‘Spain is different’ has been the tourism slogan for the Southwestern European country for years, since dictator Francisco Franco’s regime used it in the 60’s. I’d argue Spain is different for something else too: its lack of transparency.

I recently presented this idea to my colleagues at the 2012 National Institute for Computer Assisted Reporting (NICAR) conference in Saint Louis, USA. Most of the attendees in the talk were shocked to hear that my dearest country is ‘an information black hole’. For example:

  • We’re the only country in Europe with more than one million people without a freedom of information law
  • Company and property registries are paid
  • We don’t know how lobbying works or who funds the political parties

Just so you get an idea, the word ‘accountability’ doesn’t even exist as such in the dictionary.

This has a profound effect in the way we do journalism: trying to find patterns is difficult and getting interesting documents without a leak is almost impossible. The result: very little investigative journalism is done.

I found a way out doing computer-assisted reporting or data journalism – as it’s called in Europe – and collaborating with hackers. I actually presented in NICAR with one: David Cabo. Without his work scrapping the official gazette and some other documents, it would have been very difficult to reveal how the Spanish fishing industry – the most powerful in the European Union – received more than $8 billion in subsidies since 2000 despite its track record of breaking the rules and tapping overfished stocks.

David Cabo presenting at NICAR 2012
David Cabo presenting at NICAR 2012 Image: Photo: Ben Welsh

David has been doing some other incredible work visualizing the Spanish budget or making Spaniards collaborate in a Google Doc to analyze the Congressmen assets (#adoptaundiputado).

Our last endeavor is making authorities reply to the public’s requests even if the law does not oblige them – yet. The website Tu Derecho A Saber (Your Right to Know), done with Access Info Europe, will help citizens make questions and browse answers. Maybe if the demands are out in the open, light starts shining in that black hole. In the meantime, we’ll keep pushing with our journalism.