JOUR 401: Blog Post 6

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.”

Separatist and terrorist group ETA.

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.

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

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”.

Luis Carrero Blanco, planned successor for dictator Francisco Franco. Fundación Nacional de Francisco Franco.

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, 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.

Rodrigo Rato.

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.


JOUR 401: Blog Post 5

With the chaos ensuing in the world today, mixed with a declining profit for work in the journalism field, journalists seem to be taking bigger and bigger risks to find the story that could be their big break. Journalists travel to war-ridden countries, walking straight in the line of fire just for the chance to make the front page. Amongst the most dangerous places to report from are Iraq, Syria, and even France. Spain, however, is not.

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Infographic from Al Jazeera online.

Despite a rocky history, finding data on journalist attacks and killings in Spain is surprisingly difficult. In fact, it seems the only cases of Spanish journalists being attacked or killed have happened in other countries.

One of the most famous Spanish media killings happened in 2003, and was ruled to be the work of the hands of three of America’s finest: U.S. soldiers.

Jose Couso, Archive Photo,

Jose Couso was a Spanish cameraman helping report from Baghdad, Iraq in 2003. American soldiers had ordered an attack on the Iraqi capital which included the Palestine Hotel where many reporting journalists were staying. The soldiers were originally indicted by a judge in 2007, but the case re-opened in 2008 when Couso’s family appealed to the Supreme Court of Spain. The case finally closed in mid-2011, with the judge ruling that the civilian deaths were unintentional, and that the location of the incident severely limited any Spanish government jurisdiction. Julio Anguita Parrado, a journalist with Spain’s El Mundo newspaper, was also killed in 2003 when an Iraqi missile hit a U.S. military base south of Baghdad.

Ricardo Ortega, Reporteros Sin Fronteras

In 2004, a Spanish journalist was amongst five people killed in a gunfire demonstration in Haiti. Ricardo Ortega, a New York based Spanish correspondent for the network Antena 3 in Madrid, was shot and killed when alleged supporters of exiled Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide opened fire on thousands of demonstrators.

More recently, Spanish journalists reporting on the Syrian war were taken hostage, but were eventually granted release. The journalists were reporting on the Syrian war in 2015, and were kidnapped by al-Qaeda’s Syrian counterpart, al-Nusra. The circumstances for the release of Antonio Pampliega, Jose Manuel Lopez and Angel Sastre in 2016 remains unknown, though their return was a joyous occasion for Spaniards, and even gained recognition from president Mariano Rajoy.

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President Rajoy welcomes home 3-Spanish reporters kidnapped in 2015.

Given these cases, it would seem the greatest threat to Spanish journalists is leaving Spain to report. Much like American journalists, Spaniards seem to encounter the most dangerous area of their work when they go abroad and into war-plagued countries to report.

As far as safety training for Spanish journalists, there seems to be few resources aside from those online that offer “Spanish Translations,” to their online safety courses such as the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), and the Dart Center. However, given Spain’s lack of ethical guidelines when it comes to media, their lack of safety guidelines does not come as much of a surprised either.

Overall, it would seem being a Spanish journalist is a safe job, until you leave the country.


JOUR 401: Blog Post 4

Spanish journalism seems to be in a place of transition. After the fall of Franco, Spanish press seems to flounder between ownership and being corporately owned. Press Reference notes Spanish journalism as characteristically having, “low circulation and equally low per capita readership, at least in comparison to presses in other modern European countries. During the twentieth century the press became decentralized, and newspapers were established that focus more on the concerns of Spain’s regions and autonomous communities often publishing in regional languages such as Catalán, Basque and Galician.”

Furthermore, most Spanish citizens choose to receive their news from a televised source, not a printed one. This means that new-wave facets of journalism that are becoming popular in the United States, such as “do good” and peace reporting, are almost irrelevant in Spain.

Spanish journalism tends to lean more towards traditional journalism as they attempt to regain their footing after economic and political upheaval. Headlines from popular Spanish news source El Mundo give a taste of “safe” stories like, “Mariano Rajoy congratulates Emmanuel Macron on his victory in the French presidential” and “6 year-old girl dies after inflatable castle bursts.” After such societal turmoil, it seems Spain is keeping its press simple, local, and back to basics.

Inflatable bounce castle that killed 6 year old girl. Robin Townsend/EFE. 

As I said in my previous article, the same ethical standards are not applied to Spanish journalism as they are (or at least used to be) in the United States. The journalists in Spain are a mix of those who could be bought out, and those who have either been laid-off and started anew or were simply rookies who wanted to hit the ground running and do things their own way. Currently, old Spanish media doesn’t have the best reputation, but the new wave is trying to change that.

Of course, it is possible to go to school for writing and journalism, but its not as popular an area of study as it is here in the United States. The absence of an Associated Press or what seems to be any press-related moral compass, really, gives Spanish journalists what I can only equate to the same reputation as an American lawyer: shady and easily sold out. Perhaps the new wave will mend this reputation, but as of right now its still pretty shaky.

Javier Marías. Wikipedia.

Some modern Spanish journalists who seem to have escaped the blanket of a bad-rep include: Javier Marías, Pedro J. Ramírez, Federico Jiménez Losantos and Juan Manuel de Prada. These journalists have not only shown their prowess in news and columns, but have also gained respect and prestige working in other literary areas including novels and essays. However, they are most famous for their work in journalism and press.