Friday, October 12, 2012

Catalonia in “Newsnight Scotland:” room for improvement

Yesterday BBC’s “Newsnight Scotland” presented a report on the rise of the movement for Catalan independence that was an improvement upon the previous report by Newsnight (the UK one) on the same issue, which was one-sided and simplistic, far below the standards of the programme and the BBC in general. For those who are unfamiliar with the BBC and Newsnight, this is a BBC2 daily programme that in the first half hour presents some reports of interest to the whole UK viewers and in the next 15 minutes presents something specific of England, Scotland or I guess other bits of the UK. I can watch with my decoder in Barcelona the Scottish version.  Instead of presenting the view of only one politician (and a very mediocre one, Mr. Oriol Pujol), as the UK version did some days ago, the Scottish version presented the old Jordi Pujol, former president of Catalonia (whose English is better than his son’s, without deserving a Proficiency), and also politicians and social leaders for and against independence. At the end there was a debate among two unknown (to me) “experts,” a member of the Scottish National Party, and a Catalan young academic located in Scotland who was in favour of Catalan (and I can presume Scottish and perhaps anybody’s) independence. Ok, it was better this time. But there is room for improvement. These are my suggestions for next time:

-Ask the Pujol  family about corruption (as Jeremy Paxman or any other serious BBC presenter would do with any politicians tainted by clear suspicions of wrong-doing). The son is being investigated for his involvement in corruption in the vehicle inspection industry and the father saw two of his former finance ministers go to prison. The party that he founded is under investigation by a judge for illegal financing using as a platform the Music Palace (“Palau de la Música”), a cultural infrastructure lavishly subsidized by the public sector. The party of the Pujols  started to clearly support independence just last summer when the corruption accusations were reaching a maximum.
-Ask the Pujol family and the other leaders of his party why just before stating their support for independence and calling a snap election to benefit from the populist independentist wave, they changed the legislation on the governance of public TV and radio, and overturned the legislation put forward by the previous progressive Catalan government, which for the first time created a truly pluralist and publicly spirited TV and radio along the lines of the BBC.
-Make sure you get your numbers right on demonstrators. It is impossible that there were 1.5 million people in the September 11th demonstration in Barcelona. According to two newspapers with different views on the issue of independence, La Vanguardia and El Pais, if you multiply square meters by persons per square meters, it is impossible that the number of demonstrators goes beyond 600.000 persons. Experts in counting demonstrators who did the numbers put the actual number below 500.000. Still, there were a lot of people, but it is difficult to argue that they were completely representative of a plural society of 7.5 million people. The BBC should not just take any number given by the organizers of demonstrations.
-Were the two last persons participating in a debate qualified experts? Wouldn’t it have been better to invite some qualified, well known, recognized, objective experts for such an emotionally charged issue? There are scholars who have very good research on comparative nationalism and the determinants of secessionism, such as Branko Milanovic or Will Kymlicka, who can shed real light on the comparison of Scotland and Catalonia, and between these and other realities. Local nationalists tend to feel very unique, but the fact is that there are identity and sovereignty problems all over the world.
-Present a deeper view of Catalan history, how despite Catalan culture and language being discriminated for much of modern history, there are many links between Catalans and the rest of Spain, with many, perhaps most Catalans having relatives in other parts of Spain and speaking Spanish as their first language (true, some Spanish speaking Catalans also support independence, but hardly a majority). There is a strong Federalist tradition in Catalonia, a plural society inside a plural Spain that might better  find solution to its identity and institutional problems in a united, federal Europe.
-The presenter of Newsnight Scotland asked a very good question to the Catalan young academic about what she thought about the fact that the Catalans had voted just a bit more than 30 years ago vastly in favour of the Spanish Constitution. Other possible questions next time may include: can independence or self-determination be generalized to other relatively (in their countries) rich regions in Europe? Wouldn’t it be egoist as pointed out by Der Spiegel? Isn’t it a contradiction to want federalism for Europe and not for Spain? Does this debate now help solve the economic crisis, in Catalonia, Spain or Europe?

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