SPAIN: the Venezuela of Europe? (II): the end of press freedom

César Vidal

By: César Vidal - 17/05/2024

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In the first installment of this series, I showed the delicate situation that Pedro Sánchez's government is going through, trapped between disturbing cases of corruption and serious attempts to violate the constitutional order. The signs that Sánchez is trying to overcome this situation by moving towards a Chavista political model are numerous and one of them is the persecution of the press, a topic to which I will dedicate this installment.

After leaving his post for five days, supposedly to consider whether or not he would continue in the exercise of power, Pedro Sánchez returned and, as some of us anticipated, announced that he would remain in power. The announcement was accompanied, however, by serious threats against the press and the judiciary. In fact, Pedro Sánchez described the media that had revealed his scandals as a “mud machine” and called on the opposition to join him in putting an end to them.

Such statements could have sounded like a mere exercise in demagoguery, but in the following hours, what could be expected from the threat made by Pedro Sánchez became clear. In just a few hours, three journalists were prosecuted and a media outlet was closed.

Before continuing with the story of the last few days, it must be noted, to be fair, that freedom of the press has never been exemplary in the History of Spain. Until the 19th century, it did not exist and the cases of media that ended up closed with their owners prosecuted by the Inquisition or by the king's justice are innumerable. At the end of the 19th century, with the Bourbon Restoration, the situation did not particularly improve since the press could not express opinions contrary to the Catholic Church or the monarchy, which means that it did not have much ground to express itself. During the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, in the twenties of the 20th century, the press was not only limited but also had to accommodate the obligatory insertion notes from the dictator's pen and which occasionally gave rise to some humorous episode that I will not refer to today. The proclamation of the Second Republic in April 1931 sparked Spaniards' hope for a free press, but the Defense of the Republic Law of that same year granted enormous censorship powers to the government. Naturally, the left in power censored the right and the right did the same to the left when it governed. In fact, in the entire period from the promulgation of the law until the outbreak of war in July 1936, there were many more days in which the media were subject to censorship than those in which they were able to express themselves freely. You can imagine that during the civil war from 1936 to 1939 there was not the slightest freedom of the press and the same thing happened when the dictatorship of General Franco took hold. In fact, the Franco regime required that all publications be subject to prior censorship that totally curtailed press freedom. In March 1966, still during the Franco regime, the so-called Fraga press law eliminated prior censorship, but such a step did not mean the beginning of freedom. In fact, the editors published at the personal risk of being fined, tried before the Public Order Court, imprisoned or even closed down as happened, for example, with the Madrid newspaper, which was even literally dynamited.

This entire unfortunate history of the absence of press freedom disappeared in 1977 with the approval of the Political Reform Law, which meant the official legal step towards the Transition to a democratic system. A year later the constitution included freedom of the press in its articles. During the governments of the UCD and the first of the PSOE of Felipe González and the PP of José María Aznar, freedom of the press was maintained although it was not exempt from business moves that limited the actions of journalists to their orders, as is common in all democracies. The situation, however, underwent a dramatic change with Rodríguez Zapatero who, like Felipe González at the end of his political career, allowed himself to attack journalists in public. It would have been thought that the harassment would end after the socialist party left power and Mariano Rajoy came to power, but the opposite happened. The economic crisis of 2008 – which in Spain began in 2007 – placed all media in a precarious situation that made them depend more than ever on so-called institutional advertising, that is, that which depends on public powers. In addition, Rajoy's government began to persecute, in a barely covert manner, non-submissive journalists.

The recent judicial proceedings of a Catalan court in a corruption case have brought to light not only that the office of Cristóbal Montoro, Mariano Rajoy's Finance Minister, was a focus of influence peddling that even included legislative changes but also that Montoro used the Tax Agency to persecute journalists, opposition politicians and even party colleagues with whom he did not have the best relations. In the case of some of these journalists, the Tax Agency even went so far as to investigate the grandmothers – literally – of the victims with the intention of including them in the field of retaliation. Montoro himself would threaten journalists during a television interview and, during an official event, he would indicate to one of them, Federico Quevedo, that if he did not want to have problems with the Treasury he already knew what he had to do and not It was precisely to be up to date with their tax obligations.

The person who now writes these lines already warned in his day that the government of Mariano Rajoy – and, in a very special way, Minister Montoro – was entering into the persecution of freedoms in such a way that when the socialist party came to power again it would barely I would have to travel a long way to reach Chavista territory. Unfortunately, it cannot be said that he made an error of judgment.

