Did Catalonia declare independence? Yes, no, maybe so.
Photo by AP Images

Did Catalonia declare independence? Yes, no, maybe so.

October 11, 2017

The Raw Data

Unspun and unbiased. These are the facts.

Catalan leader signs declaration of independence, suspends implementation, asks for ‘dialogue’ with Spanish government

Catalan President Carles Puidgemont and his party signed a declaration of independence on Tuesday, which says, “We call on all states and international organizations to recognize the Catalan republic as an independent and sovereign state.” The region then suspended its implementation to allow for negotiations with the central government in Madrid.

Puidgemont addressed the regional parliament in Barcelona on Tuesday evening, declaring that the Oct. 1 referendum allows for Catalan independence from Spain. “I take it upon myself to say… that the people have determined that Catalonia should become an independent state in the form of a republic…. I myself propose that the Parliament suspends the effects of the declaration of independence so that in the coming weeks we may begin a dialogue,” Puidgemont said in a more than 25-minute speech. He said dialogue with Spain “needs to be done today, responsibly and with respect.”

In the independence referendum, which the Spanish Constitutional Court deemed “illegal,” 43 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. Of those, 90 percent voted in favor of independence from Spain. Prior to Puidgemont’s speech, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said he will not negotiate with Catalonia unless it ceases attempts at independence. On Wednesday, Rajoy asked Puidgemont to clarify whether he declared Catalan independence.

Spanish news outlet El País cited unnamed Spanish government sources saying Catalonia has unilaterally declared independence and government measures would be taken if the bid for independence moves forward. According to the New York Times, Spain could take control over public broadcasting and the region’s police force. Spain could also ask that courts rule the declaration of independence to be unconstitutional. Additionally, a government spokesman said Puidgemont could be imprisoned for insurrection.

Under Article 155 in the Spanish Constitution, Spain, with Senate approval, can take actions to “compel” the Catalan regional parliament to comply with the constitution and the general interest of Spain, as well as assume administrative control over Catalonia. (More in the Context section below.)

The northeastern Spanish region of Catalonia has a population of 7.5 million people with their own language and culture. Of the 5.31 million eligible voters, 2.29 million cast ballots in the referendum. Spain ordered its national police and civil guard to prevent the vote, and the Catalan government estimates that the closing of polling stations prevented 770,000 people from voting. Over 900 people were injured when police intervened in an attempt to stop the vote.

Additional Sources: AP, BBC, El Nacional, Generalitat de Catalunya

Distortion Highlights

  • One publication says Catalonia “unilaterally declared independence,” while another says it “stops short.” So, which is it?
  • Given what the Catalan leader said, some confusion is understandable (even the Spanish PM asked for clarity). But media could just present his remarks, rather than interpreting them in ways that could contribute to the confusion.
  • Especially given the international significance of declaring independence, media would ideally strive to report the story as responsibly and accurately as possible.

Show Me Everything

The Numbers

See how the articles rate in spin, slant and logic when held against objective standards.

View Technical Sheet >

The Distortion

The Knife’s analysis of how news outlets distort information. (This section may contain opinion)

Top Spin Words

  • Escalating Tensions

    Lawmakers from Mr. Puigdemont’s conservative party, however, were wary about further escalating tensions with Madrid, especially after several prominent companies announced plans to move their headquarters from Catalonia because of legal uncertainties of a secession. (The New York Times)

    Inés Arrimadas, the leader of the Catalan branch of the Ciudadanos party, which is fiercely opposed to secession, called on Tuesday for Mr. Puigdemont to convene new Catalan elections rather than risk escalating tensions by promising an independence that he cannot enforce. (The New York Times)

  • Palpable disappointment

    A palpable disappointment rippled through the crowd, replete with whistles of displeasure and sighs of disappointment, when Mr. Puigdemont spoke of dialogue instead of immediate independence. (The New York Times)

  • Enormous

    The issue has enormous emotional and political resonance in Spain, which spent years confronting a sometimes-bloody Basque separatist movement and views the Catalonia independence bid as something approaching an existential crisis. (L.A. Times)

  • Polarization

    Within Catalonia, there’s been polarization as well. (L.A. Times)

  • Messy

    The European Union, already embroiled in a messy divorce from Britain, has watched the unfolding drama with apprehension. (L.A. Times)

  • Crisis

    The Catalonia confrontation, Spain’s worst political crisis in decades, pits breakaway-minded leaders in the country’s richest region against the Madrid government, which has warned of harsh but unspecified measures if the independence bid goes forward. (L.A. Times)

    The issue has enormous emotional and political resonance in Spain, which spent years confronting a sometimes-bloody Basque separatist movement and views the Catalonia independence bid as something approaching an existential crisis. (L.A. Times)

  • Unweildy

    Mr. Puigdemont also was trying to placate several factions within his unwieldy alliance of separatist lawmakers, who control a majority of the seats in the Catalan Parliament after winning 48 percent of the votes in 2015. (The New York Times)

