The Camps affair has, over the past months, allowed much insight into the Spanish way of dealing with the issue of corruption in politics. In in the end, Francisco Camps was made to resign, which he did defiantly, pressed not only by being on a straight path to the dock, but more importantly by his party boss Mariano Rajoy. After the elections, that his, which Mr Camps had won, as expected by the opinion polls, and one wonders if this is not yet another, final bad trick on the voters: they wanted Mr Camps in spite of all, but Mr Camps it wasn't to be in the end.
Much has been written about the roles of the politicians, the press and, finally, the judiciary in the Camps case. And all of them have had their say. The citizens were only consulted most recently, on May 22nd. The responsibility of the voters has now been the subject of an article in La Vanguardia, one of Spain's most read newspapers coming out of Catalonia, penned by the very well known columnist Pilar Rahola.
Mrs Rahola's take is best resumed by two of the questions she poses: "Aren't the Valencians who voted for Mr Camps, knowing what was going on, also responsible for the discredit [of politics]?" and "Do they not help to erosion democracy?" To expand on Mrs Rahola's questions: Should the voters not be able to decide according to higher standards, according to a democratic consensus that transcends all parties?
The demand for a better democratic consensus is at the core of Mrs Rahola's commentary (although she does not use this word). Mrs Rahola conludes, with an almost fatalist (and very Spanish) gesture, that "although we talk a lot about corruption, in the end it doesn't bother us much."
How much corruption are the Spanish voters willing to allow for? "You do not represent us", was the battlecry of the 15-M movement. It brought tens of thousands onto the streets and squares of Spain. Yet, it didn't seem to have had any impact on the last elections. Voters are sometimes an enigma.
Politicians, on the other hand, are necessarily partisan. Which leaves the judges and the journalists as the professional watchdogs. While the law, which offers the most clarity, fortunately does not have to be enforced every day, every single day it is the journalists who investigate, explain, comment and criticise. Their role should be almost equally clear, the rules that govern the profession are few, universal and not at all complicated. The role of the press is essential to democracy, it is to provide the public with the means to make an informed decision at the polls. The citizens depend heavily on the press, when someone of the press criticises them we have to have a look at that journalist. This is where the case study begins. The question is: who has the authority to give lessons in democracy?
Pilar Rahola is not only a member of the press. She has also been a politician. Therefore, not only her words, but also her whole life's trajectory offer a telling insight into how the press in Spain plays its role as the "fourth power".
Old sins should be forgiven. Yet, when the issue at hand has any relation back to them, there they come up again. Mrs Rahola is well remembered in her hometown of Badalona for an unsavoury incident. It was during her time as vice-mayor of neighbouring Barcelona, after a night of political campaigning and, one can well guess, the ordinary visit to the bars afterwards, that she discovered her car had been towed. Immediately she went to Badalona's municipal car pound and recovered her vehicle by cajoling the worker and two policemen into submission with words like "Do you know who I am?", refusing to pay the legal fines and costs. This happend February 18, 1996, and it raised a lot of dust those days.
Mrs Rahola had to apologise publicly, which she did somewhat half-heartedly, and nine days later she blasted the Spanish Socialists for alledgedly running "a network of generalised corruption." Mrs Rahola ended her political carrer in 1999 and went into journalism, where she made another brilliant career, with political moral being the backdrop of a great many of her daily articles and numerous appearances on radio and TV all over Spain. Like in the given sample text.
Even though much time has passed since the car pound incident, it is at least tacky that it would be this ex-politician to criticise the voters in neighbouring Valencia. On the other hand, Francisco Camps is something of a bête noire for every Catalan nationalist, which makes him an easy target.
Closer to home, the Catalan Generalitat had its own cause célèbre just after taking office. The vice-president of the Catalan Generalitat was caught lying in her CV about her academic credentials. For years Joana Ortega had been claiming that she possessed an M.A. in Psychology. Finally, after this false information had kept appearing in many articles about her and even interviews with her without raising any doubts, in March this year she had to admit that she never finished her university studies. It is unclear who discovered the deceit and how, which has given rise to some conspiracy theories, but that is another story.
To make matters worse, Mrs Ortega blamed an unnamed secretary for the "mistake". "Transcription error" was the formula she repeatedly used, but it was her who, in first person singular, had written on her personal blog that she had an "M.A. in Psychology from the University of Barcelona." Mrs Ortega purged her blog rapidly, but not fast enough for the journalists or Google cache. Ultimately Mrs Ortega kept her post, not least because the local press stopped insisting. (A very different panorama we had seen only a few days before with the German Minister of Defense Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg: in spite of being the most popular politician and, like Mrs Ortega, enjoying the full backing of his boss, chancellor Merkel, he was made to resign due entirely to the relentlessness of the press who, regardless of each outlet's political inclination, showed more moral criteria than the citizens and many politicians. As befits its role.)
In Catalonia, it was Pilar Rahola who quickly displayed understanding for Mrs Ortega. In one of her daily appearances on Els Matins (TV3), she said: "rather than a lie, it's an act of vanity".
