Spain: Journalists Fined After Revealing Corruption in Catalonia

This article is a follow-up to ‘Spain: Two Journalists on Trial for Revealing Corruption in Catalonia‘.

Marta Sibina and Albano Dante, editors of the Girona magazine Cafè amb Llet were fined 10,000 euro on Tuesday October 23, 2012, as compensation to Josep Maria Via, president of Barcelona MAR Health Park Consortium and healthcare advisor to Catalan President Artur Mas.

The presiding judge, Maria Millán Gisbert, decided that the video the two journalists had uploaded to YouTube last February, ‘El major robatori de la història de Catalunya‘ (Greatest theft in the history of Catalonia) [ca], which strongly criticized the lack of transparency in public healthcare financing, was an act of libel against Mr. Via.

Poster from before the sentence, supporting the two journalists, editors of the magazine "Cafè amb Llet".
Poster from before the sentence, supporting the two journalists, editors of the magazine “Cafè amb Llet”.

Since February, when Sibina and Dante published the video, several high-profile figures who were referenced – like Ramon Bagó [es], Carles Manté [es] or Josep Prats [es] – have been implicated in alleged cases of corruption in the public healthcare system. Some of the more grievous accusations expressed in the Cafè amb Llet video have already been independently investigated and confirmed, but none of the men have been brought to trial yet.

Even though the video didn’t levy any concrete accusations against Mr. Via, Sibina and Dante did reference an article [es] Via had published in El País, in which he argued that regulations on the distribution of public money complicates management of the healthcare system – an article they described as “shameful”.

In the video, Ms. Sibina addressed Mr. Via directly: “Maybe it would be more comfortable for you to have tax dollars deposited right into a private back account in Liechenstein?”

She referenced, “people like you [Mr. Via], Bagó, Manté [both now implicated in corruption charges] and so many others who have gotten rich at the cost of tanking our healthcare system.”

According to the judge, this constituted a baseless accusation, and therefore libel, against Mr. Via.

The newspaper La Vanguardia [es] described the sentence [es] in the case:

La sentencia aclara que “esto ya no puede considerarse una opinión”, y, por tanto, quedar amparado por el derecho de la libertad de expresión, “sino que es más bien una atribución de hechos que no estaría amparada por la libertad de expresión, sino por el derecho a la información”. El auto judicial aclara que este derecho no se puede aplicar en este caso porque la revista cafeambllet no demuestra las acusaciones vertidas contra el alto cargo sanitario.

The sentence makes clear that “this can no more be considered an opinion” and therefore is not protected under freedom of expression, “but rather an attribution of facts that would not be protected by freedom of expression, but rather freedom of information.” However, the sentence also made clear that freedom of information does not apply in this case because the magazine’s editors did not provide a legitimate basis for their claims against the senior healthcare official.

In reaction to the sentence, the Cafè amb Llet editors have uploaded a new video [ca] to YouTube, explaining their understanding of the situation. The 10,000 euro fine not only endangers the viability of their publication, but also their personal finances. Ms Sibina, a nurse, and Dante, who receives his salary from the magazine, are a couple and publish the magazine from their home [ca].

This may help explain the apparently “amateur” style of Dante’s and Sibina’s video, which resembles more closely “investigative citizen journalism” than the kind of content produced by mainstream media outlets. Sibina and Dante did not study journalism and did not had any previous professional experience as journalists before founding the magazine Cafè amb Llet. They cannot afford a legal advisor and did not take any precautions to avoid being accused of libel.

Asked whether they feel identified with the “citizen journalism” label, Dante reflects: “I don’t know how to name what we have done […] I don’t know if what we have done is journalism. I know it had to be done”.

The question, however, is not whether the Cafè amb Llet editors’ accusation against Mr. Via actually constitute a form of libel – that is up to the judges – but rather, if Via’s lawsuit and the subsequent fine were meant to impede the diffusion of information and questions that are relevant to Catalan society, rather than protect Mr. Via’s reputation.

In the wake of rising separatism, Catalonia’s President, Artur Mas has called for early elections on November 25. He is campaigning on the notion [ca] that his political formation, CiU, needs an absolute majority to effectively fight for Catalan independence. CiU is Catalonia’s largest party and closely tied to many of the high-profile figures implicated in these cases of corruption.

Sibina and Dante, who had previously highlighted [ca] perceived attempts to impede their investigative work, have argued that Mr. Via’s ultimate goal was not to protect his honor:

Ens va sorprendre que fos ell qui posava la denúncia. […] No ens hagués estranyat tant una denúncia dels altres personatges que surten al vídeo, ja que el vídeo sí que posa en qüestió la seua actuació en el maneig dels diners públics.

