Spain’s Most Famous Newspaper Stumbles Amid Catalonia Independence Crisis

By Marc Herman and cross-posted from Columbia Journalism Review

BEFORE HIS FIRING earlier this month, reporter John Carlin had been a contributor to El Pais, Spain’s paper of record, for nearly 20 years. But the Spanish daily abruptly terminated Carlin, who writes in both Spanish and English, just days after he published an essay in another European paper, The Times of London, sharply criticizing Spain’s king and Madrid’s government.

The subject of Carlin’s Times story, and much of his recent work for El Pais, was a month-long secession crisis in Catalonia, where local officials have just declared independence, sparking Spain’s worst constitutional crisis in the country’s 40-year democratic history. The Spanish government moved quickly today to retain control of the disputed area.

Carlin has opposed Madrid’s hardline strategy to quash the secession. A few days before his firing, two other El Paiscontributors, Juan Culla and Francesc Serés, left the paper, claiming unionist-leaning editors had “censored” their criticisms of the Madrid government.

Suspicion of El Pais has left much of Spain and Spanish readers without a place to read even modestly neutral coverage of the complex Catalan crisis. Elsewhere in Spain’s media landscape, deep partisan lines between outlets have made coverage of the Catalan events often unrecognizably different from one end of a newsstand to another. Local Catalan public broadcaster TV3 has come into criticism for being too secessionist, Madrid national channel TVE for sometimes shrilly unionist stories and famously raucous political talk segments. Unionist newspaper La Razon (Reason) and Fox-like radio show Intereconomia, not only disagree with secessionist newspapers like Barcelona’s Ara (“Now”) and El Punt Avui (“The Point Today”), they publish in entirely different languages.

Carlin’s abrupt dismissal—his current contract wasn’t up until 2018—provoked accusations that Spain’s most famous paper was cleaning ideological house and carrying water for Madrid political connections that were aiding the financially troubled daily to find bailout money

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