Free speech and the Spanish Crown Prince

The Spanish police have been ordered to remove from sale all copies of the satirical newspaper El Jueves as it carries a cartoon (appears right) depicting Crown Prince Philip and his wife having sex.

The cartoon refers to the proposed policy of paying €2,500 for each newborn child in an effort to increase Spain's declining birth rate and to the Crown Prince's lack of a working history; the speech bubbles say "You do realise that if you fall pregnant, this will be the closest thing to work I've done in my life?".

Under Spanish law, insulting the royal family carries a two-year prison sentence and the magazine have been ordered to identify the cartoonist. I hope that a court case does come about and that it reaches a European court as I would dearly like to see all restrictions on free speech on the basis of nobility or political position summarily struck out. It is possible to have a debate about the merits of a monarchy or a republic (for the record, I would prefer a republic, both here and in Spain, to a monarchy) but it is not possible to say that they should be immune from criticism.

El Jueves is, in a way, doing what the satire boom and Spitting Image did for the UK: allowing criticism of people in positions of power and influence who feel that they should be handled with kid gloves. El Jueves has attacked just about every politician, ETA, the royal family and, as they put it, anyone that moves. No court has found them guilty of any crime, and yet the police have taken it upon themselves to remove the publication from circulation. If a crime had been committed, better to have imposed a fine after a judicial process than set a precedent for such an alarming curtailment of one of the most important civil rights.

I'd add that it is impossible to call the Spanish monarchy apolitical (if you can call any head of state apolitical) because of Juan Carlos (positive) actions after the death of Franco and in the attempted coup of 23rd and 24th February, 1981.


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