While Spain is thought of as a first world country similar to the U.S. (save for a little more flair and a lot more paella), it would seem the skeletons in the country’s closet continue to haunt free speech amongst the press and the general public.
Section 20 of Spain’s Constitution, enacted in 1978, states that Spaniards have “the right to freely express and disseminate thoughts, ideas and opinions trough words, in writing or by any other means of communication…the right to freely communicate or receive accurate information by any means of dissemination whatsoever.”
Section 20 also protects freedom of press, though the main threat facing Spanish journalists seems to be exercising this freedom when it comes to coverage the controversial Basque separatist and terrorist group, Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA). In 2000, the group attacked several journalists with gunfire over what they deemed “false information and accusation.” Regarding this particular organization, is appears common for journalists in Spain to receive threats for what they print, and this incident was impactful for both media and journalists in Spain.
According to a blog studying free speech and press globally, Reporters Without Borders classified Spain to be ranked 36th in the International Freedom Press Index in 2013. In 2002, Spain reached its peak ranking at 29th. Spain reached its lowest ranking on the index in 2009, 44th, prior to the re-election of the PP in 2011.
This decline in rank was linked to another free speech impediment: a series of laws that gave former Spain minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, automatic rights to influence and censor journalist publications. According to The ICIJ, the laws arose from an effort to mitigate conflict between Spain’s fishing industry and investigative journalists. They appear to no longer be in place.
According to the Columbia Journalism Review, another challenge facing freedom of the press is the highly politicized state of the press. It states that all media platforms at all levels (national, regional, local), are seemingly “aligned with a political party, and this is frequently reflected in their news content, as well as on their editorial pages.” Similar to the United States, while free speech exists, the level of freedom has led to the ability to print and report with excessive bias, creating news that leans more towards opinion than fact.
These freedoms, however, seem to hit an invisible wall when it comes to social media. According to The Independent, over seventy people have received prison sentences due to social media posts that “glorified terrorism.” Many seem to be in relation to the assassination of Luis Carrero Blanco, the man who was supposed to succeed dictator Francisco Franco. The assassination happened at the hands ETA in 1973, but apparently remains a sensitive subject to Spanish officials.
One example comes in the form of a 21-year-old student from Murcia in south-east Spain, Cassandra Vera. Vera was disqualified from public functions for seven years and sentenced to a year in prison in 2015 after publishing 13 tweets between 2013 and 2016 that commented on and joked about the assassination of Blanco.
Judges in Spain’s top criminal court (top criminal court for TWEETING), stated during the ruling that Vera’s tweets “constitute contempt, dishonor, disrepute, mockery and affront to the people who have suffered the blow of terrorism”.
Many Spaniards are aligning this resurrected trend of repression with the election of the conservative political party, Partido Popular, in 2011. The PP is apparently reacting to anti-austerity protests led by the Indignados earlier in 2015, and has been accused of creating political police force in an effort to “protect citizen security.”
In 2013, the government started preparing a controversial law to support these actions. The law has since come to be known as the “gag law”, and the enacted legislation gives Spanish police “the right to fine citizens for what they consider to be an interference to their job or contempt of authority.”
The “gag-law,” officially named the 2014 Intellectual Property Act, does more than just allow arrests for sketchy tweets. According to FreedomHouse.org, the law also gave authorities power to block websites that contained or linked to copyrighted content used without permission. It also gave birth to a system of mandatory charges applied to news aggregators to compensate producers called the “Google Tax.” Google, however, announced the shutdown of its news service in Spain prior to the law’s enactment on January 1, 2015, deeming the new system unsustainable.
As far as propaganda in Spain, it seems no blatant “in your face” campaigns have existed since the days of Franco. However, as stated above and in my previous articles, Spain’s media is heavily influenced by both political parties and large corporations, like banks.
The control, however, does not come in the obvious forms of barring certain organizations from press conferences; it is subtle, coming in the form of defamation and libel suits. As mentioned above, the control comes in the guise of legislation that allows the monitoring, censorship, and criminal attribution of certain opinions and/or media the government deems unfit.
In June 2016, an amendment to Spain’s Law on Criminal Procedure was passed that restricts photography of defendants during arrests or transfers, stating that the measure is intended to “avoid prejudicial coverage,” though many people noted how the amendment seemed to pop up after the widely covered and publicized arrest of International Monetary Fund executive and former economy minister, Rodrigo Rato, who was arrested for money laundering and tax evasion.
Furthermore, a public safety law that took effect in July 2016 allows fining of up to €30,000 ($35,000) for offenses such as unauthorized use of photos containing public officials or members of security forces when publication could “endanger individuals, their families, protected facilities, or a security operation.” Insulting a member of security forces could earn you up to $700 of fines.
Over the last 50 years, Spain has been riding an inconsistent whirlwind of speech and press freedom. Freedom dipped to an all time low during Franco’s reign, recovering slightly after the birth of the Constitution of 1978. But now, between corporate buy-outs, terrorist attacks, and sketchy legislation, Spain may be on its way back to the days of censorship and held-tongues they saw during Franco.