At one point in her verbose participation Mrs Rahola did assumed as possible that it was Mrs Ortega herself who had done wrong, and still she saw no reason for the vice-president to resign. To praraphrase Mrs Rahola, everybody here does it.
In a certain political sense Mrs Ortega's lie might have been more serious than Mr Camp's fashionable outfit. Mrs Ortega's lie concerned the basic credentials she had built her whole political career on.
Similarly, although not identically, to Mr Camps, the voters spoke after Mrs Ortega's case had become public. Admittedly, the voters didn't know all the details, because the Catalan press was quite benevolent with Mrs Ortega, she was not indicted, the whole affair didn't last half as long as Mr Camps's, and May 22 elections in Catalonia were only indirectly affecting her, as they were municipal, not regional. Yet still, it could be argued that had the Catalan voters held dearly the standards Mrs Rahola pretends to defend, there should have been an effect on Mrs Ortega's CiU. There wasn't. In fact, Mrs Rahola could have built her case against the voters not on the Camps affair, but already on the Ortega issue; or at the very least include the Ortega experience in her article about Camps's voters. If she had any standards herself, that is.
On the legal front, Alfons López-Tena, Catalan MP for Solidaritat Catalana per la Independència and a lawyer by profession, is reported to have said that Mrs Ortega's false university title could be punishable according to the Spanish Penal Code. A fraud. Nothing has come out of this so far, apparently the Spanish Penal Code is less clear about the issue than those of other European countries. Mrs Ortega is lucky to live in Spain. And so is Pilar Rahola, who is, in fact, a kindred sinner.
"PhD in Hispanic Philology and Catalan Philology", is what she had been claiming to possess until at least late 2009. Like Mrs Ortega, Mrs Rahola has since purged the CV on her blog as well as her Wikipedia entry, albeit in quite an incomplete fashion. While the Catalan version of her CV now downgrades her to a mere M.A., both the Spanish and English versions have remained unretouched. Actually, the literal translation from Mrs Rahola's Spanish CV would be: "PhD in Hispanic Philology and also in Catalan Philology." That clearly makes for two faux doctor's titles.
There is no doubt that Mrs Rahola will now soon correct these "transcription errors", but, again much like Mrs Ortega, Mrs Rahola will not be able to beat the journalists (this one, for instance, has copied it all onto his HDD) or the memory of the Net. For some time to come there will be many sites around the globe which have copypasted her blog's CV. And there will also be this report about a conference at which she is introduced to the audience, in her very presence, as the holder of those two faux PhDs.
Pilar Rahola's record should make her the last person to opine about political corruption, and she is the least authorised talking head to give lessons in democracy to the citizens and demand them to exercise self-criticism. This is not the kind of journalist whose information the people should base their decisions on.
One curious sidenote: it was in the same TV program in which Mrs Rahola was being apologetic of Mrs Ortega that she accused Jordi Portabella, the leader of Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya in Barcelona -the same party Mrs Rahola had made her political career with- to have faked his degree in Biology.
Mr Portabella immediately reacted and a few days later Mrs Rahola was made to apologise (again), which again she did in an ungraceful fashion.
Most of the above must be known to Mrs Rahola's editor at La Vanguardia. And if it were not, attempts have been made to inform of these facts on the comments section to Mrs Rahola's "Autocrítica ciudadana" article at La Vanguardia online. To no avail. All intents were systematically blocked by the "moderators", none of these comments appeared.
That is nothing new. This reporter has even seen several critical comments appear to later be erased. The impression is that La Vanguardia does not allow anybody to question the credentials of the paper or Mrs Rahola, even though it does allow diverging opinions about her texts. It is like in the good old times, when the regime's censors decided which criticism to allow and which went too far.
As to the matter at hand, the picture is now that the whole newspaper stands firmly behind a discredited journalist and her criticism of the voters (that is, of the voters in another Autonomous Community). The fact that both La Vanguardia and, since lately, Mrs Rahola herself are intimately close with the locally ruling Convergència i Unió, Mrs Ortega's coalition, certainly plays a role, especially when they seek culprits in Valencia instead of Barcelona.
All in all, this is just another indication for the partisan nature of the Spanish press, in this case made worse by an underlying nationalist mindset. The conclusion has to be that before the press starts to take on politicians, the judges or even the voters, they better sweep their own doorstep first.
Their apparent unwillingness to do so spells nothing good for democracy in Spain. A democratic consensus that would unite politicians and the press on the basis of universally accepted standards, similar to what is in use in many other European countries and the US, is for now something Spain can only dream of.
Mrs Rahola's "Autocrítica ciudadana" contains a lesson in Spanish journalistic practice, in the state of democracy in Spain, and unfortunately also in what nationalism is doing to this country.
Admittedly, Mrs Rahola is an extreme example of what is going on. All the better her example serves to point out which direction the whole thing is going. A vanguard of her own kind. Poor voters who have to rely on such a press.