Brett Hetherington

Banner photos: Cornelia Kraft

Some bad journalism on Spain

[Photo: Cornelia Kraft]

[This article was fisrt published at NewsTrust’s News Hunt for Bad Journalism.]

In Jennifer Varela’s piece on a recent anti-abortion march in Madrid, the most important words in this article are:

"The bussing in of representatives from more than 40 countries..."

So, not all of the supposed 1 million people who attended the protest are living in Spain. This means that it does not accurately reflect the opinions of Spaniards, who re-elected the progressive Zapatero a couple of years ago.

This figure of one million at the march is also questionable. Some commentators have estimated that the crowd was closer to 60,000, though judging by the photos of the event this seems to me to be on the lower side of the truth.

Equally important is the fact that the journalist who wrote the story (Jessica Varela) is not living in Spain, though I disagree with commenters on the Guardian’s CiF [Comment is Free] pages who have argued that it is also relevant whether Jennifer Varela was born in Spain or not. But if she is not living here [in Spain] which is the case, then this can surely affect how accurate her story is.

A statement in her article that is not correct is her claim that “Zapatero has…taken religion out of state schools.” In fact, his government has made compulsory religion class an option to ‘Ethics’ classes.

Another part of the article that deserves a reply is this section:

the current uproar…reveals a darker truth about the collective Spanish psyche. In politics there will always be the power struggle between left and right, but in Spain, to push too far in either direction drives a sword into the national wound that was never allowed to heal.”

This is dramatic language but it is essentially an argument for a national government to do nothing. It also ignores the possibility that the government relaxing abortion laws could actually benefit women’s choices about reproduction.

This part of Varela’s piece is mystifying:

To have a million people marching against a reform that effectively only removes the shame attached to abortion suggests that this has been deemed a push too far.”

Who is doing “the deeming?” The church? The opposition conservative party? The supposed million protesters? If this change is in fact “a push too far” then is that because one out of every fourty Spaniards is against it? If so, this is hardly a democratic moment that she is defining.

Varela also makes the odd statement that: “Clearly the dignity of Spanish women was never considered as valuable a commodity as their honour, as it was buried alongside the [Civil] war's more tangible victims.

Spanish women’s dignity was somehow ‘buried’ in the war? This, I don’t get. To me, if we can say that Spanish women are anything at all, they are generally very dignified (certainly compared to your average Japanese woman who typically still takes an inferior social position relative to men.)

To her credit, Varela has provided many of her sources as links on the CiF pages but The Guardian newspaper publishing pieces of reportage from someone outside of Spain is pretty poor. It is bad editorial decision-making.

This article is mainly well-researched but should never have got to print because there are too many fuzzy statements in it.


[For Jennifer Varela’s replies to the above click here and scroll down.]