Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Don't Believe what You Read

“News is something someone wants suppressed. Everything else is just advertising” – Lord Northcliff.
There are several ways of manipulating the news, if one has either the money or the power to do so. The government, evidently, has both. This is why one should cast about to see different news sources and to keep a healthy dose of suspicion when reading something that appears improbable. For North American news, there’s Snopes (here) to help winnow out the silliness.
Unfortunately, as more people begin to distrust the mainstream news, they become attracted to news-sites that can guarantee to serve them the news that attracts their particular prejudice (see Fox News, Breitbart or OKDiario for far-right examples, The Express for pro-Brexit, Rapture Ready for Christian end-of-times news and Mother Jones for the far-left).
Newspapers have the biggest problems today. The falling sales and the rising costs of production mean they must take any income they can find. These days, it costs at least one euro per copy just in print bills. Free newspapers (we have a few in Spain) are even more sorely placed – the English or German language ones can’t even distribute by mail-box, so are obliged to add editorial in the hope of making them attractive to the reader. But – who pays the printing bill?
The Spanish government, which apparently spends 60 million euros a year in ‘institutional advertising’ (‘Eat Andalusian food’, ‘Visit Galicia’ etc), plus all the autonomous and local governments with a similarly vast sum (we wonder how much Catalonia spends?) expecting one thing in return. Keep the editorial more or less treacly.
El País in English has an astonishing article flatly refuting this here. They deny calls ‘ say that this newspaper is acting under the orders of the central government during this Catalan crisis. And that is a serious affront, because the independence of this newspaper and its professionals are completely protected from any interference from the powers-that-be by a charter that is an example among the European press...’. You should see the ‘comments’ to the article...
Only a week before, El País had fired John Carlin for writing a pro-Catalonian viewpoint in the Times of London.
A kind of media manipulation is called astroturfing in the USA. ‘Grass roots opinion’, if you like, but contrived yet sold as genuine. An article in Vozpópuli considers how the Government in Spain employs this technique: fake news items are placed in smaller outlets and are picked up on the social media (perhaps with a little help) to then become huge.  Venezuela anyone? Esperanza Aguirre, the regional boss of the PP in 2009, had 45,000 Twitter accounts, apparently.
How much is a full page advert in El País? 50,000€. The Government with its regular campaigns, will of course be getting it much cheaper (who, we wonder, gets the rápel – the cash kickback on all major campaigns?).
Here’s a recent example. You can find these and similar adverts in any newspaper from La Voz de Almería to El Mundo. Does this all make El País a bad newspaper? Of course not. Some of Spain's best columnists write for it and it is considered as the leading opinion maker. 
Which makes it all the more important that its opinions and information are accurate.
As for Government-owned media, like the national RTVE, things are even easier. Here’s ‘23 examples of Manipulation on the TVE news over Catalonia’ from VerTele (or, should we believe it anyway?)
Here’s another problem with today’s news: ‘...Real investigative journalism – the kind that blows the lid off criminal or unethical activity and goes deep in the trenches was done at a loss – as a public service, to establish credibility and fulfil its duty as the Fourth Estate. The monetary gains from this kind of journalism aren’t immediately apparent – the profits are intangible, and can’t easily be put on a spreadsheet. So, when the news outlets were bought by larger corporations, the value of this intangible was lost. The overseers are interested in the bottom line, and if it can’t be directly linked to dollars, they trim the fat. Bye-bye in-depth investigative reporting, hello gotcha journalism...’. From Flashback here.
And lastly:
'Censorship is not always committed by an individual in some secret totalitarian government room, editing uncomfortable truths out of reporting and books. In a democracy where the vast majority of the news is financed by advertising or corporate sponsorships, the subtle censor sits in the back of a journalist's, producer's, editor's or owner's mind.
Censorship in a corporatized democracy is a tacit understanding not to offend advertisers, which means that that the nation sees reality through the distorted lens of business or political interests' (no attribution).

