Spanish newspaper shoots itself in the foot by censoring former editor

Pedro J. Ramírez, the founder and former editor of one of Spain’s leading dailies, El Mundo, until he was forced out of his job earlier this year under government pressure, has maintained a relationship with the paper, publishing a weekly column. But last week, El Mundo decided this Sunday’s piece was too controversial and refused to publish it.

In response, Ramírez decided to post it instead on Medium, as well as on Facebook, spreading the word about it on Twitter — he has almost 300,000 followers.

Today, the article, entitled “El estafermo” (“The quintain”), is the most recommended piece on Medium, and to date the only one published in Spanish that ever ranked in the top. It has since been retweeted, linked, and shared around the Spanish-speaking world, and has also been reprinted in several Spanish-language websites.

And the reason El Mundo didn’t want to publish a piece by its former editor? It was an excoriating attack on the character of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, the man ultimately responsible for removing Ramírez from his post.

Of course, by highlighting El Mundo’s connivance with the Spanish government, Ramírez has exacted the perfect revenge, while the paper’s response has once again proved the Streisand effect: the article has been read by more people around the world than Ramírez could ever have hoped for.

El Mundo belongs to the Spanish Newspaper Publishers’ Association (AEDE), which is in cahoots with the Spanish government’s efforts to control the media, one aspect of which is to prevent aggregators from providing links to its members esteemed organs, who in return receive generous amounts of institutional advertising. El Mundo today is a shadow of its former self: once a bastion of investigative journalism that has uncovered hundreds of cases of political malfeasance over the last three decades, today it is little more than a government mouthpiece.

Regular readers will be aware of the Spanish government’s recent “success” in forcing Google to abandon its news service in Spain after a recent law was passed requiring it and other aggregators to pay a tax to the AEDE.

The law came in the wake of the German government’s efforts to do the same — although Germany’s leading publisher, Axel Springer, has since seen sense, and after it experienced a massive drop in visits to its sites, has performed a U-turn and asked GoogleNews to provide links to its news.

The Spanish government’s decision is based on a supposed “inalienable right” of newspapers and other content providers to be compensated if aggregators used links to their stories, links that were no more than a headline and a few lines, typically of news. Apparently, the same applies to me, even though I have explicitly turned down any such “right” through the Creative Commons license on my website. What’s more, this interference is a direct contravention of EU law and directives.

El Mundo, like the rest of the AEDE’s members, is not worth the paper it is printed on, and dare not publish anything that might offend the government. What we have here is a bunch of papers that have failed to adapt to the internet, and that instead are attempting to pervert the web to their own interests.

This latest episode marks a new low, and shows that the Spanish print media needs a complete overhaul: nothing good can come from its boards, which are filled with dinosaurs unable to understand the nature of the internet, and that are prepared to sell their services to the government of the day.

Let me spell it out: information is most powerful when it is shared to the maximum, and that means allowing bloggers, aggregators, and other news sites to provide links to it. Punishing those who do so is, to all intents and purposes censorship.

Furthermore, all businesses with an online presence have to understand that this is the fundamental characteristic of the internet. Believing that it is possible to change this environment, rather than adapting to it, is simply megalomania, a condition that too many politicians and some Spanish newspaper editors clearly suffer from. Or it could just be that they haven’t the sense they were born with.

(En español, aquí)