  • Huge expectation

    There was huge expectation surrounding a session of the Catalan parliament that was scheduled for Tuesday at 6pm, when regional premier Carles Puigdemont was expected to make a statement to “explain the political situation.” (El Pais)

  • Fear

    A police crackdown on the day of the referendum left hundreds injured, according to the Catalan authorities, and many in the region fear that an independence declaration could trigger another harsh response. (The New York Times)

  • Difficult

    Despite renewed calls for dialogue with Madrid, the proclamation makes a negotiated solution more difficult as Rajoy has said he would not talk to the Catalan leaders until they drop plans for independence. (Reuters)

  • Fiercely

    ‘Inés Arrimadas, the leader of the Catalan branch of the Ciudadanos party, which is fiercely opposed to secession, called on Tuesday for Mr. Puigdemont to convene new Catalan elections rather than risk escalating tensions by promising an independence that he cannot enforce. (The New York Times)

Depending on which news outlet you read, you might get a different understanding of Puigdemont’s speech and whether Catalonia declared independence or not. For instance, the Los Angeles Times reports that he “stops short” of declaring independence, while El País says he “declared independence unilaterally.” The variations could give readers different impressions of what’s going to happen in Catalonia, or what measures the Spanish government might take in response.

Below, compare how three outlets reported on Puigdemont’s speech, and then compare these to an official Catalan government translation of what he said. Do any of the media’s interpretations misrepresent his speech?

El País (the English-language edition of the Spanish outlet) 

Summary: Declared independence non-democratically and then suspended it.

“Puigdemont declared independence unilaterally based on a ballot that lacked all basic democratic guarantees… But he immediately suspended it in search of dialogue.”

L.A. Times

Summary: Did not declare independence.

“Catalonia’s regional leader stops short of declaring independence from Spain.”

The New York Times

Summary: “Earned” independence, didn’t declare it, and then suspended the independence process.

Puigdemont said “his region had earned the right to independence from Spain, but he immediately suspended the process to allow for talks with the central government in Madrid.” And he “stopp[ed] short of offering an immediate and outright declaration of independence.”

Puigdemont’s actual wording (government translation): On the Catalan government website, his speech is subtitled “Declaration of independence by the President of the Catalan Government.” It reads:

“…the Referendum Law establishes that [if a ‘yes’ vote wins, two days after the official result] the Parliament… ‘will hold an ordinary session to put into effect a formal declaration of the independence of Catalonia, its effects and agree the beginning of the constituent process.’

…as President of the Generalitat I take it upon myself to say, in presenting to you the results of the referendum before Parliament and our co-citizens, that the people have determined that Catalonia should become an independent state in the form of a republic….

[It’s] with the same solemnity, the Government and I myself propose that the Parliament suspends the effects of the declaration of independence so that in the coming weeks we may begin a dialogue without which it is impossible to arrive at an agreed solution.”

None of the outlets we analyzed report that the Catalan government also signed a declaration that stated, “We constitute the Catalan Republic as an independent and sovereign State, of the rule of law, democratic and social.” That information may also help readers interpret the regional government’s position and its significance.

Puigdemont’s speech itself may be somewhat confusing and the situation is complex. So it’s not surprising that news outlets had different interpretations of whether Catalonia declared independence, but the issue is they’re all presented as fact.  

So what should media do in cases where the news isn’t clear-cut? The most responsible reporting would include the exact wording of what the leader said. If outlets want to add their own interpretation, they could acknowledge it as such, rather than presenting it as fact.* This would provide readers with data-based information to help them draw their own conclusions about what happened.

 

*The New York Times and Reuters include the pertinent sections of the speech for reference. El País’ coverage does not, and the L.A. Times’ includes quotes from the speech, but not the section about the declaration.

Is it fact or fiction? Which outlet presents the most spin?

  • 30% Spun

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  • 53% Spun

  • 67% Spun

Fiction
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Fact

The New York Times

“Puigdemont also was trying to placate several factions within his unwieldy alliance of separatist lawmakers, who control a majority of the seats in the Catalan Parliament after winning 48 percent of the votes in 2015.”

A majority of the Catalan Parliament supports Catalan’s independence from Spain. The pro-separatist parties won 48 percent of votes in 2015.

Los Angeles Times

“The European Union, already embroiled in a messy divorce from Britain, has watched the unfolding drama with apprehension.”

Britain voted to leave the European Union and negotiations are in process.

Reuters

“Though Puigdemont stopped short of seeking the explicit support of the chamber for the declaration of independence in a vote, a move that would have closed the door to any negotiated solution, the declaration plunges Spain into the unknown.”

Puigdemont did not ask the chamber to vote on the declaration of independence.

Fact Comparison

  • Facts in only 1 source
  • Facts in 2 sources
  • Facts in 3 sources
  • Facts in all sources

Several companies had announced plans to move their headquarters from Catalonia because of legal uncertainties of a secession. (The New York Times)


The Times is the only outlet to include information that may explain the potential economic effects an independence declaration may have on the region.

