I like the newspaper Ara. It's a bit neo-liberal in its politics but it has some good writers. Ara has also been fairly clearly pro-independence since its inception, though with less of an obvious party affiliation than, say, El Punt Avui. It has provided a lot of interesting coverage of various campaigns and events that have occurred in the two years since I subscribed to it.
But there are a couple of things that irritate me about Ara. There are times when its neo-liberal approach unquestioningly supports ideas like wholesale reduction of the civil service or privatization of health services, and I'd like to see more contrasting opinions presented by the editorial board on these topics. It is clear from reader comments on the newspaper's website that many other readers agree with me. The vast majority, in fact.
The second thing is that stories dealing with political corruption cases in Catalonia seem to get less coverage than they deserve. This is par for the course with the Catalan press, of course. In fact, most newspapers everywhere are pretty loyal to the state or their party allegiances, so this perhaps shouldn't be such a surprise. But it's disappointing to see from a new media outlet which one might have hoped was more immune to party influence.
Then I noticed something funny. In the footer of the newspaper's website, a logo for the Catalan government's dept. of the presidency has appeared. It wasn't there this time last year. And it wasn't there in April 2013 either. But sometime in the summer, when Ara updated its portal, the Generalitat's emblem was added to its footer.
What does this mean? Why does Ara have it? I think it's to indicate that the paper receives funds from the government in exchange for promoting Catalan. Fair enough. Not sure the state should be funding the independent press like this, though. Could look bad.
Then I spotted something else: an Ara.cat user called Cuca Val noticed that comments mentioning certain people's names are automatically withheld for moderation by the website. Cuca Val tested this filter a few times and declared victory: one name not allowed through the moderation filter is none other than that of Ferran Rodés (Cuca Val spelled it R-O-D-É-S to avoid the filter), founder and president of Ara. All of Cuca Val's comments were deleted about an hour after this.
Why would Ara block all comments which mention its own president and founder? After all, it's no secret that he's the boss. Maybe it's because people have been leaving cruel messages about him in the comments section? Happens all the time. Maybe he's thin skinned
Or maybe it's because he's a Catalan oligarch with connections to some of the corruption cases Ara has a duty to report on. As anyone can find on Wikipedia, Ferran Rodés i Vilà is president of the Catalan government's 'Advisory Council for the Sustainable Development of Catalonia' (CADS) – which spends part of its time giving the Catalan government advice on how to privatize its natural resources. He's also VP at Havas Media, a large advertising concern, and he's on the board of Acciona, the major Spanish infrastructures conglomerate. The same one which was awarded management of Barcelona's water systems for the next 50 years. When he was part of the decision-making team for this privatization process (which should never have been allowed in the first place). Oh, and he lives in Switzerland. Like all good oligarchs.
So maybe, just maybe, Ara feels that with its hard-won state funding and its possibly-corrupt president and founder, it would be best to pay as little attention to the massive corruption cases which are ongoing here.
"Bárcenas is OK, but don't you dare report this Cafè amb Llet story until they're pulled into court", I can almost imagine the boss shouting accross the cowed, pathetic newsroom of the Diari Ara.