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The end of a collaboration

The EL PAÍS readers’ editor looks into complaints about the sudden removal of contributor Miguel Ángel Aguilar’s weekly opinion column

On Wednesday morning I received an email from EL PAÍS reader Pedro Brañas that included a link to a news site and a story reporting that long-standing contributor Miguel Ángel Aguilar would no longer be writing his weekly column in the newspaper. Brañas said that if this were true, he wanted to make a “forceful protest” to the paper’s management. This was not the only such message criticizing the decision to land in my email inbox: it was already a hot topic on the internet.

The story had first been published in InfoLibre, citing “sources close” to the journalist, one of whom said: “He was called by José Manuel Calvo, the head of the opinion section, who told him that to free him from the pressure he had referred to in an article in The New York Times, the column was being suspended.”

Aguilar is the founder of a weekly publication that is a direct competitor to EL PAÍS” EL PAÍS editor-in-chief Antonio Caño

Aguilar had been quoted in a piece published on November 6 by The New York Times headlined: “Spain’s news media are squeezed by government and debt.” Aguilar said: “Working at El País used to be the dream of any Spanish journalist. But now there are people so exasperated that they’re leaving, sometimes even with the feeling that the situation has reached levels of censorship.”

Hirings and firings at EL PAÍS are not within my remit as readers’ editor, but Aguilar was a familiar name and somebody who was admired by many readers, some of whom have contacted me for more information and to express their unhappiness at his departure.

With this in mind, I contacted Aguilar by email, who replied: “Under no circumstances do I want to be seen as a victim.” He added: “Nor did I want to rewrite in bitter terms the history of my 25 years at EL PAÍS – from 1980 to 1984 in the newsroom, and from 1994 as a weekly columnist – which were filled with personal and professional satisfaction.” During a subsequent telephone conversation, he denied that his comments to The New York Times were a provocation, while confirming that the information published in InfoLibre about his conversation with the head of the Opinion section was true.

The decision to let Aguilar go was made by EL PAÍS editor-in-chief Antonio Caño, who explains his reasons in the following message: “Miguel Ángel Aguilar is the founder and head of weekly publication Ahora, dedicated, as its masthead says, to political, economic and cultural information, and therefore a direct competitor to EL PAÍS. In the weeks leading up to the appearance of this publication, Aguilar was told that his participation in the project was incompatible with him continuing to collaborate with EL PAÍS, given that both media are competitors.

“Subsequently, Aguilar wrote in an internal email to Ahora’s partners that the new publication would fill a space in the Spanish media, noting that at the moment there was no newspaper ‘that anybody would be proud to be seen carrying under their arm,’ confirming Ahora’s intention to compete with EL PAÍS. Based on the long-standing relationship with Aguilar, EL PAÍS continued to publish pieces by him, but on the understanding that he himself would find the right moment to agree to our request to end his contributions. After reading his false and insulting comments about EL PAÍS in a New York Times article, we felt felt that there was enough reason to finally end the relationship.

Replacing a columnist for another is not an act of censorship, but rather the logical evolution of a product trying to reflect the times Editor-in-chief Caño

“I have never questioned Aguilar’s work, and I have no problem with his professional ambitions. This newspaper covered the launch of Ahora, and I personally welcomed the arrival of the new newspaper on my Twitter account. I continue to wish the project all the best. Furthermore, despite my right as editor to do so, I never once allowed or asked for a single comma of Aguilar’s articles to be touched, regardless of whether I agreed with their content. This newspaper has enjoyed a long and satisfactory relationship with Aguilar that has only come to an end because Miguel Ángel Aguilar has set up his own newspaper, which is the logical place to publish his articles. If that relationship has ended abruptly, it is solely because of Aguilar’s decision to make unfair comments about this newspaper, as he well knows.

“The opinion columns of EL PAÍS do not belong to anybody; not even the contributors who fill them for a determined period of time. Replacing a columnist for another is not an act of censorship, but rather the logical evolution of an informative product that is trying to reflect the times. I understand that some people are sad Aguilar no longer contributes to EL PAÍS, but I am sure his space will be filled by another journalist looking for an opportunity.”

What I do not know is how long Aguilar would have continued contributing to EL PAÍS had he not made his comments to The New York Times.

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