Monday, July 23, 2007

Meanwhile, Back In The Middle Ages....

On my way to the beach on Saturday morning I stopped to buy the paper and was stunned to see the headlines about the seizure of an entire edition of the satirical magazine El Jueves. The reason for this drastic action was that the front page was allegedly insulting to the Spanish royal family with its cartoon of Prince Felipe “pleasuring” his wife (I think that’s the royal way to say it?). The move was ordered by judge Juan del Olmo, who was the investigating magistrate for the Madrid bombings and who is now showing alarming signs of wanting to be one of these judges for whom the day to day judicial routine is never going to be enough. Now I knew there was a crime of insulting the royals, but I thought until now that it was just something that they dragged out whenever they needed to lay charges against Batasuna’s leadership. The prosecutors have confirmed their intention this afternoon to charge those responsible for the cartoon.

A seizure of this kind is reminiscent of other times with the police being sent out to grab every copy they can find; one of the worst things about it is the claim proudly made by prosecutors that they acted of their own accord, without any pressure from the royal family. Effectively they are saying that if they voluntarily sweep the path under the royal foot then they are demonstrating greater dignity and independence than if they are obliged to do it. I’m not sure I get that one. The response from the government and many others has been pathetically timid, with the vice president of the government shamefully declaring the other day that the right to free expression had to be limited by “respect” for institutions; in other words you can say what you want as long as it’s not against the powerful.

The object of the satire is only partly the prince, it is aimed equally at the proposal by the Spanish government to pay €2500 for each newborn child. The universal nature of the benefit does, I suppose, mean that even members of the royal family would be eligible; and given their recent prolific breeding habits they could do quite nicely out of it. Those who think that the royal family is just a harmless medieval decoration should think again when it starts being used as a reason to seize publications and close down web sites. There are already plenty of reasons to justify a republic; we don’t need to be offered more. Anyway, judge the “offence” for yourselves:


Rab said...

Well, there has been some improvement: 100 years ago, they sent the Army to another satirical magazine in Barcelona for this joke:

The Wikipedia has a very short article:

This is the kind of “democracy” Spain is: not content with banning newspapers, political parties, and other social organisations, now a satirical magazine is being sequestrated by a judge. This is the half-baked democracy we inherited from Franco.

If this had happened in Turkey, many in the Spanish media and politics would have been very quick to jump and explain why Turkey is not fit to join the EU. Double standards methinks. Alas, Spain is much more like Turkey and less like a modern Western democracy as this shameful episode exposes.

Graeme said...

I think you have to put it into context Rab, I'm not convinced that Spanish justice is particularly worse than many other countries and draconian powers exist everywhere; it's the abuse of those powers that we are seeing in this case. Britain, for example, has all sorts of archaic laws still on the statute book and available for use.

This is the first time in many years that a newspaper or magazine has been seized like this and it could the be the beginning of the end for judges to have this power. Apparently Del Olmo ordered the police to seize the plates used to print the magazine, I'm not sure whether the police are still looking for them but probably someone has now gently informed the judge that printing technology has changed slightly since the times when the use of such measures was more common. The country has changed greatly too, whatever the many faults of the transition and despite the efforts of those who would hold it back.