El País Columnist Says Dismissal Tied to His Criticism of Media Independence; Raphael Minder (The New York Time)


Por Raphael Minder, publicado en The New York Time

MADRID — A veteran journalist said on Wednesday that El País, Spain’s leading newspaper, had ended his column after he questioned editorial independence in Spain in an article in The New York Times about the growing financial and government pressures on the Spanish news media that also discussed recent newsroom tensions at El País and other publications.

The journalist, Miguel Ángel Aguilar, 72, said his column was canceled on Tuesday by the head of the newspaper’s opinion section, José Manuel Calvo, with the approval of the editor, Antonio Caño.

Mr. Calvo “told me that since I had made clear that I felt under pressure working at El País, the newspaper wanted to free me of that burden,” Mr. Aguilar said, explaining his dismissal. Mr. Aguilar had written a column for El País since 1994, and was currently working on a freelance basis.

In an email, El País said it had no contractual agreement with Mr. Aguilar and that he had already been informed after he announced the start of his own publication, Ahora, that his new venture was incompatible with his contribution to the newspaper. His column had already been cut from weekly to twice a month, it said. Ahora was started in September.

The news of Mr. Aguilar’s dismissal was widely reported by Spanish online news media, which like Ahora, have begun challenging the country’s establishment newspapers.

“What makes the greatness of institutions is if they can accept and integrate people who are critical and voice dissent, rather than do exactly the opposite, which is a path toward disaster,” Mr. Aguilar said.

In The Times article, Mr. Aguilar was quoted as saying that the debts accumulated by Spain’s newspapers had created “a situation of dependency that has done terrible damage to the credibility of the media in this country.”

He was also critical of El País, saying “there are people so exasperated that they’re leaving, sometimes even with the feeling that the situation has reached levels of censorship.”

During the Franco dictatorship, Mr. Aguilar stood trial on charges of promoting public disorder as part of his work at Madrid, a newspaper that was eventually closed by the Franco government.

He joined El País in 1981 and worked as a political correspondent at a time when El País, which was founded in 1976, had established itself as the country’s most influential newspaper after its reporting on Spain’s transition from dictatorship to democracy.

Mr. Aguilar left the newspaper in 1984 to become a visiting lecturer at the University of North Carolina, he said. Ten years later, he was asked to return to El País by a newly appointed editor, but as a regular columnist rather than as part of the newsroom staff.

The Times article was published last Friday as the Vienna-based International Press Institute and three other media watchdogs published a report critical of freedom of expression in Spain.

The report called on the government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to repeal what has become known as the “gag law,” which has instituted steep fines for offenses like unauthorized political protests.

The report also urged Spain to restore the independence of the national broadcaster and set up a system to allocate public money in a more transparent manner.

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