For one thing, the pro-sovereignty bloc in the regional parliament would receive the bulk of public subsidies available for the campaign, to the detriment of the remain campaigners.
For another, the bill leaves the door open to government interference in the media – both public and private news organizations – if they prove to be too critical.
Finally, it is unclear how the voter census would be drawn up.
The draft legislation aims to provide legal coverage to a referendum that Spain’s Constitutional Court has already ruled to be illegal.
It also aims to secure fast-track approval through a narrow 51% majority for several items of Catalan election legislation that have never prospered to date in the Catalan assembly because existing legislation requires approval by two thirds of the chamber.
During the campaign for the November 2014 vote, the Catalan government clashed with some private media organizations
The pro-independence majority also wants to create a Sindicatura Electoral de Catalunya, an oversight body that would have control over key aspects of the voting process.
If a referendum is finally held, this agency would be solely responsible for distributing the election propaganda slots, and in the case of public media, 70% of slots would be distributed among political groups in the regional assembly, proportional to the latest election results. This means that most of the airtime would go to the pro-independence bloc formed by the ruling Junts pel Sí coalition and the small Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) party. A similar imbalance would take place in the distribution of public subsidies for the campaigning itself.
The Sindicatura would also play a key role in controlling the media during the referendum campaign. It would “dictate the instructions it deems necessary” and, if it were to detect that certain news organizations are not covering the issue according to criteria that the Sindicatura considers opportune, “it can adopt compensation measures to restore the balance between the options being put to a referendum.”
This would enable authorities to “correct” a media organization’s editorial line if it is viewed as too supportive of one or the other option.
There is a precedent for this. During the campaign for the non-binding vote on self-rule held on November 9, 2014, the Catalan government clashed with some private media organizations after it tried to force them to publish campaign propaganda, free of charge.
English version by Susana Urra.