On the 5th of November, the Spanish government formed by the Socialist party and Podemos, announced the approval of its procedure against misinformation, directed by the chief of staff to Spain’s president Pedro Sanchez, and the secretary of state of communication. In order to fight the misinformation, or fake news, the government has created a Permanent Commission, which has been renamed by the opposition as the ‘Commission of the truth’.
The criticisms have been massive and diverse, not only by the political opposition but by journalists’ associations, jurists and experts. Already during the strict quarantine, all alarms were triggered when the Chief of Staff of Spain’s Guardia Civil Police, General José Manuel Santiago assured in a press conference that the government was using the police to investigate and “minimise” the criticism against the government, as well as censoring information they determined to be fake news. However, such statements were excused by the Minister of Interior as a mere “lapsus”. Furthermore, the Public Prosecutor’s report stated that the latter could be condemned up to 5 years, without determining what type of crime it entailed. This clearly infringes the principle of the assumption of innocence by determining an author of what they consider fake news as guilty, and then trying to find a crime in the Criminal Code which could be applied to the particular case.
Even more so, the government has justified the procedure against misinformation by arguing that it is following the strategic lines of the European Democracy Action Plan, a plan which paradoxically is not in force. Essentially, the objective of the plan is to tackle misinformation and reinforce the resilience of European societies. The plan contemplates, among other things, increasing electoral integrity and ensuring that electoral systems are free and fair; strengthening freedom of expression and democratic debate; examining the freedom and pluralism of the media, as well as the role of civil society. It also exposes the need to address misinformation in a consistent manner, considering the need to examine the means used to interfere with democratic systems, based on actions on the fight against misinformation related to Covid-19. Overall, the government has been forced to qualify the extent of this procedure by assuring that it will under no circumstance monitor, censor nor limit the free and legitimate right of the media to offer their information.
Nevertheless, known jurists, such as the former vice-president of the Constitutional Court, Ramón Rodríguez Arribas, shared the opinion that the measure published in the BOE (Boletín Oficial del Estado) nº 292, of 5 of November 2020, implied a prior censorship. Thus, In judge Rodríguez Arribas’ view, the measure not only removes power from the courts to seize a publication, it also attributes intelligence agencies or other purely administrative bodies with the preventive power to define which information or statements on social networks constitute as ‘fake news’ and as a result, creates a new prior censorship that is incompatible with the Spanish Constitution’s article 20 clause. Moreover, the measure infringes upon international legislation, such as article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and article 11 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the MEP Esteban González Pons, has qualified as a lie that the control of the media imposed by the Spanish government has been ordered by Brussels. Interestingly, as MEP Pons points out, such a European plan is against terrorism and is currently within a stalemate situation due to being blocked by the socialist group.
Overall, the tendency to justify unpopular and controversial measures by blaming Europe is old news in Spain. Just this week, Brussels was forced to deny that it had recommended the government to reform the crime of sedition and rebellion (curiously a crime committed by the independentist Catalan politicians, from whom they have received support to approve the budget), reminding them that any reforms of the Criminal Code is an exclusive competence of the Member States.
It has therefore become obvious that the lies are a given however, the question that remains now is what will be blamed on Europe next?
Written by Sofía Tarancón San Martín, Amsterdam Chapter of European Horizons.