In March 2024, the closure of Telegram took place in Spain, an action that ended with the judge backing down, frightened by the unleashing of actions by this company. Journalists who in just one week were the subject of persecution by the Sánchez government have not had the same luck.

In a manner unknown in Spain since 1977, the Investigative Court number 2 of Valladolid – which opened investigation proceedings against three media outlets, two journalists and a lawyer following a complaint from the socialist minister Óscar Puente – ordered the immediate closure of the media outlet. Impacto España Noticias and ordered the arrest of the owner of said portal, journalist Salvador Giménez. The measures were described by different legal professionals as "unheard of" since the media had limited itself to publishing opinions about the aforementioned minister that at most could have been classified as a minor crime of libel. Closing the outlet and ordering the imprisonment of its director obviously seems like an exaggerated measure.

Another victim of the repressive wave launched against the press has been, just a few hours after Sánchez's speech, Bieito Rubido. Former director of the newspaper ABC, Rubido currently directs a conservative digital newspaper, El Debate. Rubido has always been characterized by placing himself in the right-wing press, but nothing extreme, nothing exaggerated, nothing incendiary can be related to Rubido. Bieito Rubido's “sin” was recording a video where in the most moderate way imaginable he stated, after Sánchez's permanence speech, that the political line followed by the president of the Spanish government will end badly. At the moment, the one who is in a bad situation is Rubido faced with a lawsuit filed by the socialist party.

Just a few hours apart, the socialist party also launched the judicial persecution of Javier Negre. President of the EDA group, a platform that has a radio and a television, Negre has perhaps harsher ways than Rubido, but he is not an extremist and, to tell the truth, he orbits around the Popular Party. That is to say, he subscribes to a message from such a moderate right that, on many occasions, it coincides with the approaches of the left, for example, around the 2030 Agenda. It is true that Negre has emphasized news that points to incompetence or corruption of the socialist party, but one should think that that is what is expected of an independent journalist. The legal action of the socialist party could end in his imprisonment and the closure of his media.

Curiously coincidentally, these same days a conviction has been handed down against the journalist Cristina Seguí. Subscribers to are well aware of The Feminist Mafia, the program where Cristina Seguí criticizes gender ideology and the lobbies that make a living from it. However, the current sentence is due to the fact that she made reference to the obesity of the socialist minister José Luis Ávalos – the one who met the indescribable Delcy Rodríguez at the Madrid airport – and her taste for mercenary sex. This is just one of the cases in which Seguí has ​​been persecuted for a long time, but in this case, in a prodigious way, the conviction has taken place in the same week as the legal actions against the aforementioned journalists. However, the harassment of journalists is not enough.

The government led by Sánchez has announced the creation of a new ministry that will be called the Ministry of Democratic Sustainability. The purpose of this new ministry that Óscar Puente would head would be to monitor the media to decide which can continue to demonstrate and which should be closed because what counts is supposedly contrary to democracy being able to be sustained. You don't have to be especially clever to understand what this can mean for the limited freedom of the press that still exists in Spain.

There are still two other measures to muzzle the press that Sánchez has already articulated or is about to articulate. The first is to be able to pursue media on the internet even if they do not operate in Spain. The so-called influencers who have the audacity to report on Spanish reality from Andorra, Switzerland or the United States themselves may be persecuted by the Sánchez government by resorting to not only censorship but also tax mechanisms. The second measure has been announced by the Minister of Housing, Isabel Rodríguez, and consists of forcing private media to reserve space for "public information" that would reproduce exactly what the government wanted, exactly as it happened during the time of the dictatorship. by Primo de Rivera.

It is easy to see how little freedom of the press and expression will remain in Spain thanks to media that are increasingly domesticated by the anguishing need for public funds from institutional advertising, reduced to submission to large holding companies, with the machinery of the administration of justice and the Tax Agency used against wayward journalists, with the creation of a ministry that will supervise the press and with the forced inclusion in private media of official truth.

Naturally, such an assault on freedoms has in other systems the fence of the administration of justice to prevent it. However, just as Chavismo saw it, this administration of justice must be controlled with an iron hand to prevent it. This is what Pedro Sánchez is doing right now, as I hope to be able to show in the next installment.


«The opinions published herein are the sole responsibility of its author».