MUNICIPAL POLITICS

Madrid opposition calls on mayor to close website correcting news reports

Manuela Carmena’s new municipal web service has whipped up a storm in the City Council “I am against correcting the opinion of journalists,” says Socialist spokesman Carmona

Antonio Miguel Carmona during a press conference at Madrid Socialist Party headquarters.
Antonio Miguel Carmona during a press conference at Madrid Socialist Party headquarters.Julian Rojas

Opposition groups in Madrid City Council are calling on the new leftist Mayor Manuela Carmena to immediately shut down a website set up by her Ahora Madrid party that is aimed at correcting news stories published in the media covering their policies and plans.

The Versión Original (VO) site went live on Wednesday with the aim of allowing “citizens and the media to find original information that provided the basis for a news story, which, in the process, has been modified and contains data that is not exact or could be amended,” according to a City Hall press release. “It is a website based on data that has been corroborated and is official, and which is not open to opinion nor is it a space for debate.”

Madrid PP leader Esperanza Aguirre said the site claimed “to establish a version of the truth” and was thus “totally out of place in a democracy”

But as soon as the site went live, there were calls for it to be taken down. “I am against VO and I defend the freedom of the press,” the Socialist (PSOE) spokesman in City Hall, Antonio Miguel Carmona, told EL PAÍS. “Democracy means freedom to get things wrong.”

Carmona, whose councilors provided the votes to elect Carmena mayor last month, said the website needed to be taken down “as soon as possible” as the session in which the opposition would be able to request its removal was not due to be held until September 22. “That is too late. It has to be now. I am completely against correcting the opinion of journalists,” he said.

The Popular Party (PP) municipal grouping, led by former Madrid regional premier Esperanza Aguirre, has announced it will request an “emergency motion” at Friday’s meeting of municipal spokespersons to have the site removed. “Even so, we will need the support of another group to be able to pass it,” said PP sources, in clear reference to the PSOE or Ciudadanos.

For her part, the Ciudadanos leader in City Hall, Begoña Villacís, called the site “unacceptable” and warned that the Ahora Madrid government was “using its Madrid domain, which all Madrileños are paying for, in order to create political propaganda.”

Mayor Carmena defended the site in an interview with state-run Radio Nacional on Thurday morning, saying she considered journalists to be supporters of “transparency and democracy, and it is precisely because of that that this site has been created.”

The aim of the platform was to provide “the version and opinion” of City Hall on news stories published in the media, she added.

As well as the Ahora Madrid government, the page is also at the disposal of other parties in the City Council, as well as citizens, who can send in suggestions for stories to be corrected via the email address madridvo@madrid.es.

So far the site – which, according to El Mundo newspaper will be run by municipal workers from the communication department and a number of trusted staff handpicked by City Hall – has been used, among other things, to deny reports that the new Ahora Madrid leftist government is planning to introduce a tourism tax, as EL PAÍS reported on Monday, and to refute claims that it was doing nothing to resolve the situation of unpaid workers at the capital’s Royal Tapestry Factory.

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Madrid PP leader Aguirre has already stated that her group would not be using the site, which claims “to establish a version of the truth” and is therefore “something absolutely and totally out of place in a democracy.”

She added that it reminded her of “George Orwell and the Ministry of Truth,” which the British writer depicted in his novel 1984.

Justice Minister Rafael Catalá, also of the PP, concurred, saying that the site had “a certain aura around it, a certain whiff of totalitarian regimes, where freedom of expression is not permitted and dissidents are imprisoned and, as some people in the political circle in the current mayor’s office team come from these political origins, they have collaborated with these kind of regimes, it is something to worry about from the start.”

Ahora Madrid is made up of politicians from a number of leftist groups, including emerging party Podemos, whose leaders, such as Pablo Iglesias, have faced criticism from sections of the Spanish media and right-wing politicians for comments praising Venezuela and specifically now-deceased former President Hugo Chávez.

English version by Nick Funnell.