Updated: Tuesday, 25 February 2014 04:21 | By Agence France-Presse

Hoax documentary on Spain coup bid stirs controversy

A hoax documentary that falsely claimed a 1981 failed military coup attempt was staged to boost King Juan Carlos's image has stirred controversy in Spain.

Hoax documentary on Spain coup bid stirs controversy

Spain's King Juan Carlos (C) at the Royal Palace in Madrid on January 6, 2014 - by Gerard Julien

Viewers took to social media sites to complain about the 50-minute documentary that aired on Sunday, with many saying the seminal moment in Spain's recent history was too serious to be treated lightly.

The fake documentary was one of the most discussed topics in Spain on Twitter, with many users expressing anger, while newspapers published opinion articles for or against the broadcast.

"My parents and uncles packed their bags on February 23. They turned on the TV with great interest. This is a real lack of respect," one tweeted.

Just over five million viewers watched the show, which aired on private channel La Sexta on the 33rd anniversary of the coup attempt that nearly reversed Spain's transition to democracy only five years after the death of dictator Francisco Franco.

The coup began on the evening of February 23, 1981, when about 200 armed Civil Guards stormed parliament, firing shots over the heads of lawmakers who took cover under their desks.

Scores of Spaniards, fearing the worst, headed in their cars for neighbouring Portugal and France.

Within hours King Juan Carlos appeared on live television in full military regalia and ordered the coup plotters back to their barracks.

- 'Fertile ground for theories' -

The documentary -- dubbed "Operation Palace" -- claimed the events of 1981 were actually staged by the government in power at the time and opposition to bolster the king's standing as the head of state and protect Spain's fledgling democracy. 

The show -- which cited secret CIA documents as well as fake testimony from veteran journalists and politicians -- said the king's speech was actually filmed six days before the coup.

Spanish director Jose Luis Garcia, whose film "To Begin Again" won the Oscar in 1982 for best foreign language film, claimed in the documentary that he was behind the famous footage of the coup attempt.

At the end of the broadcast the television station revealed that the documentary was a fake to protest against a Supreme Court decision that bans public access to the records of the court martial procedure against the coup plotters.

"We would have loved to tell the real story of February 23, but that is not possible," read a message which appeared on the television screen at the end of the documentary.

"This decision provides fertile ground for theories and fabrications of all sorts. Like this one. Ours is probably not the last, not the most fanciful," it added.

Under the Supreme Court decision the court martial archives can only be opened 25 years after the death of the coup plotters, or 50 years after the attempted coup.

The director of the documentary, popular journalist Jordi Evole, whose Sunday night news show "Salvados" tops ratings and who has been compared to US documentary maker Michael Moore, took to Twitter to defend the show.

"If 'Operation Palace' served to make us reflect a little on how to filter the quantity of information which we receive, so much the better," he wrote on his official Twitter account.

Evole said he was inspired by the 2002 French documentary "Operation Lune" which falsely claimed that the TV footage from the Apollo 11 Moon landing was faked and actually recorded in a studio by the CIA with help from director Stanley Kubrick.

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