Four months of fake news: Spanish style
In this post we will be travelling backwards in time so let’s start with the conclusion: the Spanish government and media want us to believe that fake news bankrolled from abroad, especially Russia, interfered in the Catalan referendum. At the same time, they would like us to ignore the massively expensive homegrown deluge of alternative facts, complete fiction, very personal opinion, hysterical exaggeration and racist demonisation. You know: lies, and then some. Trump-style, they assert that any critical voice or opinion diverging from the Spanish government line constitutes ‘fake news’. It is a simple strategy.
The Spanish media is an extensive and powerful force, generally intolerant of regional identities, especially in the case of the Catalonia. Generally conservative in nature, and infuriated by Catalonia’s push for independence, it has filled its pages and flooded social media with negative stories on the situation in the region. Think Daily Mail and Daily Express front pages on migrants, migration and the EU in the months leading up to the British referendum on EU membership. Think Breitbart News et al during the US presidential run-off between Trump and Clinton. And multiply. In all three ballots, the deluge of ultra conservative phobic news sewage has been impossible to avoid. The Russians barely get a look-in.
On 12 January, a court found against El País, and in favour of TV3, sentencing the newspaper to print a rectification to the article it had published on 11 November entitled One Week in the TV3 Bubble, a laughably loose piece of demagoguery dressed up as an in-depth analysis of the Catalan television channel’s programming, full of imagination and invention. The newspaper did not accept the court’s decision and has appealed. Its Managing Director, David Alandete, painted the falsehoods as ‘inaccuracies’ on Twitter:
TV3 considera que algunos puntos de la información son inexactos. La sentencia no le da la razón en eso. No juzga si los datos son o no inexactos. EL PAÍS se reafirma en lo publicado. https://t.co/Msdb5YYcEG
— David Alandete (@alandete) January 12, 2018
The day after the sentence, a defiantly unrepentant, and palpably rattled, El País published an attack on TV3 and the sentence (El País responds to the manipulation of the news by TV3) following up on 13 January with an editorial claiming that the biggest and best known Spanish newspaper is the victim of censorship (Attack on freedom of information: the ruling that obliges El País to rectify information about TV3 puts at risk the right to criticize). The ‘TV3 indoctrinates’ narrative has not been limited to the Spanish media. The Guardian‘s media expert, Peter Preston, wrote a piece on the Catalan media weeks before his death at the beginning of this year in which he ignores the power and presence of Spanish-language media in Catalonia (Catalonia’s dreams of secession were incubated in a media cocoon) and its man on the ground, Stephen Burgen, has been peddling the one-eyed theory for a decade or more.
On a mission to preserve the oneness of Spain, Alandete and the paper he runs have developed a taste for fantasy and propaganda which has seen the once great publication hurtle ever faster towards the gutter in the past year. There have been numerous sackings and resignations of journalists unhappy with the the paper’s editorial line on the Catalan issue. On 7 October, a week after the Catalan referendum, The Times published a piece by El País writer, John Carlin, which was highly critical of the Spanish government and king’s roles with regard to the situation in Catalonia: Catalan independence: arrogance of Madrid explains this chaos. Within a few days he was sacked.
Not all analysis of the media in Spain has been as woefully lacking as El País’s One Week in the TV3 Bubble. On 3 January, Diario16 published an article analysing the biased output of Spain’s most important newspapers, focusing particularly on El Mundo (Catrag, that copy of reality). Proper research had revealed that in the period leading up to the Catalan election on 21 December, there had been an incredible sequence of 43 articles on Catalonia on 47 consecutive days signed by El Mundo’s management, to which we can add another 250+ articles signed by regular columnists of the same newspaper during the same period of time. … an incredible sequence of 43 articles on Catalonia on 47 consecutive days signed by El Mundo’s management to which we can add another 250+ articles signed by regular columnists of the same newspaper during the same period of time
… an incredible sequence of 43 articles on Catalonia on 47 consecutive days signed by El Mundo’s management to which we can add another 250+ articles signed by regular columnists of the same newspaper during the same period of time
The article asserts that all of these 43 pieces fell into at least one of the following categories:
wrong – but in good faith
He conocido a Felipe, Luis y Poncio, lo dije hace unos días. Son tres nombres “de guerra”, de los que ahora llaman “nicks”, que ocultan a otros tantos compañeros de fatigas contra los “grises” en los últimos años de la dictadura o, como dice Rajoy, de un gobierno “no democrático” que había en España.
