Spain’s gag law slammed in press freedom report

The restrictive 'gag law' is a threat to press freedom in Spain, warned Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in its annual report on the state of the media across the world.

Spain's gag law slammed in press freedom report
Protests take to the streets against the 'gag law'. Photo: AFP

Although Spain has risen up the rankings of RSF’s World Press Freedom Index 2017 to 29th place, improving its position by five points, this is due to a worsening of freedoms in other nations rather than an improvement in Spain itself.

The Citizen Security Protection Law, usually referred to as the “Gag Law” because of its restrictive impact of freedom of expression and information, began affecting the work of journalists in 2016, recognised the report.

READ MORE:  The ten most repressive points of Spain’s ‘gag law’

The report highlighted that “at least six journalists have been fined for allegedly obstructing the police or for photographing them.”

Adopted in 2015, when the ruling Popular Party still had absolute majority in parliament, “the Gag Law’s repeal has been demanded by all opposition parties, which also accuse the government of exercising an outrageous level of control over the news program of the state radio and TV broadcaster, RTVE,” the report, published on Wednesday, said.

The report also warned that Spain had followed a global trend that has seen journalism “lose its prestige”.

“The high unemployment rate accompanying the economic crisis in Spain in recent years has had an unprecedented impact on employment within the media. Underpaid or even unpaid freelancers are now widely used within journalism, which has lost its prestige.”

ANALYSIS: “Spain's freedom of speech repression is no joke”.

Norway topped this year’s Index, followed by Sweden, Finland – which dropped to third after five years in the top spot – Denmark and the Netherlands.
Image: Reporters Without Borders
The global situation relating to press freedoms has worsened in nearly two thirds of the 180 countries in the Index, said RSF. 
The number of countries where the media freedom situation was ‘good’ or ‘fairly good’ has fallen by 2.3 percent.
The Index “reflects a world in which attacks on the media have become commonplace and strongmen are on the rise. We have reached the age of post-truth, propaganda, and suppression of freedoms,” it said. 
Press freedom has retreated wherever an authoritarian model has triumphed, it added. While the decline is not new, “what is striking in this year’s Index is the scale and the nature of the violations seen”. 
Even in Europe, where the media are generally the most free, the situation has declined, particularly in Poland and Hungary. 
The US came 43rd, with the report authors pointing to US President Donald Trump’s verbal attacks towards journalists and attempts to block certain media outlets from White House access.
The UK was also criticized over its adoption of the Investigatory Powers Act which “lacks sufficient mechanisms to protect whistleblowers, journalists and their sources”.
“Donald Trump’s rise to power in the United States and the Brexit campaign in the United Kingdom were marked by high-profile media bashing, a highly toxic anti-media discourse that drove the world into a new era of post-truth, disinformation, and fake news,” said the report. 
Published since 2002 the World Press Freedom Index measures indicators including pluralism, media independence and respect for the safety and freedom of journalists. 


Police arrest rapper holed up in Catalan university to avoid jail for tweets

Spanish police on Tuesday arrested a rapper who barricaded himself inside a university after he was controversially sentenced to nine months in jail over a string of tweets, television images showed.

Police arrest rapper holed up in Catalan university to avoid jail for tweets
Photos: AFP

Pablo Hasel had been given until Friday night to turn himself in to begin serving his sentence after being convicted for glorifying terrorism, slander and libel against the crown and state institutions.   

At issue was a series of tweets attacking the monarchy and accusing police of torturing and killing demonstrators and migrants, with his case sparking protests in Madrid and Barcelona.

But Hasel on Monday barricaded himself inside the University of Lleida, in the northeastern Catalonia region, with dozens of supporters to avoid arrest.   

Spanish television showed images of him being escorted out by police at the university on Tuesday.

“They will never make us give in, despite the repression,” Hasel said, his fist raised.

 A Catalan police spokesman told AFP that officers entered the university early Tuesday “to enforce the judicial ruling” on his arrest.   

They began by removing his supporters one by one despite barricades that had been set up to block police.

Hundreds of artists have signed a petition demanding Hasel's release, including film director Pedro Almodovar, Hollywood actor Javier Bardem and folk singer Joan Manuel Serrat.   

Hasel said on Twitter Monday: “I'm locked inside the University of Lleida with quite a few supporters so they'll have to break in if they want to arrest me and put me in prison.”


Last week, Spain's government pledged to reduce the penalty for “crimes of expression” such as the glorification of terrorism, hate speech, insults to the crown and offences against religious sensibilities, in the context of artistic, cultural or intellectual activities.   

The case echoes that of another rapper called Valtonyc who fled to Belgium in 2018 after being convicted of similar crimes.   

Spain is trying to have him extradited but Belgium has refused on grounds that his offences are not a crime under Belgian law.