Writing fantasy tales and mimicking sports commentators. That’s how, at age 9, immersed in a world of audio books, Javier Gallego Garrido was trained, “without realizing it,” in the journalistic profession. I met him in a recording studio in Madrid, near the district of Lavapies, five minutes before the second weekly episode of Carne Cruda: The Independent Republic of Radio, the most followed web radio program in Spain. Manuel and Rocio, two employees of “El Crudo” Gallego Garrido’s nickname among insiders — make the final preparations, while a dim light filters through the window shutters. There is just enough time for a cigarette and a handshake with today’s guests. Then, the usual bombastic theme song takes off.
It could almost be said that the radio style of El Crudo, despite his experiences on the Spanish public radio, RNE, and the private network, SER, has remained the same since he was a boy. In Carne Cruda, fantastic tales with a touch of current events mix with satirical takes; interviews with Spanish politicians alternate with those of representatives of the European counter-culture. His sui generis way of providing information turned him into the dark horse of classic Spanish journalism. In 2012, El Crudo took home the prestigious Ondas award for Best Spanish Radio Program.
Gallego Garrido has no problem admitting he’s an outsider and does not believe in a neutral journalism. At the same time, he does not spare criticism to any political party, including those who want to scrap the People’s Party and the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, or PSOE.
You have called Carne Cruda a show for the “mobilization of consciences.” What does that mean?
Today, Spanish citizenship, much like Europe in general, is so passive that it could be said to live in a sort of democratic simulation. The media have been blind to the crisis that hit Europe in 2008. In Spain, there is a hegemonic discourse that has hidden the socio-political reality since the early days of the financial crash until today: Just think about how the housing crisis and the emergence of evictions were under-reported. At the same time, politicians were lying, inverting reality. But journalism has a duty to tell reality in the best possible way, as if it were a piece of raw meat.
What do you mean by hegemonic content?
In Spain there is a hegemony of political discourse that passes through media channels. It is a language that is promoted by the elites of this country. Culture, advertising and media have built a solid and coherent narrative around the phenomenon of the crisis. In particular, the message that is conveyed is: We live in a healthy democracy; the few problems we have can be solved with the same political and business policies of the past. There is a kind of euphoria, which has generated an interpretation of the crisis as an accidental episode, fleeting and without culprits. In other words, we’re not learning from the past.
A concrete example?
In 2008, when Sarkozy was still president of France, he spoke of the need to re-found capitalism. Beyond the proclamations, however, he was saying that the liberal-capitalist system was only marred and that, after all, it remained standing. The hegemonic discourse is one that never calls into question the kind of system we live in and is conveyed by most media and European elites. Today, these elites identify with liberal policies.
“Carne Cruda” is a program that has been able to continually reinvent itself. What consequences has the crisis had on the Spanish media landscape?
Our sector was the second hardest hit by the crisis. The mainstream media have fired dozens of highly qualified journalists. Many have decided to create their own autonomous media, sifting through different business models. There are symbolic cases like El Diario, an independent information newspaper that is funded primarily by the journalists themselves. After starting off quietly, the experiment is proving to be sustainable from an economic point of view. In terms of business model, it mimics the British The Guardian: Although there are sustaining members, the information is free. Citizens want public information to be independent of the big economic powers. El Diario today is 30 percent financed with the help of its readers.
Would the Spanish media benefit from bringing young people into their companies to break away from the “old politics”?
Most journalists leading the new media are about 40 years old. Our generation is trying to create a link between the citizens and the new forms of “making politics” that have emerged in Spain, such as Podemos and Ciudadanos. In the mainstream media, instead, young people are used as pawns. They hold positions of responsibility, but they are not paid properly. The consequence is that the quality of journalism is worsening: poor editing, coarse grammatical errors, etc. In a way, the apprentice replaces the master before completing his education.
How do you assess the outcome of Podemos in the recent elections?
It is a spectacular result. They were the moral winners of this election. It is the only party that obtained more votes than those forecasted by the polls. They were a step away from becoming the second party, instead of the PSOE. Podemos defeated the Socialist Party in Madrid, Catalonia, Basque Country and Galicia, key places in the geography of Spanish politics.