We have only looked in passing at two of Spain’s biggest newspapers. Taking into account that there are hundreds of print and digital news organisations in Spain, one should extrapolate to get an accurate idea of the extent of the media shitstorm on the Catalan question that people here have been subject to.
On December 19, a UK Parliamentary Select Committee began an inquiry into Russian interference in foreign elections. Amongst those invited to give their expert opinion was a Spanish delegation comprising David Alandete, managing director of El País, Borja Lasheras of the European Council on Foreign Relations and Mira Milosevich of the Real Instituto Alcano. Under scrutiny was the theory that news stories from Russian media, bankrolled by the Russian government, had interfered in the US presidential election, the EU membership referendum in the UK and the Catalan referendum on independence.
Under questioning from Members of Parliament, Alandete and company were forced to admit that they did not actually have any evidence that Russian news sources had influenced the Catalan referendum result, but were keen to point out – irrelevantly – the illegality of the referendum. The Spanish delegation was the subject of much ridicule, not least by the very Russian news organisations under investigation. Below is RT’s video of the pantomime with the sneering commentary edited out.
It is also important to remember that the world had already witnessed the bloody effect of 11,000 baton-wielding ballot-box-seizing Spanish police on the day of the vote itself. Russian interference pales into insignificance alongside that of the Spanish government and media.
Last September, in the run-up to the Catalan referendum and long before El País’s ‘Catalan bubble’ piece, I decided to spend a week reading, and occasionally commenting, on articles appearing in the overheated Spanish press or shared to their associated social media accounts. I had resolved to avoid slanging matches with fellow visitors to the comments sections, conscious of the level of insult, abuse and all-round trolling that have characterised these spaces in recent times.
As expected they were everywhere, and they were incensed to the point of incandescence. Borrowing from The Fall and Rise Of Reginald Perrin, I came across fascists, neo-fascists, crypto-fascists, falangists, francoists, nazis, monarchists, Juancarlists, Carlists, police officers, soldiers, legionnaires, far-right bloggers, far-right journos, and more Ciudadanos with their silly (but strangely sinister) tripartite heart than you can shake a stick at. Oh, and a few reasonable people.
Tacky Spanish unionist propaganda accounts were everywhere posting their memified tat on Youtube, shouting abuse in the forums and comments sections, and generally trolling anyone expressing a positive opinion about the pro-independence movement in Catalonia. And not just here in Spain. They had been turning up in the comments sections of international newspapers too, spewing their anti-Catalan bile, Google Translate ever at the ready. There was not much evidence of Ciudadanos’ much vaunted ‘trilingualism’.
Had I conducted this experiment for more than a week, I think my mental health would have suffered, listening to all that hate. As it happened, there were plenty of subsequent events that would test everyone’s to the limit. Then came the beatings, the arrests and the repression.
* * *
Here are just a few examples of fake stories from the firehose of domestic falsehood during the weeks leading up to the referendum in Catalonia on 1 October last year.
This picture was used to denounce threatening graffiti that had appeared on the shutter of Ciudadanos leader, Albert Rivera’s parents’ shop in Granollers near Barcelona. ‘Fascist pigs’ it cried, with crosshairs for good measure.
The only problem is that the real image of last summer’s ‘attack’ reveals nothing more threatening than pro-referendum posters fixed with sellotape.
The featured photo had actually been taken a decade ago and had appeared in an article in El Mundo in 2008 .
Aparecen pintadas amenazantes en la tienda de los padres de Albert Rivera Ciutadans-Partido de la Ciudadanía (Cs) ha denunciado que el comercio particular que tienen en Granollers (Barcelona) los padres del presidente del partido, Albert Rivera, ha amanecido con una pintada amenazante en la puerta, en la que se lee Puercos fascistas, junto a una diana.
Demonstrators destroy Civil Guard cars and rob officers of their firearms
The Civil Guard has left the Economy Department after a night of tension due to the protest outside. The weapons were returned thanks to the intervention of a politician. (El Español, 21/09/2017)
La Guardia Civil ha abandonado Economía tras una noche de tensión por las protestas a las puertas. Las armas fueron devueltas gracias a la intervención de un político.
In fact, the police cars were not destroyed and no firearms were stolen, and so could not possibly have been returned thanks to a politician. The events of this night, however, resulted in two civil leaders, Jordi Sánchez of ANC and Jordi Cuixart of Òmnium Cultural, being charged with sedition and jailed awaiting trial. They have now been in prison for more than three months.
