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400 journalists reject ‘control’ of questions at government press briefings in coronavirus-plagued Spain

400 journalists reject ‘control’ of questions at government press briefings in coronavirus-plagued Spain
Over 400 Spanish journalists have signed an open letter rejecting a new format for press conferences introduced by Madrid during the Covid-19 crisis, in which questions to officials are first filtered by government press officers.

The open letter titled “The freedom to ask,”published by Spanish media on Tuesday, was signed by 406 journalists. The piece urges the government to revise its new policies on press conferences which have been introduced due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Due to ongoing restrictions on movement, journalists are unable to attend the government’s media events in person. So, the questions they want to put to officials must first be submitted to the secretary of state for press, who is entrusted with actually asking them – or not.

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Such a scheme is extremely damaging to freedom of speech, the open letter argued, as the ability of the press to hold government to account is particularly important amid the state’s extraordinary exercise of powers during the pandemic.

“The main way of exercising this function of journalism is through questions – and re-questions – to members of the Government,” the letter read.

The “technical difficulties” in setting up direct videolink press conferences are only an “excuse” by the government, it added, as other nations have managed to set up live press conferences even under similar coronavirus lockdowns.

“These are no more than excuses to control the press. That the questions to the government are asked by a member of the government itself reveals a lack of transparency and an interest in controlling the information,” the journalists wrote.

A direct connection allows the journalists to ask follow-up questions and limits the possibilities for the politicians to provide a vague and evasive answer – as it has already repeatedly done during the newly formatted press briefings. Moreover, such a filter might be unconstitutional altogether, the letter said, urging the government to revise its policy as soon as possible.

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Spain has been under a state of emergency since March 14. It is among the worst coronavirus-hit nations, with the total number of confirmed cases already surpassing the 100,000 mark and more than 9,000 deaths to date.

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