Analysis: Netflix documentary Two Catalonias includes clear separatist narrative
  • Eulogises Puigdemont, blames rival party for declaration of independence
  • King Felipe, Rajoy, the PP and the riot police are used as antagonists
  • Left-wing media outlets dominate the commentators block

You can fit a lot of explanation and insight into a two-hour documentary if you want to. Netflix, with Two Catalonias, chose a format that involves a mish-mash of dozens of interviews, mostly with politicians and journalists, and ended up with a programme that more or less subtly reinforces the separatist narrative while omitting dozens of key elements that would better explain to viewers why the crisis became—and continues to be—such a very large, intractable problem in Spain. 

Despite the title, the documentary spends a lot of time framing Catalonia against Spain, Catalonia against Madrid, Catalonia against the (then governing) Popular Party, or Catalonia against the (evil) Spanish state. Comparisons to other Spanish regions, which operate under the same constitutional system but where there is currently no nationalist crisis, are absent from the programme. 

Viewers and journalists have commented since the documentary was made available on September 28 that it does not do a bad job or that it appears to be quite even-handed but a closer analysis of the timings, protagonists, messages and frames suggests otherwise.

(You can examine my analysis further for yourself with the full spreadsheet here (Google Docs, open, two sheets, “Estructura” and “Protagonistas”). Please leave your comments below or on Twitter)

