Mapping Media Freedom: Press restrictions in Spain highlight need for improved policy

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Within the last month, Index on Censorship’s Mapping Media Freedom platform has recorded a number of restrictions on media access to events in Spain by police and politicians.

Melody Patry, Index’s head of advocacy, called to attention these encroachments on press freedoms by Spanish law enforcement: “The police are clearly — intentionally or not — restricting access to information and interfering with legitimate journalistic work,” she said. “This further highlights the need for improved policy and training of law enforcement bodies to protect freedom of expression and ensure journalists’ safety.”

Police prevent coverage of eviction

On 10 June, police officers blocked access to journalists covering an eviction in Santiago de Compostela and threatened to fine them.  

During a protest against an eviction, police obliged reporters to stand behind the police cordon a hundred meters from where the eviction was taking place. This restricted access made it difficult for the journalists to see and report on the event.

Police agents in plain clothes asked reporters for their IDs and personal documents while simultaneously refusing to identify themselves. According to the journalists, the police acted aggressively, wielding batons against them, threatening them with fines for taking photos and warning reporters that photos already taken would be erased.

Journalist fined €600 for disobeying police officer

Journalist Cristina Fallarás received a €600 fine on 13 June for disobeying police orders and standing on the street during a Madrid protest.

On 18 May, Fallarás participated in a protest against the assassination of Mexican journalists in front of the Mexican embassy in Madrid. Police cordoned off a road near the embassy. “There were so many people at the protest, we were squeezed, so I went on the road. A policeman told me to go back to the pavement,” the journalist told Público. Fallarás then explained to the policeman that she had not interrupted traffic on the road and that there were many people on the pavement. He asked for her ID.

“When I gave my ID I knew they were going to fine me but I didn’t think it would be a €600 fine,” Fallarás said. She was fined according to the Citizen Security Law, which some critical media outlets have called a ‘gag law’. She was notified of the fine on 13 June and has indicated a plan to appeal it.

El País removes opinion piece on ruling party politician

On 16 June, the Spanish newspaper El País removed an article it had published on the parliament spokesman of the ruling party because the editor-in-chief considered it to be “inappropriate”.

The article criticised the behaviour of MP Rafael Hernando during a debate with MP Irene Montero. Within the opinion article, author Salazar called Hernando a “male chauvinist and misogynist”.

“They (El País) told me that the article is fantastic, that it will be published on the cover page of the web edition,” Salazar told Público. A few hours later, after 300 comments appeared on the article, El País told Salazar that the editor-in-chief, Antonio Caño, had read the article and said that it would have to be either “softer” or removed. “I told them that there was nothing to change,” said Salazar. He received another phone call, this time from the director of El País, who told him that to call Hernando a “male chauvinist and misogynist” was not appropriate. The article was then removed from the website.

Podemos excludes six media outlets from briefing

 The left-wing Podemos party failed to invite six Spanish media outlets to an “off the record” breakfast briefing on 20 June where they introduced the new party spokespeople to the rest of media.

Podemos excluded reporters from El País, la Cadena SER, El Periódico de Catalunya and online outlets El Independiente, Voz Pópuli and Ok Diario. The Madrid Press Association called it a “veto” on the media and asked Podemos to refrain from such actions in the future. According to the APM, all affected journalists typically report on Podemos.

Podemos’ members say that the party has a right to decide who will be invited to their private events and that there was a lack of confidence with the reporters in question.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Mapping Media Freedom

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Spain: Widespread legal action against journalists serve to “spread fear”

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When Axier López, the 37-year-old reporter for the Basque-language magazine Argia, opened the mailbox at his home in Barakaldo early April, he discovered he’d become the first journalist in Spain to be punished under the Public Security Law.

He was ordered to pay €601 (£466) for photos of an arrest he published on Twitter without state permission on 7 March.

