Monday, January 18, 2010

The Right To Inform In Danger

If the examples I gave the other day of judicial craziness weren't satisfying enough, then try this one for size. Two journalists from the Cadena SER radio station are currently facing a prison sentence of 21 months. What did they do to deserve such a stiff punishment? They published a report on the very abrupt rise in membership of the Partido Popular in the Madrid locality of Villaviciosa de Odón. The PP in this town was in the midst of an electoral process and the journalists reported that no fewer than 78 people suddenly joined the party, many of them giving the same address.

The original complaint about this suspicious rise in PP membership came from within the party itself, but the regional leadership did nothing about it. Why would they, if they do nothing about far more serious issues? The suspicion was that there was a connection between the new members and local construction interests, something which is unlikely to cause much surprise. Although the PP did nothing about the case, the two journalists from the Cadena SER ended up in court charged with revelation of secrets.

Under normal circumstances you would imagine that the journalists would be amply covered by the right, enjoying constitutional protection, to inform. However, the Madrid judge hearing the case decided that this protection didn't apply in this case....because the story was published on internet! The web, according to the creative judge, is not a medium of information like the printed press, TV or radio. Understandably, the sentence has provoked significant protests, not least because of its implications for all those who inform via internet. Even some senior PP politicians have agreed that sending the journalists to prison is perhaps not appropriate.

There has to be an exception to this consensus, so step forward Esperanza Aguirre. The Lideresa, who amazingly has yet to appear in this blog in 2010, declared that the sentence was fully justified because the journalists had revealed sensitive personal data about PP members. This was Aguirre playing typically fast and loose with the the truth but we shouldn't be surprised. Those who are suspected of being involved in the Villaviciosa affair are also linked to the still unclarified "Tamayazo", the scandal surrounding the defection of PSOE representatives that paved the way for Aguirre to come to office in the first place.

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