The Spanish Treasury’s demands and freedom of expression
The rule of law in Spain is becoming increasingly weaker
Freedom of expression is a key indicator when it comes to measuring the quality of a country’s democracy. In Spain this has taken a nosedive, particularly due to the prevailing persecutory atmosphere against Catalonia’s pro-independence movement. The Valtonyc, Fariña and Arco cases have provided the most recent evidence of this (1).
In this context, we learn that on Monday the Spanish Treasury formally asked the Catalan administration to provide information about a list of mainly news outlets, journalists and pro-independence groups, including —first and foremost— businessman Oriol Soler, this newspaper and some of its journalists and shareholders, such as Antoni Bassas, Toni Soler, Albert Om and Xavier Bosch, as well as Mediapro, the TV production company.
In his written request, addressed to the Catalan government’s General Accounting Service, Treasury minister Cristóbal Montoro demands information about payments made since 2015 to a number of firms and organisations: providers of ICT services —such as T-Systems, IBM and DXC Technology—, the platform that promotes Catalan sports teams (Plataforma Pro Seleccions Esportives Catalanes), and scholarly publishing companies, like Alpha.
This request follows a string of similar demands in connection with the ongoing probe into the Catalan government’s funding of the independence referendum held on October 1, even though the Spanish government itself has already certified that the Catalan administration did not spend a penny of taxpayers’ money on the ballot. Rather suspiciously, this latest request appears to be inspired —almost verbatim— by a news story published in October by an online newspaper which singled out Oriol Soler and his business interests.
In the face of such an arbitrary request, ARA feels totally calm and at ease. This newspaper has absolutely nothing to hide in connection with its dealings with Spain’s Treasury Department and its connection with the Catalan administration, which has been transparent, as with all other private media organisations in Catalonia. Pressure will not alter this newspaper’s editorial stance nor our commitment to free speech, factual reporting and quality, free journalism. ARA was born seven years ago to contribute to building a better nation in the field of media and it will continue to do so.
Unfortunately, this latest incident merely proves that the rule of law in Spain is becoming increasingly weaker and, in particular, that the PP government is using the public administration for their own ends, rather than to serve society at large, as it should always be. A country’s Treasury Department should not be used to put pressure on media companies, columnists, publishing houses and scholars because of their political views (rather incredibly, the list also includes an issue of the Catalan Journal of Public Law (Revista Catalana de Dret Públic) that dealt with the independence process).
This conduct merely confirms the suspicion that Spain’s democracy is spiralling into an authoritarian regime. The Catalan administration has been given a week to submit the information requested and we will be watching closely to see where this leads to and how it ends.
(1) These are three recent scandals involving some sort of ban or censorship on free speech