The Catalan government has announced its intention to hold a referendum on independence on October 1st. The ballot will be held in defiance of the Spanish government which has decreed it illegal.
This isn’t news. It’s been known for quite some time that both governments were at odds over the holding of an independence referendum.
A rally by pro-independence Catalans, scheduled to be held on Monday September 11th – Catalonia’s National Day – received coverage on BBC Scotland on the morning of the event. You can hear the item below.
So far so expected. However things were about to change.
News reports emerged on social media suggesting the Spanish government was employing highly aggressive methods in a bid to thwart the democratic process.
Catalan TV was asked to stop reporting on material or actions that could lead to the holding of a referendum.
A campaign video aimed at encouraging Catalans to vote in the referendum was judged illegal.
Police raided municipal buildings searching for ballot boxes, voting papers and other material associated with the referendum. Offices of Spain’s biggest private delivery company Unipost were raided.
That morning, Wednesday September 13th, a short item appeared on Good Morning Scotland in the form of a 23 second long news bulletin.
Later on that day the situation escalated further when Madrid ordered 712 Catalan Mayors to submit to questioning or face arrest.
A referendum website owned by the Catalan government was seized by Madrid. Spanish postal staff were ordered not to handle referendum material.
In an unprecedented move, the Spanish government seized control of the Catalan government’s finances, withdrawing the power for it to pay its civil servants and other public sector personnel. Spanish Prime Minister Mario Rajoy has threatened to cut power to polling stations.
As the situation escalated further BBC Scotland’s interest waned. More coverage was given to an off the cuff remark by an SNP MSP regarding the island status of Skye than was given to a democratic crisis in a nation state previously deemed significant in terms of Scotland’s own independence debate.
So bad was the situation that the Danish government condemned the behaviour of Madrid. EU President Jean-Claude Juncker made a significant intervention, declaring the EU would respect a Catalonian Yes vote. But still BBC Scotland refused to budge.
This was the corporation that couldn’t wait to headline comments from the Spanish Prime Minister during our own indyref. Indeed even after Brexit, BBC Scotland didn’t just report comments from the Spanish government, they led Reporting Scotland with them.
But there was nothing from Pacific Quay, which went about its daily business of car crashes, murders and football … and an attack on our own second referendum by Vince Cable. How ironic.
There’s no doubt that BBC Scotland has shown a quite shocking lack of interest in the events taking place in Catalonia. The parallels with Scotland are obvious. Both have devolved government’s who back independence. Both parliaments have a majority of parliamentarians who back independence. Both parliaments have voted to hold a referendum. Both have had their democratic mandates ignored by the ‘parent’ state government.
The Catalan government has adopted a different path to that of the SNP administration. The pro-independence Catalan administration is set to defy Madrid, and something has got to give. If Madrid continues its present course then we could see conflict on the streets of Catalonia. If the referendum goes ahead we could see a unilateral declaration of independence from the Catalan government.
The situation is both fascinating and frightening. I for one dearly hope that common sense breaks out in Madrid and the Catalans allowed to vote. After all, what would Madrid gain if it prevents a democratic referendum through force?
Widespread international coverage would apply pressure on Madrid. Every news bulletin widens exposure. Every report opens more eyes. And that helps the Catalans. Indeed the Spanish government has already conceded it is losing the news battle after it emerged it asked its diplomats to get in touch with foreign media outlets in a bid at softening coverage of its actions.
It can’t though control social media which is why Scotland’s independence community has rallied behind their Catalan cousins. Twitter stepped in where BBC Scotland wouldn’t. The social media platform has kept Scotland’s online community up to date on the situation. SNP MPs and MSPs as well as former MPs have posted messages of support on the social media platform.
On Saturday the Scottish government issued its own carefully worded statement. It said simply that the people of Catalonia should be allowed to decide their own future. The statement should have jolted BBC Scotland into providing serious coverage of the situation. Below is what was broadcast.
Seventeen seconds with no mention whatsoever of the reason for the statement or the powder-keg situation that was developing.
On Wednesday September 20th, Twenty four SNP MSPs wrote to the Council of Europe President Donald Tusk asking him to intervene. The letter coincided with news that Spanish police had raided Catalan government buildings in Barcelona and arrested 14 senior officials. Tensions are high.
That same day BBC Scotland finally caved in to social media pressure and covered the situation. Below is the item that was broadcast on Radio Scotland just before 5pm on Wednesday.
It’s a pretty decent summary, although the English journalist living in Barcelona can’t help himself as he uses pejorative terms to describe independence supporters.
So why did BBC Scotland turn a blind eye to the events as they unfolded for almost a week? Why was a story so clearly relevant to the situation in Scotland and with obvious parallels ignored?
I ran my own poll on twitter and asked respondents to choose one of three options. The result is shown below.
Ninety four percent of respondents believe BBC Scotland failed to report the Catalan crisis because it is institutionally corrupt. It’s only social media of course and many of those who took part in and shared the poll will have been sympathetic to independence and Catalonia. That said, the sheer scale of the result should be cause for concern at BBC Scotland.
The station got it wrong. It should have been providing regular updates for Scottish licence payers and had discussions with people on the ground. Employing a virtual news blackout was the wrong option.
“The issue that is at stake today isn’t the independence — or not — of Catalonia,” Raül Romeva, Catalonia’s foreign affairs chief, told a group of foreign correspondents in Madrid on Wednesday, “but democracy in Spain and the European Union.”
“There is no alternative, absolutely no alternative,” he said. “There are only two projects now on the table: a democratic project or repression.”
If the Spanish government succeeds in preventing a democratic vote from taking place then who’s to say Scotland won’t be next? This story needs reporting … now!
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