Friday, April 15, 2005

Andy Robinson in Tuesday's La Vanguardia: "Opinion and lack of rigor define new journalism in US". Methinks this is a case of that old cliché about people in glass houses and stones. Andy takes advantage of the opportunity to accuse the Bush administration of "poisoning the coverage of the war in Iraq by using anonymous sources."

We're getting better at doing things at the Spain Herald. I think if you follow the Herald's news coverage every day you'll have some kind of idea of what's going on in Spain, though of course our news stories are not neutral. They are, however, honest. I've never seen Herald management intentionally publish a lie.

The main problem with the Herald is now the same problem that exists in all aspects of Spanish politics: too damn much stress on symbolism. I think the stress on symbolism here comes from several sources:

1) Leftover behavior from the Franco regime, which marked both the right and the left before 1975; the majority of media bigwigs had their opinions formed before Franco's death. Under Franco (at least post-1955 or so) the press was semi-free; there were some things they could not do, like criticize Franco or the army or the Church, but they did have some liberty. One thing they were allowed to do was make a big deal out of symbolism, and so all kinds of ceremonies and flag-raisings and parades and official meetings got massive coverage, much more than they deserved, and they were interpreted by the Spanish press in the same way Kremlinologists used to look at photos of the Soviet leadership and base elaborate theories on who was standing next to Brezhnev. This has held over and won't go away until media outlets are run by people born after about 1965, too young to remember much about Franco.

2) There's not really a whole hell of a lot of major news in Spain. It's a country of 40 million people, and it's sort of comparable with California in population, size, GDP, lifestyle, and climate. And military power. Considerably less happens here than in California, though, because Spain doesn't have an international metropolis like Los Angeles. When you get past foreign policy, economics and business, and terrorism, not much happens around here except for your typical domestic politics stuff which is not of great interest to most people. The media therefore blows up little things of symbolic importance only in order to have something to write about.

3) The Spanish media is openly biased, with the biggest split between the right-wingers (the COPE) and the lefties (SER) on the radio; government-subsidized TV and radio, whether national or regional, are of course run by the government and say what the government wants them to say. This means every media outlet has a bone to pick with somebody, and when there's nothing important going on they'll inflate little things in order to have something to slam the other side with.

4) This is a country where one of the biggest political issues, regional nationalism, is mostly symbolism. Who gives a rat's patoot whether butcher shops have to label their merchandise in Catalan? Does it matter whether a bunch of old papers are archived in Salamanca or Barcelona? People to whom nationalism is important care a lot. Now, the regions have plenty of autonomy and anyway Spain is a democracy inside the EU, so there's nothing really important to complain about--so they make a big deal of whose flag should fly over the Manresa city hall or which politician didn't show up for whatever demonstration.

5) This is a country which is still deeply divided between right and left over historical issues, especially the Spanish Civil War and the Franco regime. People my age remember Franco and lots of people who are 75 or 80 remember the Civil War--and nobody is finished with the fight. Physically, yeah, it's all over, but ideologically it isn't, so big stinks are made over things like whether to remove old plaques on walls with references to the regime on them. Every time they get a chance to commemorate or not commemorate something, a big deal is of course made.

6) Spanish people love demonstrations. They'll organize a demo at the drop of a hat, and mostly for pretty dumb reasons. My favorites are the ones they hold when somebody gets stabbed, strangled, or shot in order to show they're against it. I mean, who's in favor of people getting murdered? This is not precisely a controversial issue. This means that they're willing to go out and march over the name of a street or whether a statue ought to be removed or whose national anthem ought to be played before a soccer game. Or, get this, whether Catalonia ought to have its own roller-hockey team. My attitude is that anybody who thinks roller-hockey is a real sport ought to be forced to go through one NFL practice, but that's just me.

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