Can Podemos open a rift in that political liberal-capitalist hegemony you were talking about?
Yes, in a sense, they have already done so. They ended the two-party system that has governed this country for the past 40 years. Now, socialist and popular leaders will discuss with Podemos and Ciudadanos. For the first time, our politicians are obliged to communicate democratically among them. They must demonstrate that they are truly democratic by opening negotiations for the sake of the country. But the road to supplant the liberal-capitalist hegemony in Spain and Europe is still long. Podemos, together with the Portuguese and Greek left and the English Labour, now has the opportunity to defend effective social policies, create economies with a fairer face and make a point to stop austerity policies.
But there is a lot of instability in Spain now…
Probably there will be another election soon, given the results. But in this scenario, it is likely for Podemos to gain even more consensus. Only when they have decisive power will we be able to figure out if they are really the strength of the change.
You quarreled live with the leader of Podemos, Pablo Iglesias, creating quite a stir…
I am a journalist with my views, but I am not tied to any party. I say good things about what I think is good and in a negative way about others. Unfortunately, in Spain, if you are a journalist, they ask you to be totally neutral, or if you have a leaning, to tie yourself to a specific party. And if this party needs support — because the historical moment demands it — you are criticized by the respective faction. But the media and political parties play two different roles in our society. Parties must respond to citizens. We should simply amplify those requests.
What are the core values on which the work of a journalist should be based?
Independent thinking and social commitment. There is a misunderstanding about the concept of neutrality. You cannot always give the same space to everyone. For example, can you can give the same visibility to the needs of a neo-Nazi and to those of a political refugee? I believe journalism is forced to take an active part in the socio-political dynamics using the tools of his the trade. After all, the responsibility of journalists is very close to that of the citizen.
You were one of the few media to have given voice to 15-M [the anti-austerity movement] when it was born. Today, in Spain, with what has been called Ley Mordaza, or gag law, we question the public dissemination of social protest and political content. How does it compromise your craft?
Little. Those provisions want to have a psychological and self-censoring effect upstream, in regards to those who took to the streets. Some types of protests like the “escrache” [in which the protester “shadows” a political figure in public] results in a fine. The Ley Mordaza penalizes, in the name of the integrity of the person, those who reprimand the police.
Don’t you think that is right?
In the last few years, freelance journalists on the streets documented police violence incidents. In addition, the law punishes those who organize events that lead to violent acts. But how can you predict whether an event will result in a violent act?
Spain is the country with the most street demonstrations in recent years, along with Greece…
They want to limit citizen activism. At the same time, the decline of the events in Spain is not only caused by the Ley Mordaza. New forms of representation have appeared.
It is symptomatic that on the days of the Indignados and the 15-M movement, the cry of the square was: “No nos representen” [They do not represent us]. Then, Podemos was born to represent those same people. This overlap between movement and party is not necessarily positive: One thing is the activism of citizens; another is activism of political parties and institutions.
You have been labeled as community radio and that makes you proud. Don’t you believe, however, that the new ‘community’ media, speaking by definition exclusively for their owne audiences, actually decrease the level of dialogue in a democratic society?
No. Take the case of the 15-M: At the beginning, they had been completely ignored by the mainstream media. The alternative media instead covered what was a moment of undeniable social reality. Furthermore, I do not think that there is a frontal opposition between mainstream and community media: They actually complement each other. The media innovation has helped to open the face of traditional media in a way. We are clearly a leftist program with a precise audience. We have no problem admitting it, but we are also trying to open opportunities to exchange ideas with those who have different positions.
What is the future of Carne Cruda?
Because of the size of our audience, it deserves to be broadcasted on a priority channel. It is unusual that a radio program is 90 percent financed by its listeners. It is a unique case in Spain. I do not know how long it will last. I hope not forever. I think it’s important to recognize the right time to close an experience in a positive way.
Would you return to analog frequencies?
I’d like to go back to RNE, the Spanish national radio, because I believe in the concept of public service.