Amazingly, Ciudadanos spokesperson, Carlos Girauta, one of their more excitable representatives, always economical with the facts, continued to insist on the veracity of this story despite all the evidence to the contrary. His argument was that, if it had appeared in a newspaper, then it must be true.
One of my absolute favourite headlines of all time for its unwavering loyalty to the ‘all Catalans are inhuman selfish cowards’ narrative is this offering:
Catalan separatists to use aged invalids and suckling infants as human shields
(Libertad Digital, 19/09/2017)
El Mundo denuncia que “el independentismo radicaliza el acoso a los alcaldes de la ley” “siguiendo el consejo de Puigdemont”. Rosell dice en su editorial que la política catalana ha entrado “en fase de batasunización.
The Catalan police received warning of the Barcelona terror attacks from the CIA on 25 May
The US warned that ISIS were planning acts in the summer ‘specifically on the Rambla’ (El Periódico, 31/08/2017)
Jueves, 25 de mayo. Los servicios de inteligencia de Estados Unidos contactaron con los Mossos d’Esquadra para transmitirles una información confidencial y muy relevante: los indicios recabados por la Agencia Central de Inteligencia ( CIA, en sus siglas en inglés) que apuntaban a que el Estado Islámico (ISIS) planeaba atentar este mismo verano en “zonas turísticas muy concurridas” de Barcelona, y “específicamente en la Rambla “.
We now know that the supposed CIA document published by El Periódico was a mock-up. More importantly it has been revealed that the imam who put the terror cell together, was in the pay of the Spanish government’s secret service, the CNI.
Independentism recruits children
The Catalan government demands that school heads cede premises for 1 October referendum, the CUP uses minors in the street, and high schools reward pupils that mobilize in favour of independence. (ABC, 23/09/2017)
Esther Armora Mariano Calleja @Marianocalleja Seguir Barcelona/Madrid Actualizado: La llama soberanista prende en los campus, colegios e institutos catalanes. Estudiantes de secundaria y universitarios de toda Cataluña salieron ayer a la calle en horario lectivo para alzar su voz a favor del referéndum ilegal del próximo 1 de octubre y en contra de la actuación policial del pasado día 20.
Russian interference machinery penetrates the Catalan crisis
(El País, 22/09/2017)
La maquinaria de difusión de noticias falsas que Rusia ha empleado para debilitar a Estados Unidos y la Unión Europea se ha puesto a funcionar a pleno rendimiento en Cataluña, según un pormenorizado análisis de webs prorrusas y perfiles de redes sociales efectuado por este diario con herramientas de analítica digital.
By the time the UK Parliamentary Select Committee on the subject came round, the newspaper had still not managed to gather any proof.
Andalusians’ electricity bill finances the Generalitat de Catalunya
Through their electricity bills, Andalusians finance the Catalan government, who in turn call them ‘ immigrants’ and ‘loafers’. It’s down to the fact that Endesa, presided over by Borja Prado, which is the main electricity supplier in Catalonia and most of Andalusia, has its headquarters, and sister companies such as its distributor, in Barcelona. (Intereconomía 25/09/2017)
‘Gangsters’ take control of Catalonia: local police say there are Catalan town councils that will not let them patrol
(Alerta Digital 26/09/2017)
Los ‘gángsters’ toman el control de Cataluña: Policías locales dicen que hay ayuntamientos catalanes que no les dejan patrullar
La Confederación de Seguridad Local, que agrupa a policías locales de catorce autonomías, ha criticado que “en algunos ayuntamientos” de Cataluña estos agentes están recibiendo “órdenes de no salir a la calle”, de manera que se “cercena” su trabajo y por tanto la seguridad. El secretario de Relac
ANC and Òmnium Cultural call on supporters to make “blacklists” of people who do not vote on 1-O
D. TERCERO BARCELONA Actualizado: Noticias relacionadas “Haz una lista con todas las personas que crees que no irán a votar por alguno de estos motivos: tienen miedo, dudas o no son independentistas”.
OK Diario: Puigdemont already has his own currency: the separatists have ordered 450,000 coins with his face on
(OK Diario, 26/09/2017)
Carles Puigdemont ya tiene su moneda catalana: los separatistas encargan 450.000 piezas con su efigie
Una fábrica china ya prepara la acuñación de los euros de la república de Cataluña de cara a 2018. Según ha podido saber OKDIARIO, los valores irán desde la moneda de 1 céntimo, hasta la moneda de 2 euros.