Guardian newspaper accused of manipulating article on Catalan independence


  By a Newsnet reporter

On the eve of the vital Catalan elections, which have been dominated by the promised Catalan independence referendum, the Guardian newspaper has found itself at the centre of a controversy for apparently distorting a report on the country by writer Matthew Tree. 

The article, entitled Catalonia: ‘A country can exist quite happily without a state of its own’, gave readers the impression that Mr Tree is opposed to Catalan independence, however the writer has taken to Twitter to denounce the Guardian for cutting his article in such a way as to make it say the opposite of what he originally wrote.

Mr Tree is a long-standing supporter of Catalan independence, tweeted:  “To anyone who might have seen it: IGNORE my Guardian article: it was cut to say the opposite of what I meant. The original version is on FaceBook.”

He added:  “Paragraphs changed, omitted or clumsily shortened. Especially: the end was lopped off, so changing meaning of whole piece.”

The writer has said he was in touch with the commissioning editor, who denied authorising the changes to the piece.  Mr Tree awaits a full explanation on Monday, however the Guardian has already refused to rectify the article.

He tweeted:  “I wrote to the commissioning editor to complain and to say goodbye for good.  They won’t rectify.”  

A number of minor alterations were made to the body of the original text, but the most serious change came in the final paragraph.  In the version published in the Guardian, Mr Tree’s final sentence was given as: “A country, of course, can exist quite happily without a state of its own.” This statement was taken out of context and used by the Guardian’s editors as the title to the article, giving the impression that Catalan independence is unnecessary.

However in the original version of the article, published on Mr Tree’s Facebook page, this is not the final sentence in the piece, which reads:

“A country, of course, can exist quite happily without a state of its own.  This is not now the case of Catalonia, unhappy as it mainly is with the state it was obliged to join three centuries ago.  Hence the current push for independence, after which – if the Catalans vote for political parties that favour it, as they seem due to do on November 25th – articles like this defensively informative one will become thoroughly redundant.”

Mr Tree also stated on Twitter that the Guardian’s regular Spanish correspondent, Giles Tremlett, is on record as stating that “learning Catalan is a waste of time”.  

In a similar episode, Catalan writer Quim Monzó has also complained on Twitter that the Guardian had distorted an article he wrote about the challenges facing the Catalan language, published in the newspaper on Friday.  In a Tweet in response to Mr Tree complaints, he wrote:  “With mine they have also done as they wanted.  Paragraphs altered, citations altered, title changed …  A shame.”  [translated from Catalan]  

The Catalan writer did however make it clear that the Guardian had not altered the sense of his article, unlike Mr Tree’s.

On Thursday, the Guardian was also criticised for an article concerning today’s Catalan elections.  The article, entitled ‘Catalan separatists face poll setback‘ said that the Convergència i Unió (CiU) party of Catalan president Artur Mas would struggle to achieve the necessary majority to ensure that the referendum is pushed through the Catalan Parliament and implied that the referendum may never take place.

In fact there are five pro-independence parties contesting the Catalan elections, the CiU, ERC (Esquerra Republican Catalana – the Catalan Republican Left), ICV (the Catalan Greens), CSI (Catalan Solidarity for Independence) and CUP (Candidatura d’Unitat Popular).  Between them, these parties are widely expected to win a large majority in the Catalan Parliament.  

The PSC (Partit dels Socialistes de Catalunya), affiliated to the Spanish-wide PSOE party – broadly equivalent to the Labour party in the UK – have also hinted that they may support the right of Catalans to decide their future in a referendum, although the party remains opposed to independence.

The new criticisms of the Guardian and its sister paper the Observer come shortly after the Observer was forced to print an apology and make alterations to an article claiming that EU President Herman Van Rompuy had made a “recent” intervention in the debate on Scottish independence and had “poured scorn” on the Scottish referendum.  

The article, titled “EU tells Alex Salmond to think again in Scottish independence row” stated that: “The president of the European council has intervened in the Scottish independence debate, claiming that nothing will be gained from breaking up the UK.”

However it soon emerged that the “recent” intervention from Mr Van Rompuy was in fact made some 18 months ago, before the Edinburgh Agreement between Holyrood and Westminster which ensured the legality of the Scottish referendum.  Neither did the paper point out that Mr Van Rompuy had made his remarks in response to a highly loaded question on “separatism” and its “evil work”.
The Guardian’s “Reality Check” series, billing itself as “all you need to know” about Scottish independence, was also criticised for one-sided coverage of the debate and its anti-independence bias.

Although the UK media is overwhelmingly opposed to Scottish independence, the distortions and biased coverage of the Guardian and Observer are a particular bitter pill.  The Scottish Yes campaign solidly aligns itself with civic – not ethnic – nationalism, social and liberal democracy, resistance to the cuts agenda of the Westminster parties, internationalism, and opposition to nuclear weapons – all of which are values which the Guardian and Observer claim to espouse and defend.

The most recent criticisms of the Guardian and Observer highlight the shortcomings of the UK media in their coverage of the aspirations of certain European nations to self-determination.  Questions are already being raised about whether it is possible for Scotland to conduct a free and fair campaign in the face of such an overwhelming barrage of distorted and biased media commentary and reporting.