4.1.2. The Information or Disinformation in the Newspapers
The so-called “battle of the challenge of independence” has been fought on many fronts—political, judicial, business, in the streets, electorally, and, of course, on the communicative front.
During this period, the agenda setting of all of the mass media, including newspapers, led with the star subject of the day, “Catalonia.”
Broadly speaking, arguments that coincide with those lines of action studied and analyzed previously when speaking about populism can be observed in the press. Thus, firstly, as Canovan demonstrated (Canovan 1999, p. 7
), “a form of politics is practiced based on a close link between political leaders and their followers.” This can be appreciated by the fact that many leaders of the procés
attended demonstrations alongside their voters; for example, Puigdemont, who appeared, together with his party, at the protests against the arrests carried out. In the same way, just as Costas
) detected, “this works under the principle of us–them, friend–foe.” Puigdemont and his party made it appear that those who were not pro-independence were the enemy, amongst these, state security forces.
Secondly, in the same way, it can be appreciated that, as Hermet
(2003, p. 8
) declared, “this is done in a way that, achieving the objective, solves problems instantly, although in the long term.” In this utopia of the procés
, businesses have been observed leaving Catalonia and no leader has sought a solution to this problem.
Thirdly, and to conclude, the assertion by Weyland
(2001, p. 73
) stands out: “The development of a strategy through which a charismatic leader governs without the counterbalance of state institutions.” The clearest example can be seen by Puigdemont, who, without being the president of the Republic of Catalonia, calls himself so and acts as such, knowing that he does not have international support and that this is contrary to the legality of the Spanish State.
Radicalization, and therefore two realities, can be seen in the mass media, if we compare el Diari Ara, La Razón, or ABC. The first is a pro-independence newspaper and left wing, and the others are constitutionalist and conservative.
In the first case, for Diari Ara, the pro-independence headlines and images were those which were represented by the multitudinous protests in support of the procés with estelada flags (unofficial flag to express support for Catalan independence) and acts of support and bravery by the citizens were always peaceful, while the Spanish state was represented by fear of the security forces attacking citizens with acts of violence. The judges, and in particular Spanish laws, were considered oppressors and an appeal was made to revolt. Catalonia, a wealthy territory, self manages better as a republic. From the data obtained from Diari Ara, it ought to be noted that the use of the figure of Puigdemont was what obtained greater prominence in its news articles, focusing a total of 64 images on this person. This newspaper put Catalonia at loggerheads with the Spanish State at all times. The message centered on the idea that the solution to all of Catalonia’s problems would be resolved through independence. It continually appealed to feelings and identity vis-à-vis the disdain towards the Catalan people from the rest of the Spanish people. The Francoist discourse was resurrected, positioning the Spanish Government as fascist, and national celebrations like Hispanic Day (día de la Hispanidad, 12 October) as a Francoist remora. Finally, it should be noted that it considered Article 155 as being a coup d’état against the Catalan institutions.
In the case of the newspaper La Razón, pro-independence news was treated in a more “derogatory” way, versus theoretical objectivity of “constitutionalist” news. Consequently, this also happened with the two leaders, Puigdemont and Rajoy. La Razón provided an image of reasonableness to the President of the Government, while Puigdemont was given a more chaotic image. It was in the opinion columns where the ideology of the newspaper could be seen more faithfully, with headlines like: “Puigdemont: A circus trapeze artist without a net” or “Puigdemont namby-pamby on Instagram.” On analyzing the images, a careful handling of Rajoy can be perceived, while those of Puigdemont tend to show unflattering gestures. Finally, La Razón provides its readers with numerous cartoons or satirical illustrations of the pro-independence challenge. The newspaper´s line advocates a united and strong Spain. It defends the millions of Catalans who find themselves repressed by the Government of Catalonia and who are too afraid to dare to speak. Of course, it is against a referendum because, according to the Spanish Government line, it is unconstitutional, and furthermore, the approval of an amendment ought to be held in all of Spain: “The decision of the separation or not of Catalonia corresponds to all Spaniards.” La Razón maintains the belief of the Government that on 1-O (1 October), the security forces did their job and only intervened in extreme cases. Article 155 is the only solution to counteract the attempt at a coup d’état against the Spanish State, which the Government of Catalonia, with Puigdemont at its head, made with the unilateral declaration of the Catalan Republic.
The newspaper ABC is a royalist, conservative, and Catholic newspaper, and therefore its editorial line was connected to these ideologies. The headlines and symbols used were normally of independence, the Spanish flag, and the monarchy as the main elements of its discourse. The most repeated news articles from this newspaper during the period previously mentioned were the referendum of the 1 October, the King´s speech on the issue of Catalonia two days later, and three days after the referendum when Josep Lluís Trapero was called to declare regarding the alleged crime of sedition.
