September 7, 2017

RSF deplores social network threats against Catalan newspaper

Josep Lluis Trapero, chief of the Catalan regional police and Interior Minister for the Catalan government Joaquim Forn
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the social network lynching that the El Periódico de Catalunya newspaper and its editor received after reporting that the CIA had warned the Catalan police back in May about plans for a possible terrorist attack on Las Ramblas street in Barcelona.

The newspaper elicited angry reactions from the Catalan interior minister and the head of the Catalan regional police when it published its story on 31 August, just days after the Catalan authorities had denied getting any prior warnings about the attacks that took place in Barcelona and Cambrils on 17 August.

By attacking the newspaper and questioning its credibility, the regional interior minister and police chief set off an unprecedented storm of hate messages on social networks that even included death threats against the newspaper’s editor, Enric Hernández.

“We express our support for El Periódico de Catalunya, its editor Enric Hernández and the reporter Luis Mauri,” said Pauline Adès-Mevel, the head of RSF’s EU desk. “This kind of harassment is unworthy of a healthy, democratic society. It is the media’s job to bring information to the public’s attention, especially when it contradicts the official version.”

RSF Spain secretary-general Rosa Meneses added: “In a healthy, democratic society, the authorities are subjected to criticism and must account for their handling of events in a transparent manner. It is journalists who demand explanations from those responsible for public security, not the other way round.”

A prior CIA warning to the Catalan authorities about the threat of a large-scale terrorist attack during the summer had already been mentioned by El Periódico on 17 August, immediately after the attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils.

The claim, which proved very controversial at a time of national trauma, was at first repeatedly denied by the Catalan authorities.

On 31 August, they finally recognized that they had been alerted, albeit by different sources, but said the warnings had been accorded little credibility. Regional police chief Josep Lluís Trapero then cast doubt on El Periódico’s reporting and accused the newspaper of trying to discredit his force.

Spain is ranked 29th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.