Politicians are no Gods – Journalists are no Priests

Silvia Albert

It has always appeared to me that the Spanish journalism, especially the political journalism, and at least in the last years, is somehow lacking of the pushiness and audaciousness it should have…

That is why I found so interesting the article published last weekend in El Pais written by Victor Lapuente Giné, Doctor in Politics Science and Professor at the University of Gotenburg. The article is titled “A critical view of our journalism”, and it analyzes how the Spanish media and journalists practise their jobs. According to Lapuente Giné, political journalism is developed in Spain in a ‘sacerdotal‘ way, this meaning that the reporter sees himself/herself as a priest who deciphers what the sacred politicians and leaders say, to pass on this information to the common people. This idea of journalism is opposed to the ‘detective-journalist’, that who investigates the matters from below and then climbs up in the investigations until they -sometimes- reach the top levels of the Administration in their search for answers. This last kind of journalism is the most common in many other European countries, and is, according to the author, the reason why the public debate in this countries is more rich and open.

One of the features that defines the ‘sacerdotal’ journalism would be the prioritisation of the statements coming from political leaders over other relevant matters. I just realized how true this is: the journalists in Spain usually don’t discover the news and then ask the politicians about them, but wait for those politicians to “create” the news through their speeches and their public appareances. This is how the Spanish news agenda is always lead by a statement or an announcement pronounced by any leading member of one of the main political parties. It is not very relevant what they say, it just have to come from the right mouth.

Mariano Rajoy 'speaks' to the journalists in an image that reminds the Big Brother of Orwell

Mariano Rajoy ‘speaks’ to the journalists in an image that reminds the Big Brother of Orwell

Sometimes it doesn’t even have to come from a real mouth: I sadly remember last year’s embarassing press conferences held in the Headquarters of the Popular Party, with the image of PM Mariano Rajoy in a PDP speaking in front of a group of reporters. I find it hard to imagine that scene in any other democratic country: no questions, no interaction, just a speech safely recorded in the privacy of his office. All the journalists stayed and heard him speak from the screen, and all the media published the ‘news’ he announced that day. We don’t even need journalism for that, we all have TVs at home.

Other aspect of this way of doing journalism, explained in Lapuente Gine’s article, is the impulse to focus on abstract concepts, instead of explaining the particular facets of an issue. The purpose of Journalism is to make clear and understandable the information, but the press in Spain usually stays on the general approach used by the politicians in their dialogue. Problems are not discussed one by one independently, but in global packages, says the proffesor. This abstraction, he explains, contributes to the fact that every reform that the country needs is inmediately discredited in the public debate. We see this every day in our country: the newspapers and political talk shows only speak about the general and pompous ideas that the politicians cleverly handle, very distant from the daily reality of the citizens. This only helps to broad the breach between the people and the political class. The journalism is therefore failing on its duty of being a public service and helping the citizens to understand and get involved in the political sphere.

I agree with the author that this conditions that affect our journalism are only reasons and redefine the obligations and responsabilities of the press in our country, and consider the way in which journalists do their job. Many new opportunities are arising with the new independent media to make this possible.

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