The Rajoy ‘intervention’ and why the traditional media cannot now be trusted


  By G.A.Ponsonby
The following piece is lengthy, but readers are urged to read it carefully then consider whether purchasing newspapers and paying the BBC licence fee is consistent with a desire for a fair and open democratic society underpinned by honest and ethical journalism.
Most followers of the referendum debate will by now have been alerted to apparent comments from Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy who – if the BBC is to be believed – has stated unequivocally that a Yes vote will leave Scotland outside the EU.

  By G.A.Ponsonby
The following piece is lengthy, but readers are urged to read it carefully then consider whether purchasing newspapers and paying the BBC licence fee is consistent with a desire for a fair and open democratic society underpinned by honest and ethical journalism.
Most followers of the referendum debate will by now have been alerted to apparent comments from Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy who – if the BBC is to be believed – has stated unequivocally that a Yes vote will leave Scotland outside the EU.

The BBC headline accompanying an article on Rajoy’s comments screams – Scottish independence: Mariano Rajoy says Scotland would be ‘outside EU’.

Interestingly the headline isn’t quite matched by one of the opening sentences from the BBC article which reads: “The Spanish prime minister has suggested that an independent Scotland would have to apply to become a member of the EU from the outside.”

He either says Scotland will be out or he suggests Scotland will be out, which is it?

Offering some clarification is a former member of the Newsnet Scotland team who also happens to be a fluent Spanish speaker.  On his blog ‘Wee Ginger Dug’, he gives both the original Spanish, as quoted in El Pais newspaper, and the English translation.

“Desconozco lo que dice el libro blanco que se ha presentado ahora, pero lo único que me gustaría es que se presentasen con realismo las consecuencias de esa secesión. Yo respeto todas las decisiones de los británicos, pero tengo muy claro que una región que obtuviera la independencia quedaría fuera de la UE. Es bueno que lo sepan los escoceses.”

“I don’t know what it says in the White Paper which has been presented today, but all I would like is that the consequences of that secession are presented with realism.  I respect all the decisions of the British, but I have made it very clear that a region which obtained independence would be outside of the EU.  It’s good that the Scots may know that.”

There are several versions of this translation doing the rounds and it’s interesting that the BBC’s version is markedly different to that of El Pais.  One key sentence stands out from the English translation of the Spanisn newspaper and the BBC.

According to El Pais, Rajoy said: “…, but all I would like is that the consequences of that secession are presented with realism.”

In the BBC version, this sentence has the words “to Scots” appended to the end.  Possibly the difference arises from innocent misreporting or variances with the spoken word and issued press statement, but it is a crucial difference and one that lends weight to the narrative being presented by the BBC and the rest of the media.

But the thrust they try to portray is that this is a new intervention by Rajoy, which it isn’t.  As all of the reporters already know, Spain has its own problems to deal with in the shape of Catalonia, and everything Rajoy says on this is with the Catalan situation in mind.

That he helpfully repeats variations of these comments to aid his Westminster counterpart David Cameron is not surprising.  In November 2012 Newsnet Scotland exposed a secret meeting officials from Rajoy’s party held with the Scottish Conservative party.

Our article followed comments from senior PP figure Esteban González Pons, who had revealed that a meeting had taken place between himself and senior figures from the Tory party in Birmingham in October.  According to Mr González Pons an accord had been reached that would be ratified at a later meeting in Madrid.

According to the newspaper El Periódico de Catalunya, the Partido Popular officials had planned to meet with Scottish Conservative and Labour politicians in December order to agree a united front against independence.

The newspaper reported that:

… a senior figure in the Spanish Conservative party, the Partido Popular (PP), will fly to Scotland to meet with Scottish Conservative and Labour politicians in order to agree a united front against independence.

The leading conservative attended the conference of the British Conservatives in Birmingham, where he met with the principal leaders in order to agree a position.

The vice-secretary of Studies of the PP, who has planned a trip to Scotland the coming month of December in order to meet with Conservatives and Labour, complains that the CiU [the party pressing for a Catalan referendum] has undertaken the path of “political magic” in this moment of grave economic instability.

In the article, Mr González Pons was quoted as saying: “Catalonia and Scotland are different regions and have different problems, but the response has to be a joint one.”

So secret talks – not reported in the Scottish media – have already been held between Rajoy’s party and what the Spanish press describe as “British Conservatives”, the leader of course being Prime Minister David cameron.

The timing of Mr Rajoy’s latest politically partisan and heavily loaded statement, a day after the launch of the Scottish government white paper, tells us all we need to know about this ‘intervention’.

Indeed look closely and you’ll also note that another lie is being perpetrated by some unscrupulous reporters – that Rajoy has now confirmed Spain will block a newly independent Scotland’s attempt to retain its current EU membership.

The Guardian has the headline – Scottish independence: Spain blocks Alex Salmond’s hopes for EU transition.  In the Herald, Magnus Gardham writes: “Meanwhile, Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy dealt a blow to SNP claims that the usual, lengthy EU membership procedures would not apply to an independent Scotland.”  The Scotsman has a similar take.