“It is a fine similar to a parking ticket,” López told Mapping Media Freedom. “Signed by a local government representative, it claims I committed a crime by putting on-duty police officers in danger.”

The photos in question were taken when López was in the city of Eibar covering the arrest of a woman who had previously refused to appear in court. In 2007 she had participated in a protest against the forced closure of a local youth organisation which the state and court linked to a Basque separatist terrorist group. The woman was accused of blocking a road.

The so-called “gag law” under which López was fined came into force on 1 June 2015. It bans coverage of on-duty police officers without prior police permission and prohibits the publication of any clue as to their identity. The Spanish centre-right government said the purpose of the law is to protect officer security.

“What is the problem if we track and inform the public about events involving police officers?” López asked. “Policemen are paid with public money, so I don’t see a problem if they appear in media content.”

“Almost every day you can see arrests of different people on TV, where police officers appear in front of the camera, but they punished only us,” he added.

Journalists in Spain have recently come under mounting legal pressures related to their work.

In April two journalists from the daily newspaper ABC, Pablo Muñoz and Cruz Morcillo, were facing two-and-a-half-year prison sentences for publishing a telephone conversation between members of the Italian mafia, who were talking about Luis Bárcenas, former treasurer of Partido Popular. After an avalanche of support for the journalists, the general attorney in Madrid dropped the charges in May.

The journalists had published their article in July 2014, a year after police investigators intercepted the phone conversation between two mafioso. The general attorney had claimed they revealed details of a secret police investigation.

“Charges, in this case, were really severe,” said Elsa González, president of the Spanish Federation of Journalist Associations (FAPE), the main journalist body in the country. “A journalist has to publish information if it’s in the public interest.”

González added that according to a poll by Madrid’s Association of Journalist (APM), last year only 23.2% of reporters with permanent contracts and 22.2% of freelancers said they never received pressure to modify information in their reports. APM said the pressure could come from multiple angles, including political and corporate powers, public institutions and advertisers.

A group of Spanish media companies has also recently been threatened with legal action after online newspapers El Confidencial and, along with private TV channel La Sexta reported that Juan Luís Cebrián, president of the Prisa media group, publisher of the national newspaper El País and sports daily AS, appeared in the Panama Papers.

On 26 April Prisa issued a statement on its website stating that its president had taken legal action against the outlets for “clear defamatory intent” by linking Cebrián to the Panama Papers “in which he categorically does not appear”.

The centre-right daily newspaper El Mundo, a competitor of Prisa’s left-leaning daily El País, then reported that journalists who work for Prisa publishing house were prohibited from engaging with the three media outlets.

Nacho Cardero, director of El Confidencial, told Mapping Media Freedom that Cebrián has yet to take any formal action.

“At the moment there are no actions against any of the three media sources and furthermore, the intention to expel contributors of El Confidencial, La Sexta or from his group, hasn’t occurred,” said Cardero. “However, Prisa has closed the door to Ignacio Escolar, director of”

López believes all these cases serve to spread fear among journalists. Meanwhile, his appeal against his fine has been refused. It could have been reduced to €300 (£232) if he had paid in 15 days. “However, we are not going to pay because we were doing our job,” he said.

“I don’t know where we can go in the legal process,” López added. “But it is important that the debate on this law is open and that we resist in order to prevent possible fear in other journalists.”

Mapping Media Freedom approached Cebrián for comment but received no response.

Mapping Media Freedom

Click on the bubbles to view reports or double-click to zoom in on specific regions. The full site can be accessed at

Cuba: Correspondent’s press credentials revoked

The Cuban government this weekend revoked the press credentials of journalist Mauricio Vicent, correspondent for Spanish newspaper El País. Cuban authorities said that Vicent, who has been a reporter on the island for twenty years, had portrayed a “biased and negative image” of Cuba. Since 2007, the Cuban government has prohibited reporting by foreign correspondents from the Chicago Tribune, the BBC and Mexico’s El Universal.