Like Alice and the Queen of Hearts, we keep running but end up in the same place and we need to run twice as fast in order to make any headway. The fight for the freedom of expression reminds us that the flags of democracy must be protected and that a daily battle must be waged against the never-ending darkness. At present, the tension between the exercise of freedom of expression and the power of the State is as strong as ever. The Public Security Law (1) protects those who are bothered by sharp criticism, those who consider poor taste or certain antics to be a crime and who can’t bear to hear a rap singer, an actor, a journalist or a comedian challenging their religious or political beliefs or their moral predilections.
In these complex times we are witnessing events which many generations of Spaniards have never seen before, such as police charges to confiscate ballot boxes, the legal consequences of expressing one’s opinions or singing provocative songs, and blatant attempts to use the legal system for political ends. It is shocking to see how the front pages of certain newspapers and the work of political cartoonists, such as Perich during the political Transition [following General Franco’s death], look surprisingly contemporary. The fact that they remain valid to this day says little for the strength or quality of Spain’s democracy, or for our collective abilities.
Condemning this retrograde step annoys many Spaniards, who see such criticisms as having some merit, but not enough to openly decry and stand up against a regression which shamelessly expresses itself. Like all societies, Spain and Catalonia are built on the silences and the words of successive generations, and anti-politics and the lack of opportunities for open debate still play an important part in the construction of public opinion.
Given this state of affairs, journalism has a key role to play. Whereas in the past journalism dealt with what was known as "the eternity of a day", in the modern world the 24/7 news cycle has led to the eternity of the moment or, rather, the continual lightness of the moment. Ostensibly newsworthy events feed an insatiable thousand-headed monster, 24/7 and at lightning speed. The pace is an entertaining whirlwind and the world is totally unrecognizable, yet journalism faces a political and social complexity that reminds one of certain aspects of Spain during the political Transition and, unfortunately, certain ideological aspects of Europe in the 1930s.
Independent journalism and the freedom of expression are both among the main victims of the constant pressure we are all subject to.
We must protect the classic precepts of the separation of information and opinion for the thousandth time in a scrupulous respect for the truth. Accept in a transparent way that everyone has a different perspective on reality, but that journalism demands an honest approach and a stubborn search for the truth as if it were possible to fully illuminate it. In this noisy environment it makes more sense than ever to conduct classic journalism with the help of new tools. Journalism involving going out on the street, listening and reporting what is going on. Putting everything into context and explaining while making connections. Journalism which prioritizes and which trains the spotlight on what is trying to go unnoticed.
In today’s world, in an attempt to resist the siren song announcing the apocalypse, it makes sense to stand up for journalism, in keeping with Albert Camus in an article published in Le Soir Républicain on 25 November 1939 and retold by Albert Lladó in his book La mirada lúcida [The Lucid Stare] (Quaderns Anagrama). Camus lists the four cardinal points which serve as the compass of free journalism: clarity, disobedience, irony and perseverance. Disobedience in the sense that Hitchens used it many years later in an appeal to journalists to become "dissidents" to try to maintain the necessary freedom of thought and to guard against the dangers of being overly gregarious.
The struggle for independence is tough and we face formidable obstacles in the shape of economic and political power which is wielded in silent offices or online.
At some point, journalism in Spain will have to reflect on how it ended up committing suicide —perhaps before it disappears for good in some instances. This applies to the Catalan press, too. To give one example, some Madrid-based media outlets, in particular the morning gutter TV programs will have to face the shame of having made the information on the independence trial disappear in the same way as they fuelled the media circus surrounding the failed attempt to rescue Julen [a toddler that fell down a 70m well near Málaga], only to subsequently abandon the story in the search for other chum to feast on. We can’t ask for responsible politicians without asking for responsible journalists.
(1) Often referred to as the Gag Law, this legislation prohibits a long list of acts vaguely defined as “seriously disturbing public order”