Some of those followers will know that the British media, including the Scottish media and especially including the BBC, have done their best to make membership of the EU a central issue of the independence debate.

On Tuesday, on the day of the white paper launch, BBC reporter Gavin Hewitt was apparently hawking around Brussels trying to solicit ‘helpful’ comments about Scotland’s EU status in the event of independence.  This is nothing new, Hewitt was up to the same prank at the time a letter was reportedly being prepared by EC officials in response to a request from a House of Lords Committee.

Readers of this site may recall that in December 2012 the media – including BBC Scotland – actually jumped the gun on the letter.  This poor journalism married to an anti-independence agenda, was exposed by Newsnet Scotland after we sent a simple question to the offices of Jose Manuel Barroso, whose official confirmed the reports were “incorrect”.

Hayley Millar asks ‘How big a blow’ was the letter

The letter in fact did not claim what the newspaper and the BBC said it would.  The Scotsman newspaper was forced to issue a correction.  Sadly no such correction was ever forthcoming from BBC Scotland whose then political reporter Raymond Buchanan had helpfully reported for duty that Monday morning repeating the same line from the Scotsman. 

A letter was indeed eventually sent, but it served as a reminder of the poor journalism that masks everything us Scots have to contend with when it comes to media reporting of the independence referendum.

This media inspired EU campaign started in earnest over a year ago when a poorly conducted interview by BBC presenter Andrew Neil was cited as evidence that Alex Salmond had lied over having received legal advice on the EU.  The main cheerleader was the BBC, but pretty much every news outlet ran with the same spin, and a stick was duly created that has been used to beat the Yes campaign with ever since.

The latest so-called intervention from Rajoy has been carefully timed in order to try to drag the independence debate back onto areas Unionists feel most comfortable.  The Spanish politician’s comments made their way into two televised debates last night and the usual line was subsequently trotted out by those who oppose independence.

However the media’s enthusiasm for headlining statements from figures outside the UK that can be interpreted as damaging to independence is matched only by a reluctance to report comments deemed helpful.

Two episodes stand out as examples of the journalistic corruption that has infected traditional media reporting of the EU as it relates to an independent Scotland.

The first may in fact be about to hit the headlines again and involves the BBC’s handling of an interview with the then Irish European Minister Lucinda Creighton.

In a January interview, the Irish politician told BBC Scotland reporter Raymond Buchanan that she believed a newly independent Scotland would have to apply for EU membership and that the process could well be lengthy.

The interview was broadcast on Reporting Scotland also contained comments from Scottish Secretary Michael Moore who was heard to say that a newly independent Scotland would find itself “outside the EU having to negotiate its way back in”.

There then followed what many viewed as misreporting of Ms Creighton’s remarks by the BBC reporter who said that both Ms Creighton and Mr Moore “shared” the same view and that these views “chimed”.

The broadcast, which featured on BBC Radio and TV, led to attacks on the SNP and Scotland’s Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon by Unionist politicians who claimed the Irish politician’s comments undermined SNP claims on the EU membership of an independent Scotland.

However in a surprise move, responding to calls for clarification, the Irish European Minister issued a number of statements in which she made it clear her views on the EU membership of a newly independent Scotland were not as claimed, in agreement with Mr Moore, but were in fact in line with those of the Scottish government.

Dismissing claims that she shared the views of Michael Moore, she said: “I was asked about the future of negotiations with the EU in the event that Scotland votes for independence.  I thought that my reply was largely in line with that of the Scottish Government.  I certainly did not at any stage suggest that Scotland could, should or would be thrown out of the EU.  Scottish people are citizens of Europe.”

The Irish Minister said that she believed that the SNP’s position, that EU negotiations would take place and be concluded whilst Scotland remained a continuing member, “summed up the situation quite well”.

“My understanding is that the Scottish Government has already committed to a negotiation with the EU between 2014 and 2016, if you vote for independence in 2014.  If my interview suggested something other than that, this was not my intention.  I think my comments have been misconstrued – if so I sincerely regret this.”

She added: “As SNP Westminster Leader, Angus Robertson said ‘Negotiations on the terms of membership would take place in the period between the referendum and the planned date of independence’, and that ‘The EU would adopt a simplified procedure for the negotiations, not the traditional procedure followed for the accession of non-member countries’.”

“I think that sums up the situation quite well.” She added.

More controversially, Ms Creighton complained that her original comments had been “taken out of context” and “perhaps manipulated”.

In an official statement to Newsnet Scotland, she said: “I think my comments have been misconstrued or perhaps manipulated by some quarters.  I sincerely regret this.”
She added: “I regret that my words seem to have been spun or taken out of context.”

In agreeing with the Scottish government’s official timetable for post-referendum EU negotiations, Ms Creighton became the first foreign European Minister to publicly back the SNP’s EU stance.  Despite this, and her claims that her views had been misrepresented, the BBC refused to report them.

