2020 has been, once again, a bad year for freedom of information in Spain: not only has there been no relevant legislative progress, despite the change of government, but serious incidents have also occurred. The coronavirus pandemic has had, also in this country, a negative impact on press freedom, mainly due to the very serious economic consequences, deficits in transparency and cases of attacks on journalists. However, at the same time, the emergency situation has demonstrated the importance of journalism in offering useful information of public interest, dismantling “hoaxes” and monitoring the management of the crisis.
Violations, abuses and harassment of journalists and media workers
In 2020 Spain witnessed significant incidents against the safety of journalists, despite warnings from UNESCO to states this year.
In March, the photojournalist Jordi Borrás reported that “a Mossos (Catalonian police) agent requested my ID while I was taking photos (with a press bracelet on) at a police checkpoint in Barcelona”. The police warned Borrás “that he could not photograph the faces of the agents.” On May 14, in Vitoria, an Ertzaintza (Basque Country police officer) tried to prevent a journalist from recording a police operation. PDLI had to issue a reminder, once again, that the police forces are subject, like any other public official, to scrutiny by the media.
In July, while reporting on protests against the Spanish monarchy, Civil Guard officers seized the mobile phone of Mikel Urabaien, a journalist for Noticias Navarra. They cut the video he was recording and his work was not saved.
On October 13, the Mossos arrested Directa photojournalist Mireia Comas during an eviction in Terrassa. Comas reported that she was handcuffed against the wall for an hour. The prosecution has requested a year in prison for the photojournalist and the payment of compensation of 170 euros for the alleged attack on one of the agents.
Photojournalists were also prevented by police from covering the arrival of immigrants to the Canary Islands in October, as reported by photographer Javier Bauluz and other professionals and picked up by PDLI. On December 2, Bauluz was pushed and fined. He recounted: “with the Arguineguín pier open to the public, several policemen tried to keep journalists away. One squeezes the nerve in my forearm, and I answer him. Two complaints under the Gag Law, for lack of respect and refusing to identify myself”.
There have also been incidents caused by citizens and protesters. On February 22, 2020, Raquel Guillán, a journalist for Radio Televisión Canarias (RTVC) was reporting live on the effects of the weather in Lanzarote when a man approached her and gave her a kiss on the cheek. Raquel Guillán continued with the coverage despite what happened. On February 23, the journalist reported the case to the police.
In May, in Zaragoza, a Spanish public television (TVE) camera operator was harassed heavily while carrying out his work by around 30 people participating in a protest against the government, some of whom had Francoist symbols. And in November, protesters pushed and insulted a La Sexta TV reporter at a meeting of coronavirus deniers. That same month, in Madrid, a reporter for the newspaperLa Razón was also attacked by protesters.
On October 9, La Vanguardia journalist Mayka Navarro was harassed by demonstrators who were protesting the presence of the Spanish king in Barcelona, forcing the reporter to leave the spot where she was reporting. The protesters insulted her and shouted “out! out!”
Online harassment of women journalists
Women journalists continued to be the object of sexist attacks on social networks and, on occasions, outside of them, such as the one suffered by the feminist Irantzu Varela, who collaborates with various media. Three hundred prominent women responded to the incident with a solidarity manifesto to condemn the violence suffered by women with a public presence.
Regarding judicial threats, in December Spain’s Supreme Court confirmed the conviction of the magazine Mongolia for a photomontage on the former bullfighter Ortega Cano. The publication will have to compensate him with 40,000 euros. The PDLI, in addition to other jurists and experts, expressed its rejection of the sentence on the grounds that it violated the right to freedom of expression by ignoring the status of Ortega Cano as a public figure and the special protection enjoyed by satirical content, protecting messages that perhaps in another context might not be.
The serious economic impact of the pandemic
Finally, one of the serious consequences of the pandemic for freedom of information has been the economic impact of the crisis on the media.
In March, the PDLI asked Europe and the government for aid to the media due to the coronavirus emergency, achieving one of the proposed measures: the reduction of digital VAT.
The emergence of the coronavirus caused a decrease in advertising agreements, up to 80 percent in the case of radio, according to industry associations. Regarding jobs, in 2020 there have been layoffs or employment regulation measures in numerous Spanish media such as Europa Press, El Periódico, Diario de Mallorca or El Mundo.
Regarding transparency, the deficiencies in the accountability of the state and many autonomous governments toward the media have been significant. On the one hand, there was a suspension of the terms of the Transparency Law during the lockdown. In addition, the government has refused to provide data of public interest such as the names of the members of the scientific committee that advised the executive branch on the management of the pandemic.
The ‘Gag Laws’ are five years old
In 2020, the so-called ‘Gag Laws’ approved by the Popular Party (PP) government marked five years of coming into force, without their repeal or reform being underway. While French journalists looked to Spain to stop a similar project in their country, in Spain the Constitutional Court annulled, last December, one of the most controversial articles of this law, on the taking of images from the police. Despite the victory of the elimination of this article, it does not improve the situation of the press in terms of the possibility of being arbitrarily fined, since the majority of these sanctions are foreseen by two articles that have not been repealed.
- Click here to read more from IPI’s new reporting series Media Freedom in Europe in the Shadow of Covid