Spain wants 'Real Democracy Now'; why Won't the British Press Report it?

Ralph Adams, 28 May 2011 | 1 Comment

Categories: Spain | Democracy | European Union | Protest | Police |

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Coverage of the revolution in the Middle East and North Africa began almost from day one – the uprisings opposed something that western leaders could (eventually) speak out against – corruption, dictatorships, oppression. Leaders of powerful nations could of course draw comparisons between Middle East oppression and western freedom, and eventually intervene, as they have done in Libya.

For the last two weeks there have been mass youth-driven protests in Spain. These demonstrations are against Spain’s austerity measures and high unemployment specifically and, more generally, in the words of Fabio Gándara, “the lack of real democracy and the tendency toward a two-party system where corruption at all levels is simply scandalous”. Austerity measures have been put in place by the centre-left Socialist Workers’ Party, yet the response from many of the Spanish protestors has been that they do not think that they should be the ones paying for the economic crisis. A brief look at the British two-party system and the political similarities between the UK and Spain may shed light on the reasons for the demonstrations being largely overlooked by the UK news media.

The UK prides itself as being a model democracy, in which a leader can be elected for a term in office and then re-elected, or replaced by a new leader if we so wish. This is indeed an application of democracy; however the voting population has had no say in major national issues such as the invasion of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, the deregulation and bailing out of the banking sector, or the rise in University tuition fees twice in the last ten years. Everyone is by now familiar with the phrase “we have to clear up the mess that the previous government made”, used by politicians relentlessly to shift the blame for almost everything wrong with society.

There is in some ways a feeling of relief in the UK that New Labour, who “created this mess” (in this case, the economic crisis) by bailing out the banks, have left office. There may be a similar feeling of relief when the current coalition leaves office after whatever changes it causes to UK society – this is the general nature of a two-party system. The Spanish public’s demand for “Real Democracy Now” suggests that the current version of ‘democracy’ can only work as long as there is a reasonable degree of comfort and people accept it as a suitable system to live under. They understand that the opposition’s promise to solve unemployment is nothing more than use of a statistic as a weapon in a political campaign, and this understanding threatens the structure of the two-party system.

If an uprising against a two-party system in a nearby country is accurately and honestly covered by the UK media, those reading the news may begin to question the integrity of their own political landscape, and wonder whether the UK itself has “Real Democracy”. It follows that the British media may limit their coverage and distort the reasons behind the uprising that has now become known as the Spanish Revolution.

Much of the UK media provided coverage only for the controversial protests on the day of the elections. The BBC World News interviewed a protester, asking her if she had herself recently lost her job, perhaps in an effort to frame the protest as one representing only the unemployed proportion of the population.

This weekend saw slightly more coverage of the protests, recycled primarily from an Associated Press news release. When police attacked and injured 100 demonstrators on Friday 27th May, the media unanimously reported this as “clashes”, and not an attack, despite an abundance of video footage showing the police using batons on peaceful, unarmed protesters. The Times on Saturday 28th May delegated a news snippet on page 50 to the story, stating that “riot police and demonstrators clashed in Barcelona”. The Guardian have run stories on the “clean-up” operations in Spain, giving the impression that the big news is in fact the mess that the protesters have made.

The limited nature of the coverage suggests that the protests themselves were limited to a shorter timeframe, which is untrue. The reasons for the protest in the British media are also not fully representative. We are allowed to think that it is a protest of the unemployed, not that this is an uprising against a two-party political system. We are allowed to think that those protesting in the Middle East can continue their fight for weeks or months, but when protest erupts from people in a country geographically and politically closer to home, our exposure to the their discontent must be limited somewhat more.

Categories in which this article appears: Spain | Democracy | European Union | Protest | Police |

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Comments (1)

1. Mara 29th May 2011 19:46

I think the problem is one of 'representative' democracy. Who really represent those people who demand for 'real' democracy? Social media? Perhaps the gap between the governed and the government is too big. Just choose a candidate is little choice ...

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