The crucial clarification of her views was also ignored by every other Scottish news outlet.  Next month the BBC Trust will make a ruling on claims the broadcaster employed a news blackout of Ms Creighton’s remarks.

The second example involves pressure from the Spanish Government which led to EC officials issuing false statements over remarks made by a Vice President of the EC.  Remarks which very clearly helped the pro-independence campaigns in both Catalonia and Scotland.

Just over one year ago, with the EU entering the independence fray and headlines screaming that a newly independent Scotland would be expelled, Newsnet Scotland ran one of our best journalistic scoops when we caught the European Commission lying after pressure was exerted by Madrid.

EC Vice President Viviane Reding gave an interview to a journalist in which she poured scorn on suggestions from Rajoy that a newly independent Catalonia would be expelled from the EU.

Reding, the Luxembourgeois vice-president of the European Commission – who was on a visit to the Andalusian parliament – was asked whether international law meant that Catalonia would have to leave the EU in the event of the region achieving independence.

According to the journalist, Federico Durán Basallote, Ms Reding responded to his question by dismissing the suggestion, saying international law said no such thing.

Transcripts of the interview appeared in an article published by the Spanish based newspaper Diario de Sevilla.  According to the newspaper, asked whether international law would mean Catalonia having to leave the EU and re-apply for membership, Ms Reding replied:

Oh come on, it [international law] doesn’t say anything like that. [our emphasis] Please, resolve your internal political problems in Spain.  I trust in the European mindset of the Catalonian people.”

Ms Reding’s interview was a severe blow to the credibility of the Spanish and UK governmental claims, both of whom were insisting that Catalonia and Scotland would be automatically expelled from the EU on attaining independence, and would have to re-apply for entry.

However, soon after the article appeared in the Spanish newspaper, pressure from Madrid and the Commission forced a swift retraction from Spanish newspaper editors.  According to the Commission, Ms Reding had been misunderstood, and more importantly mis-quoted.

Following the publication of Ms Reding’s interview, the European Commission, through the office of its representative in Spain, Federico Fonseca Morillo, embarked on a media campaign to re-write Ms Reding’s interview to expunge her comments on how international law might apply to Scottish or Catalan independence.

According to the journalist who carried out the original interview, the Madrid Government was furious at Ms Reding’s remarks, which undermined the contention of the Spanish government that an independent Catalonia would be expelled from the EU and have to re-apply for membership.

The Spanish government then exerted pressure on the office of José Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission, to force them to withdraw Ms Reding’s comments about international law.

In a letter, published in the Spanish language edition of the Economist magazine on 8 October, Mr Fonseca Morillo explicitly denied that Ms Reding had uttered the sentence in question, and complained that it had been “extrapolated” into reports on Ms Reding’s interview.

In his letter Mr Fonseca Morillo said:

“I have read with surprise the article which affirms that Vice President Reding said that the Vienna Convention does not specify that a new state resulting from another European state must leave the EU. I wish to clarify that Reding never said this, although some media outlets have extrapolated it from an interview in various Andalusian newspapers.”

Newsnet Scotland contacted the offices of Ms Reding and Mr Barroso asking about Ms Reding’s original comments and were told unequivocally that she did not make them.

What the EC officials did not know was that the journalist who interviewed Ms Reding had also recorded the interview – a recording Newsnet Scotland obtained.

We exposed the story in our powerful exclusive article published on October 18th last year.  The article, which contained the recording in question, made headline news in Spain with particular attention from Catalonia where it made broadcast news.

No Scottish news outlet ran the story, which at the time seriously undermined the credibility and indeed the integrity of the offices of both José Manuel Barroso and The Spanish prime Minister.

It would also have seriously undermined the campaign mounted by Unionists in Scotland and the wider UK who relied on Barroso and Rajoy in order to keep the EU exit myth alive.

The latest EU scares being perpetrated by Unionists and their media sympathisers are not journalism, they never were.  If it was journalism that was the driving force then our newspapers and broadcasters would have given equal prominence to the stories that Newsnet Scotland has listed, which in terms of newsworthiness – secret meetings and pressure from Madrid forcing EC officials to lie – were more deserving.

They would also report the very many statements from European officials which back the Scottish Government’s stance on the EU status of an independent Scotland.  This includes the letter sent by an EC official, again reported by Newsnet Scotland, that makes clear there would be no legal barrier to Scotland negotiating its continued membership of the EU after a Yes vote.

Media coverage of this kind will pepper the independence debate, there’s no question about that – the media machine is unashamedly pro-Union.  At Newsnet Scotland we have the embers of a counter to this media corruption and we urge readers to please click on the appeal image below and help us in our quest.

Newsnet Scotland hereby gives permission for this article to be republished by any media outlet or online blog, with or without a link to its source. Our aim is to circulate our content to as wide an audience as possible.