It surprised us that Mr. Via himself brought the lawsuit… It would not have been suspicious if other high-profile figures in the video raised the case, since we had actually questioned their role in the disappearance of public funds.

Amb el pas del temps, però, hem entès per què tots els altres guardaven silenci: tots estaven implicats en casos fins i tot molt més grans del que nosaltres imaginàvem.

As time has passed, however, we have come to understand why figures across the board have kept quiet: everyone has been implicated in cases more severe than we could have ever imagined.

El senyor Josep Maria Via ha estat fins fa poques setmanes, company de Bagó al consell d’administració del Consorci Hospitalari de Catalunya, que és, justament, una institució implicada en que Bagó rebés contractes per valor de 12 milions d’euros de manera irregular.

El senyor Josep Maria Via ha estat soci en diverses empreses del senyor Josep Prat, el mateix que està actualment imputat per haver pagat, presumptament, els 700.000 euros a Carles Manté de manera irregular. Està defensant el seu honor el senyor Via o està defensant l’opacitat i els negocis poc transparents de la gent del seu entorn?

Mr. Josep Maria Via has been, up until a few weeks ago, a close colleague of Bagó at Barcelona MAR Health Park Consortium’s administrative council, which is an implicated institution in Bagó’s suspiciously received multimillion-euro contracts.

Mr. Via has been a partner in various companies with Josep Prat, the same man who has been implicated for curiously paying Carles Manté 700,000 euro. Is Via defending his honor or is he really working to conceal shadowy dealings of his colleagues?

Cartell en suport als editors de la revista Cafè amb Llet d'abans del judici.
Cartell en suport als editors de la revista Cafè amb Llet d’abans del judici.

On Twitter, the hashtag #MésCafèAmbLlet (#MoreCafèAmbLlet) has been used in defense of the editors, as well as a handful of others, including #volemlesdades (#WeWantTheData) or #BoomerangCafèAmbLlet:

@Nitsuga000: La censura es l’unica defensa dels culpables. Necessitem #mescaféambllet son tot un exemple de tenacitat i dignitat …!

@Nitsuga000: Censorship is the only defense of the guilty. We need more Cafè amb Llet, an example of dignity and tenacity …!

@a_llado: És massa greu per callar. Amb @_cafeambllet i @marta_sibina Escric alt i clar: ‘El que tenim és fàstic’ … Tota la força!

@a_llado: It’s too serious to keep quiet. Standing with @_cafeambllet and @marta_sibina. I’ll write it loud and clear: ‘We’re disgusted’ …Strength!

@paullonch: Si fas factures falses i desvies caler públic, et posen a llistes d CiU. Si ho denuncies, et multen amb 10.000 euros @_cafeambllet #CiuFacts

@paullonch: If you forge invoices and play with public funds, you run on the CiU ticket. If you speak out, they fine you 10,000 euros @_cafeambllet #CiuFacts

@PeopleWitness: La condena de @_cafeambllet tiene un nombre: CENSURA. Difundamos el vídeo que CIU no quiere que veamos … #MesCafeAmbLlet

@PeopleWitness: The sentence agaisnt @_cafeambllet has a name: CENSORSHIP. Let’s spread the video CiU doesn’t want us to watch … #MesCafeAmbLlet

@Fisiofan: Volem #méscafeambllet! Volem transparència i premsa digna. Volem justicia social. Volem #absoluciócafeambllet!

@Fisiofan: We want #méscafeambllet! We want transparency and a dignified press. We want social justice. We want Cafè amn Llet acquitted!

@Laiaortiz Cal ajudar a “@_cafeambllet: VÍDEO: Ens han condemnat 😦” difusió i a sumar 10000€ entre tots i totes. Ánims!

@Laiaortiz: We need to help “@_cafeambllet: VIDEO: They’ve condemned us 😦” spread the word and help raise 10,000 euro. Get activated!

@AdaColau: @_cafeambllet Us necessitem més que mai, digueu com podem ajudar. #Catalunya mai serà lliure amb una classe dirigent corrupta

@AdaColau@_cafeambllet We need you more than ever. Please, tell us how we can help. Catalonia will never be free with a corrupt political class

@Sonia_Farre: #CorrupCiU Condemneu a @_cafeambllet i @marta_sibina i només aconseguireu que us torni! #BoomerangCafeambllet

@Sonia_Farre: Corrupt CiU, condemning @_cafeambllet and @marta_sibina will only bring things back to you! #BoomerangCafeambllet

Read a transcription of other parts of the video [ca] in reaction to the sentence here.

Translated into English by Daniel Bogre Udell. Published on Global Voices on October 31, 2012.

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