Monday, 23 October 2017

Faith in Numbers

The recent kind words of the Spanish foreign minister in an interview with the BBC have been picked up by the press as being the end of all doubts: the Brits can stay in Spain following Brexit and all is fine with the world. From The Guardian we read that:
'...Alfonso Dastis said his government would ensure that the lives of Britons in Spain were not disrupted in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Spain is host to the largest number of British citizens living in the EU (308,805) and just under a third (101,045) are aged 65 and over, according to the Office for National Statistics...'.
Two things here - firstly - many non-EU foreigners live in Spain quite happily, who doesn't have an American friend or a Norwegian neighbour? They just have a few more formalities to deal with than EU foreigners. Work-permits, visas and no vote, for example. But, sure, they can live here.
The other thing, of course, is the numbers airily quoted as Gospel: One million Brits, 800,000 Brits, 610,000 and, here we are: 308,805. Depending, of course, on which authority strikes your fancy.
The ‘real number’ of Brits living in Spain, as of January 2017 and according to the National Institute of Statistics (INE), is just 236,669 Britons registered on the padrón (The Guardian figure is from 2014). Now, we know this number is highly inaccurate – as the Ministry of the Interior attempts to winnow it down by asking the town halls to check and remove ‘clutter’ (the town of Mojácar for instance is aiming at removing around 1,400 foreigners from its current list). At the same time, many Britons don’t bother to register on the padrón in the first place, with the unhappy result that the only thing we know about the full-time population of Brits in Spain is that it most certainly does not add up to the anal number supplied by the INE above.  

Thursday, 19 October 2017

The Far-Right

In times of struggle and unrest, violence often breaks out, violence wrapped in a flag: the skin heads of the far-right. Remarkably, Spain doesn’t have much of a far-right presence by European standards (although there are a few ‘alt-right’ newspapers). There are a number of small poky parties that briefly flitter through the news. We have the oddly named Falange Española de los JONS, the Alianza Nacional, the Movimiento Católico Español and a number of others (Wiki here). There is also the Alternativa Española, which was touted by the British Conservative and Eurosceptic Daniel Hannan as the party for the British residents to vote for in the European elections of 2009, but thankfully they are all ‘small potatoes’ without any voice in the Spanish Cortes. Yet, within the Partido Popular, and without naming names (beyond, let’s say, a previous Minister of the Interior), there are without doubt some who could be more comfortable in a formation further to the right. Some PP voters, too.
With the situation in Catalonia, it is a perfect moment for certain fiery individuals to reach for the flag and the knuckledusters, and a number of demonstrations, fights and arrests have been recorded, usually dismissed in the Media as coming from the ‘Ultras’ – football hooligans, in short.  Twelve arrests of Ultras were recently reported in Valencia: political prisoners? Hardly! Another 53 have been ‘recognised’ by the Mossos in Barcelona: Hitler salutes and swastika people. Uggh!
See, we didn't even mention the foreigners (yet).
Ultras, skinheads and fascist salutes are one thing – but in a country without a far right presence in the corridors of power, a country with long memories and sinister religious associations – the question must be faced: is there room here for a ‘Frente Nacional’?

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

So Much Plastic

Some new environmental laws in far-off China means that the two companies that bought used plastic - 15,000 tons of it a year - from the Almería invernaderos for recycling in the Orient, will no longer do so. That's a lot of used plastic to dispose of.
The popular measure of the size of the plastic farms which stretch from the Almería border with Granada to the left and as far along to the right at Nijar is 30,000 hectares - 300 square kilometres. This figure however dates back to around the beginning of the 21st Century. A farmer from El Ejido tells me that his union reckons on around 75,000 hectares of farms under plastic across the province. 
That's a lot of plastic - maybe it's time for one of those accidental fires that seem to plague this country (there have been 141 major unexplained fires in different recycling plants across Spain since February 2012).

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Mojácar Ring-road, Part II

The second part of the Mojácar ring-road is now under way - says Almería Hoy - after the Junta ceded land it holds to allow the construction of 2.2kms of road behind the gas station and headed west, beach-wards. Mojácar has prepared 4.5 million euros for the new route, designed to lighten the beach traffic. The route would have been longer at 5.7kms back in 2002, but the ecologists, bless 'em, suddenly remembered the tortoises... So, here we are in 2017.
The other - first - piece of the ring-road takes us east towards La Mata. It has a couple of kinks in it where families apparently wanted to extend their gardens...
Rather more exciting is the version of events that appears in La Voz de Almería, where the first part is the fast gas-station to the Garrucha/Los Gallardos road.  This would mean - and here we quote La Voz - that the second part would be from the gas station to La Marina (out, off beyond the strip), which, looking at a map, is a lot more than 2.2kms away...
On the other hand, 4.5 million is a bunch of money.
You want to know which is for real? I get paid for this?
The plan is that the pressure of solid traffic on the beach during the Mojácar season will be relieved. More probably, with the sterling work being carried out by our tourist department, we will just get even more traffic as our fame spreads and we win even more peculiar prizes.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

My Article about the Catalonian Crisis (en castellano)

Haciendo números, sería un desastre para España si se van los catalanes. Habrá una disminución en territorio, en impuestos, en turismo, en población, en éxitos deportivos y sobre todo, en su influencia internacional. Vamos a ver el turismo como ejemplo: 17 millones de extranjeros visitaron Cataluña el año pasado, y en el conjunto de España, 75 millones. Restando el uno del otro, España quedará en sólo 58 millones: una caída del 23% sin más.