On 1 October 2017 (1-O), a referendum for the independence of Catalonia was called by the Government of Catalonia autonomously, conducted illegally after having been suspended by the Constitutional Court on 7 September. With regard to this, it is noteworthy that a number of the news items were treated from a “constitutionalist” point of view, supporting Spanish unity and its Constitution. Another of the most prominent news stories during this period was that of 3 October and the speech by the King of Spain, dealing with independence and the Catalan referendum. The editorial line of this newspaper showed the King along with headlines like, “The King calls upon the State to defend itself,” “The King demands ‘the strong commitment of everyone’ to assure constitutional order,” or “The international press applaud the King´s ‘exceptional’ speech’.” After 4 October 2017, following the referendum, the leader of the Mossos d’Esquadra (the Catalan regional security force), Josep Lluís Trapero, was called to declare regarding the alleged crime of sedition during the referendum. One news story which stands out is that of the headline, “The Pope confirms that he is against self-determination in Catalonia.” This piece of news leaves no doubt regarding another of the editorial ideologies of this newspaper—Catholicism.
ABC, like La Razón, supported the actions carried out by the state security forces on 1-O and supported them in the harassment they suffered, by citizens in favor of independence, in the hotels in which they were staying. These media reported with special emphasis on the violent movement of said citizens. The pro-independence leaders were portrayed as perpetrators of a coup d’état.
El Confidencial, which leans toward a center right doctrine and, apart from this, which does not give negative criticism to the independence movement, offered a neutral model of information and was sometimes apolitical towards the conflict. The pro-independence news items were treated from a perspective whereby it is the reader who interprets and creates their own opinions. With respect to the two main leaders, Rajoy lost prominence in the analyzed news items compared to Puigdemont, who stood out despite a more chaotic image of him being projected. The articles in this newspaper faithfully reported Puigdemont´s populist messages, casting him as the victim with regard to the non-integration into Spanish society and the anti-Rajoy feeling and Article 155; positioning the Spanish government as a “fascist government” and the European Union as a “club of the decadent.”
In the case of the newspaper El Mundo, special emphasis was placed on its vision with regard to the political leaders. El Mundo maintained a neutral stance with Mariano Rajoy. Although some of its articles denote certain criticism, the vast majority of them reflect full support of his management of the situation. A clear example of this was on 1 October when the important decision to send state security forces to assure that the referendum would not happen was attributed to him. On the other hand, when Puigdemont was referred to, the view was always negative and, as with the other newspapers, he was branded as chaotic.
Analyzing El País, it can be confirmed that 62% of the news was regarding independence and, from the treatment of the information, it can be shown that 62.6% was negative, 19.4% neutral, and 18% positive. Therefore, the problem of independence was covered, but on analysis, it can be seen that all of the headlines from this newspaper were in support of “constitutionalism.” Though it is true to say that the way the Spanish Government acted on 1 October was heavily criticized.
After analyzing the news published by the newspaper La Vanguardia, it can be confirmed that, as it considers itself to be a center right newspaper, its information and images were much more constitutionalist than pro-independence. It could be seen to be trying to maintain a neutral position on the subject, thus allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions. During the two months of the analysis, La Vanguardia published a larger number of constitutionalist news items (66%) compared to pro-independence news items (44%). The constructive criticism toward constitutionalism accounted for 27% of the total news items, and the negative criticism towards pro-independence formed 32%, compared to 41% neutral information. Therefore, after closer analysis of the results obtained, it can be affirmed that La Vanguardia maintained a center right line with regard to the information on the Catalan problem, but attempted to avoid clearly positioning itself on the constitutionalist side.
Another of the Catalan newspapers analyzed was El Periódico. In relation to the level of information, the frequent use of “appellative” news was observed, i.e., it contained persuasive elements with which it tried to influence the reader. The line pursued by these appellative pro-independence style articles exceeded those that were constitutionalist by 13 points. From this, it can be understood that the editorial line of the newspaper was inclined toward the pro-independence side. Negative views predominated in this newspaper, accounting for 46% of all news stories compared to 34% positive. It is interesting to highlight that many of the articles with a negative view were neither against pro-independence support nor constitutionalist support, but rather the politics which cause this feeling of patriotism and belonging to the nation, on the part of both the citizens of Catalonia and those from the rest of the Spanish territory equally. After analysis of this publication, it can be ascertained that it held a firm pro-independence stance and maintained every aspect of this ideology. Although its articles were varied and also dealt with subjects related to “constitutionalist” parties, it is evident that it had to adhere to current affairs, and it tended to view these from a somewhat critical stance, while at the same time extolling independence. As in the case of Diari Ara, its articles were very critical of the state security forces and of the Spanish Government. On the other hand, they extolled Catalan politicians who were for pro-independence. With respect to political leaders, this newspaper tended to use the image of Carles Puigdemont opposed against that of Mariano Rajoy, praising the former and showing him at his best, while highlighting the negative actions of the President of the Spanish Government.
It is noteworthy that, due to the conflict, readers´ comments in the articles increased exponentially. Newspapers like El País stand out, where there were thousands of comments per article, with opinions on both sides.