  1. Carles Puigdemont is the star of the show: There are 688 seconds of Puigdemont interviews or statements, more than double the amount of time anyone else gets. And that calculation is just Puigdemont: it does not include the time other people spend talking about Puigdemont. Puigdemont appears 40 times over the two hours, again many more appearances than any other person in the documentary (Inés Arrimadas, 25, “separatist crowd”, 14, John Carlin, 14);
  2. The journalists love Carles Puigdemont: in his introductory section, hacks express their opinions on his character. "A good man […] a Catalan patriot who has been an independence supporter since he was born” (Iñaki Gabilondo, El País); "He says he is not leading the party but the country" (Toni Martínez, Cadena SER); "He is intrepid and brave, very patriotic” (Antoni Bassas, Ara); “A first-class secessionist…" (Xavier Vidal Foch, El País); "He’s either a strategic genius […] or he has brought this situation to total failure” (Raphael Minder, New York Times); “a conservative who thinks like he was on the left and acts like he was in the [radical-left separatist] CUP” (Vicent Partal, Vilaweb);
  3. Carles Puigdemont’s (laudatory) introduction is twice as long as that of Arrimadas: 192 seconds vs. 99 seconds for the Ciudadanos leader in the region. This pattern remains steady across the whole two-hour programme: she gets less than half the total time (330 seconds) that he does (688 seconds). Puigdemont is the only political leader in his own introduction, whereas leaders from several other parties comment on Arrimadas in her introduction. While Puigdemont’s introduction is almost entirely flattering, the CUP’s David Fernández is given 8 seconds in Arrimadas’ section to make it clear that Ciudadanos represents the hated Spanish “regime and the sewers of the State”.
  4. Carles Puigdemont is the first and last speaker: the introduction and the end of a programme are of course particularly important, and Puigdemont is the first individual speaker in this documentary and is given the entire last 66-second block to talk about “caganers”, the small figures popular in Catalonia that depict the act of defecation. He gets both the opening and closing arguments;
  5. Carles Puigdemont’s party (PDeCat) gets most of the separatist block: by a very wide margin. People related to PDeCat get 62 appearances (vs. 19 for Esquerra and four for the CUP) and 995 seconds of speaking time (vs. 290 for Esquerra and 36 for the CUP), more than triple Mr. Puigdemont’s main rival party in Catalan politics. No Esquerra speaker gets more than 100 seconds of comments (vs. two speakers who do for PDeCat as well as both “the separatist crowd” and “anonymous young people”);
  6. Rival party Esquerra gets blamed for the declaration of independence: in the last quarter of the show, Carles Puigdemont explains how he was ready to call early regional elections in exchange for “a return to normality” and Rajoy not suspending home rule, which was supposed to include the release from jail of Jordi Sánchez and Jordi Cuixart. Xavier Vidal Foch (El País) says “the decision to call elections had been taken”. Enric Juliana (La Vanguardia): “Esquerra was doing everything it could to stop him, to make it difficult for him, and when he was ready, they accused him of being a traitor”. What happened? According to Two Catalonias, Puigdemont’s rival party in the region, Esquerra (ERC, Republican Catalan Left) was to blame. A well-known tweet from Esquerra MP Gabriel Rufián, which read “155 silver coins”, is shown and Inés Arrimadas is heard saying, “he couldn’t get away from his own side”. The former Speaker of the Catalan Parliament, Carme Forcadell (Esquerra), starts counting the votes and declares independence in the regional chamber. According to this sub-narrative, Puigdemont is almost a victim.
  7. After Puigdemont, the main separatist speaker is “the separatist crowd”: pro-independence chanters get almost as much time as a collective (316 seconds) as Ciudadanos leader Inés Arrimadas does (330 seconds). This is increased by another 109 seconds when we include “anonymous young people”, who express messages almost entirely in favour of independence. So “Puigdemont and the people” lead the separatist block by a very wide margin.
  8. Overall, separatist speakers get most of the time: fully 5% more appearances (136 vs. 119) and 8.6% more speaking time (2139 seconds vs. 1670, or 38.9% vs. 30.3%) than their constitutionalist colleagues, as well as more time than either Podemos (2.9%) or the journalists and commentators (27.9%).
  9. Left-wing journalists get most screen time: looking at the block of media commentators, hacks from El País, Cadena SER and El Diario get all of the top six slots (899 seconds in total, all more than 100 seconds each). John Carlin, formerly of El País, is the journalist given most time (277 seconds, 14 appearances). No non-left-wing journalist gets more than 100 seconds. José Antonio Zarzalejos, formerly the editor of ABC and now a columnist at El Confidencial, gets 75 seconds, and Pedro J. Ramírez, formerly the editor of El Mundo and now the editor of El Español, gets 9 seconds, but apart from that there are no comments from anyone currently working at ABC, El Mundo, La Razón, Libertad Digital, Onda Cero, COPE or other conservative media outlets. No one from Spanish news agencies EFE, Europa Press or Servimedia, or Spanish state broadcaster TVE, appears.
  10. Separatist media are represented by Ara and Vilaweb: Antoni Bassas, a deputy editor at Ara, gets 10 appearances and 166 seconds; Vicent Partal, editor of Vilaweb, gets six appearances and 66 seconds;
  11. Inés Arrimadas (Ciudadanos) gets most of the constitutionalist time: 330 seconds (vs. 251 for Josep Borrell, PSOE, or 242 for Jorge Moragas, PP). Within the constitutionalist block, in stark contrast to the separatist block, however, the division of total time and appearances between PP, PSOE and Ciudadanos is almost equal: 33 (PP) vs. 28 (PSOE) vs. 33 (Cs) appearances, and 485 (PP) vs. 428 (PSOE) vs. 430 (Cs) seconds of statements or comments;
  12. The King, Mariano Rajoy and PP ministers are used as antagonists to the separatists: the appear in order to announce the referendum is illegal, to announce it is not going to happen, to announce it did not happen, to suspend home rule, to dissolve the Catalan parliament, to impose regional elections, to defend TVE, to suggest the images from October 1 were fake, to declare Catalan authorities have acted unconstitutionally, or to “Spanishify” Catalan children;
  13. “Police officers” get 123 seconds in the constitutionalist block: they also serve as antagonists and participate in four ways: shouting “a por ellos, oé” [“go get ‘em, lads”], breaking down doors at polling stations with sledgehammers, hitting separatists with truncheons, or—in two separate segments in the documentary—backing off in groups or vans when separatist crowds “succeed” in rejecting their onslaught, while chanting “murderers, murderers, murderers”; the Catalan Police, the Mossos, with the key role they played in the crisis, are not shown at all.
  14. All sorts of people are blamed, except for Carles Puigdemont: Esquerra, the King, the PP, Mariano Rajoy, Spanish police officers, the Spanish state, Europe, the global system, the financial crisis are all guilty, depending on which bit of the documentary we are in;
  15. Sánchez and Cuixart presented as innocent: the 60 seconds or so Two Catalonias spends on the matter of the events of September 20, with Jordi Sánchez (Catalan National Assembly) and Jordi Cuixart (Omnium Cultural) is all about saying they didn’t do it, with “it” being the crime of sedition (akin to “riot” in English criminal law) of which they stand accused and for which they are currently in jail on remand, awaiting trial. The images show first Sánchez, “we always ask a non-violent attitude of you”, and then Cuixart, “let’s dissolve this gathering”, and then Ignacio Escolar (El Diario), who comments “violence is against people, not against Civil Guard vehicles”, followed by Argelia Queralt (Agenda Pública), “the elements of sedition or rebellion are not there”. There is no mention of the very extensive descriptions of events contained in the National High Court or Supreme Court decisions or summaries publishes since last October;
  16. Barcelona is the only place in Catalonia: apart from a few seconds of newsreel shots of events last October that are from other towns—if you remember that they are—there are no other general shots of cities, towns or villages anywhere else in Catalonia. Barcelona at dusk, Barcelona at dawn, Barcelona and the sea, Barcelona barrios, Barcelona streets, Barcelona shopping, Barcelona from cars. All Barcelona;
  17. Independent data and fact-checking are almost entirely absent: there is some news footage from programmes at the time that include visual elements, a graph showing a Metroscopia result of a 46%-46% split between separatists and constitutionalists, and a handful of unsourced statements with data points printed on the screen. There is almost no voice-over or time from the programme to indicate to viewers that much of an attempt has been made to contrast or check the information being expressed by the politicians and commentators (examples: €16.5 billion deficit with Madrid, 800 injured on October 1, results of vote, the number of companies that left, etc.). No maps are shown, either of Catalonia or Spain;
  18. Lots of relevant things are missing from the documentary: judges or public prosecutors (apart from the Director of Public Prosecutions in an antagonist moment in archive footage), the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Court, Madrid, the rest of Spain and other Spaniards (apart from the antagonist elements already mentioned), places in Catalonia that are not Barcelona, Artur Mas, CiU, Jordi Pujol, 3% corruption, prior events back to 2012, Catalonia during Spain’s Transition to democracy in the 1970s, the political situation in Catalonia after the 15M, separatists’ strategic plans and documents, the enlightening facts provided by the multiple judicial investigations opened since last October, the Catalan Police (Mossos), Catalan Police chief Trapero, Puigdemont boasting about disobeying judges, separatists surrounding police stations and the hotels where police officers were staying, all of the warnings and notifications the Catalan government was given by courts and the central government, and many, many more if were to spend more time thinking about it.

Overall, while non-separatist viewpoints are expressed during Two Catalonias, an analysis of the timings, structure, visual and factual elements of the programme clearly point towards a pro-independence narrative.

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