According to the Catalonia-based news outlet, El Nacional, businesses such as CaixaBank, Gas Natural, Banco Sabadell and a water utility have announced plans to leave the Catalonia region.

The Spanish Constitution allows Rajoy to suspend the regional Parliament and to take full administrative control over Catalonia, including the leadership of its autonomous police force and its public broadcaster. Spain’s public prosecutors could also open criminal proceedings against Mr. Puigdemont and his government. (The New York Times)


Compare the above to the L.A. Times, which says, “The Madrid government has spoken of unspecified measures if the independence bid goes forward.” Although all four articles mention that Spain may take certain actions to compel Catalonia to comply with it, if the region goes through with its independence declaration, The New York Times includes the most detail. It may provide more clarity for readers wondering about Spain’s potential response.

Reuters says Rajoy can dissolve Catalonia’s Parliament, and that the country’s Supreme Court can declare the region’s independence unconstitutional. And El País provides readers with the part of the constitution that gives Rajoy the power to suspend the region’s autonomy: Article 155. (See the Context section for more information of the constitution.)

As his speech ended, Mr. Puigdemont did not receive any applause from the far-left secessionist lawmakers. (The New York Times)

The Catalan leader concluded his remarks to a standing ovation. (Los Angeles Times)


Both articles only focus on one reaction: either no applause from a section or an ovation. Selectively reporting on only one response could affect how people view the amount of support Puigdemont’s speech received. If you read The New York Times, you may assume people had a negative reaction. If you read the L.A. Times, you may assume everyone applauded in agreement.

A video of the speech shows a majority applauding and standing, but also several people sitting and not clapping. As such, the crowd’s response could be considered mixed.

Headlines

An article’s headline can direct how the news is understood. Compare and contrast how different outlets present the story through their headlines.

Vague and misleading.

Catalan’s president signed a declaration of independence. So it could be misleading to say he “put off” the declaration. Rather, he suspended its implementation and asked to negotiate with Madrid before moving forward. See more in the Distortion section above.

Misleading.

Similar to CNN’s headline, Fox News may misrepresent what happened. The president signed a declaration that called for the recognition of “Catalan republic as an independent and sovereign state.”

Balance

Get the full picture! Don’t buy into cherry-picked information.

The media’s slant:
  • Delaying implementing Catalan independence from Spain was a good strategy by Puigdemont, considering the possible consequences of the Spanish government’s opposing the vote and independence, as well as the potential financial impact. (The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Reuters)
  • Catalonia’s declaration of independence from Spain is wrong; it violates the constitution, and will create problems and increase tension with the Spanish government. The government is right to take action against Catalonia to enforce the rule of law. (El País)
  • Catalonia wants independence, so Puidgemont’s efforts to achieve it via negotiation might be a good idea, and the right thing to do. (Los Angeles Times)
What the media doesn’t explore:
  • The “hard-line separatists” within his own party did not agree with this action, and the Prime Minister of Spain said he would not talk with Catalan leaders until they drop plans for independence, so Puigdemont’s delay in implementing independence may not represent the will of the people or be a successful strategy.
  • There’s more than one side to this story. Catalonia says it had requested a “Scottish-style referendum” 18 times, and been denied. So from its perspective, it may feel justified in pursuing the vote, even without government sanction. The Spanish government’s violent response to the referendum might not have been appropriate: further repression may not improve the situation, and negotiating could be a better path.
  • It may not be true that Catalonia wants independence. Only 43 percent of the total of 5.3 million eligible voters cast a ballot in the referendum, so the will of the majority remains unknown. Also, there was no electoral supervision, which may suggest flaws in the voting process. In the absence of a clear majority, perhaps Puidgemont’s actions are premature and not the right thing to do.   

Context

Access information and historical data that provides a more comprehensive understanding of the story.

What does the constitution allow Spain to do under Article 155?

Spain ratified a new constitution in 1978, following the death of the country’s leader, Gen. Francisco Franco, in 1975. The new constitution grants autonomy to Catalonia and other Spanish territories — something previously restricted under Franco (See our previous coverage for more information.)

The constitution details certain restrictions on territorial autonomy, like Article 155:

“If a Self-governing Community does not fulfil the obligations imposed upon it by the Constitution or other laws, or acts in a way that is seriously prejudicial to the general interest of Spain, the Government, after having lodged a complaint with the President of the Self-governing Community and failed to receive satisfaction therefore, may, following approval granted by the overall majority of the Senate, take all measures necessary to compel the Community to meet said obligations, or to protect the above-mentioned general interest.

‘With a view to implementing the measures provided for in the foregoing paragraph, the Government may issue instructions to all the authorities of the Self-governing Communities.”

Though the “measures necessary” aren’t defined in the constitution, Spain’s response to Catalonia’s 2014 attempt at secession included the imposition of fines and political restrictions on the region’s leaders. Those actions may provide people with insight into what such measures could entail in the upcoming weeks. Again, more information can be found in our previous coverage, as well as in Puigdemont’s independence speech.