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Beating up the press

Press photographers and cameramen are the latest victims of police brutality in Spain. Unfortunately, the story of Gorka Ramos – beaten and detained despite showing proper accreditation – is not unique.

Marta Molina
17 August 2011

Gorka Ramos was beaten and arrested by police in Madrid on 4 August. Editor of the international section of the online newspaper Lainformacion.com – the fourth-most visited in Spain – he was covering one of the demonstrations of the 15M movement, the ‘Spanish Revolution’, in front of the Ministry of the Interior. The subject was a trending topic on Twitter under the hashtags #periodistadetenido (‘journalist arrested’) and #gorkars.

  Lainformacion. All rights reserved.

The young journalist spent the night in custody, in isolation and without papers. After repeatedly identifying himself to the security forces, a policeman had brought the editor down with a kick in the stomach. Eleven other policemen attacked him, handcuffed him, and hid what was happening from view with their riot shields – to the astonishment of Ramos’s colleagues from the press, most of them photojournalists, who could only photograph him as he was led to a police van. Luckily, one of them managed to record the assault, which allowed them to contest with images the version of events put forward by Madrid’s Government Delegation, in which the journalist had insulted and aggressed the policemen. In fact, Gorka Ramos left the police station at 2pm on Friday 5 August, accused of civil disobedience and resisting arrest. He was free to go, but charged.

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  David Osuna/Demotix. All rights reserved

At the time of his arrest, Ramos was covering the protestors known as ‘Los indignados’ (The indignant) 15M’ movement’s demonstrations in real-time on Lainformacion.com’s Twitter account. For three days, outraged Spaniards had been protesting peacefully against the removal of an information point they had been running in the Puerta del Sol in the run-up to the Pope’s visit tomorrow. The police, under orders to prevent at any cost the protesters from retaking the square, attacked protesters and reporters with disproportionate force.

Journalists and citizens were shocked; but Gorka Ramos’s arrest was far from unique. On the night of 4 August, two other journalists were arrested and freed from custody within a few hours, and a dozen other properly accredited reporters beaten.

For some months, Spanish press photographers have been reporting routine abuse from the police. Security forces target them as aggressively as they beat protesters and passers-by when following orders to contain protests or prevent mass gatherings. The police cover their backs by saying that in their eagerness to get the story, journalists could easily be confused with protesters in the scrum, regardless of their press accreditation and bulky equipment.

After years of repeated complaints falling on the deaf ears of government, the Federation of Journalists’ Associations in Spain (FAPE), which represents more than 20,000 journalists, and the National Association of Press and TV Photojournalists (ANIGP-TV), joined forces and signed an agreement with the Ministry of the Interior granting a jacket reading ‘PRESS’ to any reporters requesting one from September onwards.

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Juls Ibañez/Demotix. All rights reserved. 

The photojournalists, however, are critical of the feigned disinterest of these professional bodies, pointing out that this measure will only expose them more. Javier Bauluz, Spain’s only Pulitzer-winner and head of the news site peridismohumano.com, calls for greater assertiveness and insists that the agreement with the Ministry of the Interior reveals the hidden intention of the security forces: to ‘get rid of inconvenient witnesses’.

Throughout almost six decades in the profession, the veteran press photographer Enrique Meneses has always chosen to work incognito, and so rejects any distinctions when talking about professional reporters. Bauluz and other renowned photojournalists, like Walter Astrada – from whom the police have snatched cameras and other equipment on numerous occasions – advocate a written code of police conduct towards journalists. ‘When you don’t have one, that’s when abuse happens,’ says Edu León, a photographer with the newspaper Diagonal.

In response to the arrest of Gorka Ramos, the FAPE and the Press Association of Madrid published a joint statement in which they ask for respect for the work of professional journalists, at the same time as recommending to reporters that they always get the proper accreditation before contentious events. Many journalists and photographers in Spain understand, however, that it is not respect but censorship that is defining the security forces’ stance when they follow orders to block the flow of information. These are ways of silencing the messenger. And this isn’t Syria: it’s Spain.

Translated by Ollie Brock 

 

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