The observer

Pianists and bordellos

The announced "train crash" between the Catalan and Spanish governments will happen on Wednesday

The announced "train crash" between the Catalan and Spanish governments will happen on Wednesday. The Catalan parliament is expected to pass the Referendum Bill and the president will formally call the vote on independence. We will see if it is only with his signature or that of the entire government. Spain’s Constitutional Court (TC) will act immediately and the PP administration will put into motion its plan to block the referendum slated for October 1st. As a leading player in the process said "We know that an open-handed slap is coming, but we don't know exactly where". The main players have accepted the consequences that will come and their resolve is firm. The PP government will act immediately to try to leave the referendum without guarantees or to block it before it is held. At the same time, the pro-independence majority in Parliament will try to secure the ballot and make the law of legal transition "foundational to the Republic". That is the script to this point, but uncertainty is high, and predicting events is complicated by many unknowns, from the position that the Speaker of the House will find herself in, to the level of the people’s response to rallying calls, including whether or not the ballot boxes will be deployed for an actual vote. However, if one thing is clear it is that Catalans will end up voting because, for the first time in the history of Spain, co-existence is being debated under a democratic regime and within the framework of the European Union. Regardless of the response in Catalonia, there will always be a vote.

The acceleration of events requires leaders with long-term vision and nerves of steel who are aware that more than their future is at stake. They already have their sights set on October 2nd, and that is when the Catalan government will find out what its true strength is. Politicians will have to decide to do the necessary political work and ignore divisions, so as to negotiate a solution consistent with the results of the referendum.


Meanwhile the atmosphere is becoming noxious, with attacks from the heavy guns of the media to discredit the Mossos, who apparently —according to some— have acted with too much diligence and professionalism, despite the hurdles. A media operation that, like a squid squirting ink, has obscured an important debate: why do the Catalan police get more information from other sources than from Spain's own coordinating bodies? Does political disloyalty jeopardize public safety? The coming days will see a clash of legitimacies, and temperance will be necessary in politics, in the streets, and also in the media.

These days one can understand the idea of keeping from your mother the fact that you are a journalist and telling her instead that you are a piano player in a bordello. The attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils have showed off both our greatness and our shortcomings. The test was passed with flying colors by other professions —especially in law enforcement and health care, taxi drivers...-- while the prestige of journalists is gasping like a fish out of water. We are probably not at our worst ever, but we are more visible. Everyone's instantaneous access to any information via the web makes us more essential than ever, but also leaves us exposed. Public scrutiny is harder now because news spreads like wildfire. When people’s cell phones can receive gory images from moments after the tragedy on La Rambla, or the photograph of the bloody-faced body of the last terrorist who was shot down, journalism makes sense only if it imposes the obligation of analysis and contextualization. That is, a point of view. We only make sense if the media seek out the importance of events, select, contextualize, and help to interpret them; if we seek out and find who is able to analyze each specific question to create a quality public debate. Because we, as Josep Pla said, are encyclopedic ignoramuses.

Edwy Plenel is a French journalist who worked in editing at Le Monde (1996-2004), and a few years ago founded Mediapart, a digital daily known for its investigative journalism, which has 150,000 subscribers. This week, in Barcelona, Plenel spoke of the three traditional enemies of journalism: "propaganda, rumors, and emotions". He hit the nail in the head, given that the current political turmoil has put the propaganda machines in gear and that emotions are beginning to overflow amid cries and entrenchment.

What we have seen is only an example of what could come to pass over the next few weeks. Propaganda, rumors, and emotions that are not better for being more intense. The dangers are not new, and neither are the antidotes. The quality of a democracy depends, to a great extent, on the quality of reporting, and we must take into account the importance of each piece of information, separating facts from opinion, and knowing who owns the news outlet. The third point has only one answer, and the great editors of history have known this. Ultimately, the owners of any news outlet are the readers. Not the journalists, not the editors. At ARA, our shared goal is to ensure that our paper informs our readers, and we do so rigorously. It is only possible to be loyal to the readers from outside the trenches that some are digging with such enthusiasm.

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