becomes a part of normal journalistic habitus.
Fifth and ﬁnally, our study provides insightful ﬁndings on the potential eﬀects of politi-
cal pressures both at the level of practice and in terms of labor conditions (personal). When
political inﬂuences are exerted on ideologically sympathetic journalists, the eﬀects are
purely practical: inﬂuences are by passed. When the other journalists become aware
and react to these inﬂuences, these tend to have eﬀects both on practical and personal
matters. In the practical sense, the mechanisms available for journalists to preserve their
integrity allows them to separate themselves from the story, but do not prevent the
story from reaching the audience. However, on the personal side, some participants
believed that confrontations with the directive staﬀled to reprisals. Some of these reprisals
have turned into larger confrontations, such as legal disputes between the journalists and
the organization. More severely, some participants connected these reprisals with serious
psychological consequences, such as requiring attention for major episodes of anxiety and
depression. This last ﬁnding indicates that changing a professional habitus as a conse-
quence of the changed norms of a given ﬁeld is not easy, since, as Bourdieu suggests,
habitus is deeply rooted in the psychology of the agents with many unconscious elements
(Bourdieu 1977). Those with more ﬂexible values and less personal involvement can easily
adapt to a situation in which their autonomy is heavily restricted, but others may experi-
ence severe damage when their original professional and personal habitus run counter to
the norms of the ﬁeld.
No potential conﬂict of interest was reported by the author(s).
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following ﬁnancial support for the research, authorship, and/ or
publication of this article: This work was supported by the National Program of I+D+i oriented to the
Challenges of Society and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) about “Nuevos valores,
gobernanza, ﬁnanciación y servicios audiovisuales públicos para la sociedad de Internet: contrastes
europeos y españoles”.
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