Cataluña es la parte más rica de España junto con el País Vasco. Que, recordamos, también quiere irse. Hay un chiste por allí que dice: «¿y por qué no se van los extremeños en vez de los catalanes?». España será, en todo caso, más pequeña, más pobre y menos importante con la salida de los catalanes. Eso, que no lo dude nadie.

Pero, en cuanto a los catalanes en sí, hay opiniones de todo tipo —desde un oprobio fuerte hasta un cariño desmesurado y pasando por una comprensión, o falta de la cual, por la situación actual—. Nuestras opiniones son forzadas a veces por los medios, y es una pena ver cómo ha caído últimamente la prensa nacional en su calidad e imparcialidad. Parece que están obligados por el importante ingreso desde la publicidad institucional a decir lo que otros —los gobernantes, evidentemente— les exigen.

Hasta la RTVE ha sido criticada por sus propios periodistas por su deformación de los hechos. Si mis opiniones están formadas por información errónea o manipulada, pues, ¿a dónde voy yo? Esperándome, frotando sus manos con mucho gusto, tenemos el OKDiario (por el lado super-derechista) o Público (por la izquierda). Yo recibo información —¿errónea?— todos los días en las redes sociales. Una persona me manda, por ejemplo, artículos cotidianas de ‘Boicot los Productos Catalanes’. No entiendo cómo esto podría ayudar a mejorar la situación. Los catalanes, ¿son el enemigo?

Los polacos, digo, los catalanes, han sufrido insultos de sus conciudadanos españoles desde hace mucho tiempo. Los gaditanos chillando ‘oé, a por ellos’ mientras que Rajoy manda diez mil policías a la región para frenar el voto, y resulta que ni siquiera lograron encontrar las urnas. Rompiendo, en vez del ‘referéndum ilegal’, unas cuantas cabezas, creando más indignación entre la población. Quizás ésto ha gustado en Cádiz, pero no en el extranjero, y sospecho que tampoco en Madrid.

Mariano Rajoy ha demostrado ser un líder inepto. Será recordado por las hemerotecas (mientras que no lo escriben los actuales medios nacionales), no sólo como el presidente de la corrupción institucional, sino también como él que perdió parte de la geografía nacional.

¿Cuál parece ser el problema con los catalanes? Barcelona es la segunda ciudad de España, quizás la más importante en ciertos campos, pero no tiene el reconocimiento de Madrid como tal. Quizás, haber puesto un ministerio en Barcelona en su momento —Hacienda, por ejemplo— pudiera haber cambiado la situación. Pero ya es tarde. El menosprecio de Madrid, junto con la política inepta del presidente actual, ha causado mucho daño.

En España sabemos muy bien que los asentamientos de poder están hinchados con cortesanos que viven de la bondad, de los fondos, de los oportunidades que hay. Son ‘los pringaos’ que todos conocemos. Están en Madrid (para el atragantamiento de Barcelona), están en Sevilla (para el sufrimiento de los almerienses), y están en Murcia, para que los de Cartagena no vivan nada bien.

Yo, como residente desde hace muchos años en España, lamento mucho la situación. ¿Hay salida? ¿Mandar tanques, crear presos políticos o desmovilizar a los Mossos? Esto no va a solventar el problema. ¿Hacer una revolución de palacio en Madrid, y poner un nuevo presidente mucho más sensato? Quizás...

Almería Hoy

Monday, 2 October 2017

Post-Election News

The election result was almost anticlimactic. The 'yes' votes won. Whether sending ten thousand belligerent cops from the rest of Spain, cutting the local internet and confiscating the ballot boxes helped people move towards the 'yes, we want an independent republic' is a moot point. There is little doubt that sending those ten thousand cops, breaking heads (760 people were admitted to hospital for various wounds at the hand of the Spanish state), yet failing to stop proceedings, is a public relations disaster for President Rajoy. 'Savagery and impotence mixed together' it says here. An interview with the Spanish foreign minister at Sky News says the minister '...defends the use of force by Spanish police...'. It may play well in Ciudad Real - Spaniards against Spaniards (or was it Spaniards against Catalonians?) - but not so well internationally.
The results of the 'illegal election' in Catalonia: 2,262,424 votes counted (an estimated 700,000 votes were confiscated, or the polling stations successfully closed by the police): 90% and 7% No.
What will happen next? The Catalonian president Puigdemont is reported to be planning a unilateral declaration of independence in the coming days. President Rajoy has called for an urgent debate on the issue with other party leaders.
I think Rajoy will be forced out of office soon - either a resignation or following fresh elections.
As for Puigdemont - his fate is equally uncertain...