As Catalans go to the polls in an unofficial referendum on independence this weekend, Spain's media landscape approaches peak polarisation. Much of the coverage of the referendum by Spanish and Catalan media has looked like one part journalism and one part propaganda.

On the one hand, much of the national, Madrid-based media - notably Spain's public broadcaster TVE, stand accused of denying pro-independence voices a fair hearing. On the other, critics charge Catalan outlets like the widely watched TV3 with indoctrinating Catalans rather than informing them.

"Catalan public television is broadcasting the advertising calling for participating in the referendum, although it's been forbidden by the constitutional court," says lecturer Ana Fernandez Viso from the Autonomous University of Barcelona.

There is something really quite tragic going on here, as far as journalism is concerned...the sensational approach is to say that we are dealing with a rebellion, an uprising that signals the end of the Spanish constitutional state. That’s the approach our foreign colleagues are taking.

Arcadi Espada, columnist, El Mundo

"Catalan media have established a frame of reference which reflects only the nationalist version of reality," adds Arcadi Espada, columnist, El Mundo. "They haven't even had to work at it too hard. They've simply excluded more than half Catalonia's population from their frame of reference."

On the print side of the Catalan media, there is diversity to be found. But it's on television where one sees the difference between a diversity of views and a balance of views.

And it's not just TV3's news broadcasts, the lack of balance is glaring on what Spaniards call tertulias - daytime talk shows. Tertulias are cheap to produce, long on opinion, short on fact and far from balanced - where anti-independence voices are drowned out.

To call Spain's national broadcaster, TVE, a mirror image of Catalonia's TV3 would be an oversimplification. TVE has greater reach, and broadcasts nationwide, whereas TV3 is regional only. But on the question of Catalan independence, and the referendum, the imbalance issue plagues both channels.

"The influence of the government on public TV is not a problem that affects only Catalonia, it affects the whole country," points out Enrico Hernandez, the director of El Periodico. "It is very easy to fake pluralism. This is what happens on TVE, but their advantage is that they have presence across the whole of the Spanish territory that can portray a deformed message to the rest of Spain."

Al Jazeera has contacted TVE numerous times, offering the network a chance to respond to its critics. Our request went nowhere.

As for international news coverage, the Catalan government has clearly outmanoeuvred its rivals in Madrid.

Catalonia's pro-independence President Carles Puigdemont, himself a former journalist, has been busy courting international media in an attempt to bend the global narrative towards the independence agenda.

Independence movements that export their stories are often seen as underdogs by distant news outlets that are less familiar with the granular detail of a contemporary political conflict and more prone to cultural and historical cliches.

"There is something really quite tragic going on here, as far as journalism is concerned," explains Espada. "Journalists are always looking for sensational stories. Any foreign journalists, the Anglo-Saxon ones, in particular, are forever looking for even the slightest trace of the Spanish civil war in contemporary events. So, the sensational approach is to say that we are dealing with a rebellion, an uprising that signals the end of the Spanish constitutional state. That's the approach our foreign colleagues are taking."

Contributors:

Eric Hernandez, Director, El Periodico
Vicente Sanchis, Director, TV3
Arcadi Espada, Columnist, El Mundo
Ana Fernandez Viso, Associate lecturer in Media systems at the Autonomous University of Barcelona and at Blanquerna-Ramon Llull University

Source: Al Jazeera