Catalonia calls on private broadcasters to run self-rule vote ads for free

Artur Mas’s government says that unofficial November 9 referendum is in “public interest”

Regional premier Artur Mas in the Catalan parliament on Wednesday.
Regional premier Artur Mas in the Catalan parliament on Wednesday.Albert Garcia

The Catalan government has sent a letter to the region’s private radio and TV broadcasters requesting that they run campaign ads for the alternative November 9 sovereignty vote free of charge.

The request, which was drawn up by Catalan communication chief Josep Martí Blanch, invokes a section of the region’s audiovisual law relating to so-called “communications of public interest.”

“The providers of audiovisual communication services are obliged to broadcast, for free, and with an indication of their origin, announcements and declarations that the state government and regional government consider advisable for justified causes of public interest,” states article 82.1 of the law.

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The regional government notes that it has “decided to promote a participatory process relating to the political future of Catalonia, as enshrined in the current legislation on the subject of public participation.”

Appealing to the “great social interest of the matter,” it asks radio and TV companies to start broadcasting two spots produced by its communication department “as soon as possible.” They are the same ads that regional government-run broadcasters have been running since last week.

A spokesman for the Cadena Ser radio network said it had no plans to broadcast the commercials. “There is no legal basis to force us to do so in the judgment of our legal services,” he said. “The decision is that we will not include the broadcast of these free spots in our programming.”

According to Josep Martí Blanch, several broadcasters have already begun running the commercials.

Appeal process moves forward

The Catalan executive’s request comes after the central government in Madrid earlier this week moved forward in its efforts to appeal the alternative November 9 sovereignty vote at the Constitutional Court.

The top court decided last month to accept an appeal filed by Madrid against Catalonia’s original plans for an independence referendum and temporarily suspend all campaigning on the issue. That led to regional premier Artur Mas announcing an alternative vote, which will not be backed by any legislation, unlike the original plan. Instead the aim is to hold something more akin to a survey without any legal implications, nor an official census. There will be ballot boxes, however, and a voluntary registration process for residents in Catalonia.

Now, after days of studying emails, instructions to civil servants, a request for mayors to collaborate, and other elements of the Catalan government’s plans, Madrid has decided to also act against this new vote.

Late Monday it announced that Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy had asked the State Council advisory body for the report required to appeal “the collection of actions that the regional government of Catalonia has put in motion for the holding, on November 9, of a consultation under the designation of a public participation process.”

Rajoy has asked for the report to be sent as a matter of urgency so the appeal agreement can be authorized at Friday’s Cabinet meeting.

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