The most severe corruption cases of Catalonia uncovered by citizens investigation @_cafeambllet

Marta Sibina and Albano Dante launched the magazine titled Cafèambllet (Coffee with milk in Catalan) eight years ago in the town of Breda (Girona). Neither of them are journalists by profession but they were convinced that there was need for somebody to explain what was happening in the area at a very local level and they wanted to contribute to improving things through getting information out there.

At the time of writing, 30,000 free copies of Cafèambllet are hand delivered within an area with a population in the region of 200,000 people (Lloret, Calella and inland throughout the La Selva region) and, according to the Catalan Government’s very own Communication and Cultural Barometer, it is the second most widely read magazine in the Girona province (Barómetro de la Comunicación y la Cultura – la segunda revista mensual más leída – link in Catalan). The magazine is also available in an online version which, although it does not generate revenue, it does get a huge number of visits. It is an independent, unsubsidized publication and receives no money from the government. It breaks even thanks to advertising mainly by local and small businesses located within the magazine’s distribution zone. Marta continues working part-time as an operating theatre nurse and devotes the rest of her time to running the magazine; Albano, a philology graduate, is the sole editor/writer and overall director. His living room doubles as the magazine’s newsroom.

About two years ago, Cafèambllet began looking into where public funding received by the Corporación de Salud Selva Maresme for administering two hospitals in the region was going. As they followed the trail, they began to discover irregularities involving high-ranking members of Catalan healthcare system. As a result of their efforts and the articles they published, the Anti-fraud Office began an investigation into the matter. Cafèambllet was the first publication to uncover the case of Ramon Bagó, (la primera publicación en destapar el caso de Ramon Bagó – link in Spanish), ex-Mayor of Calella and ex–President and Board Member of Consorci de Sanitari i Social de Catalunya, and the first in conjunction with the Spanish newspaper  el diario El País, to publish the story that in 2006, the Public Audit Office (Sindicatura de Cuentas) shelved a report accusing Xavier Crespo of benefitting from funds allocated to hospitals. Crespo is the ex-Mayor of Lloret, and until recently, member of the Catalan Parliament for CiU as well as President of the Parliamentary Healthcare Commission, and currently running in fourth place on the ballot list for CiU in Girona.

Given that the news was broken by a small magazine “from the sticks”, Cafèambllet mainly rely on social networks for support and to spread news more effectively. One of the innovative techniques they use is to record a video of themselves reading one of their articles, which they later upload to their Youtabe channel (en su canal de Youtube). Very often, these videos are accusatory and express grievances, addressing state officials directly and calling for citizen action or mobilization. Their work has turned Cafèambllet into one of the most pugnacious publications in favour of transparency and against corruption, and turned Marta and Albano into a couple of the most prolific defenders of the Catalan public healthcare system and public service information.

Last March,, Josep Maria Via, a high-ranking health department official and one the Catalan’s President’s advisors sued them, (Text in Spanish –los demandó) as an attack on his honor or reputation resulting from on eof the videos uploaded titled “The Greatest Robbery in Catalan History” – (video in Spanish – El robo más grande de la historia de Catalunya”). On October 24 this year, a first instance court in Barcelona ruled in favour of the plaintiff and ordered (sentence in Spanish – condenó) Cafèambllet to destroy the video, remove it from Youtube and compensate Josep Maria Via to the sum of 10,000 euros. This was only half of what the plaintiff demanded but twice what the prosecutor had proposed. Either way, the sentence was in essence a closure order for a family run magazine with such limited resources as is this case in hand.

The sentence itself is alarming (sentence in Spanish – sentencia), not solely due to the fact that the justice system resolved the Cafèambllet case with unprecedented speed and well before any of the corruption cases they blew the whistle on even saw the inside of a courts, but also the sentence represents a clear threat for freedom of speech and information and for critical and independent journalism. If the brave work undertaken by Cafèambllet reveals anything at all, it is the complete lack of transparency on behalf of public officials and the passivity of all those – including the media – who must hold them accountable.

Marta Sibina and Albano Dante have been reporting for months that the lawsuit filed against them by Josep Maria Via is an attempt to silence them. However, the censorship they have suffered does not stop there: issues of the magazine have also been removed from public spaces where they had been left by distributors and Youtube blocked access in Spain to a video (bloquejado el acceso a España de un vídeo) citing an alleged defamation lawsuit which to date has yet to be determined, despite the fact that Xavier Crespo threatened them with legal action in May -(radio interview in Catalan – los amenazó en mayo).

Cafèambllet boasts active support from groups and individuals who battle on a daily basis to defend the public healthcare system and support from other citizens and community solidarity platforms, but barring for a few exceptions, they have yet to receive the support of journalists in the shape of a group.

We take this opportunity to call on all media professionals, whether you are a member of an official journalist’s association or not, whether you have a university qualification in journalism or not, regardless of where you work, whether you are retired, active, or unemployed, to sign this petition in defense of and in solidarity with Marta Sibina and Albano Dante. Overall we ask you to sign to enable Cafèambllet to continue its work without obstruction, pressure or threats, but also because we all have a lot on the line when it comes to this issue.

Support from Telefonica workers in hungerstrike

Interview from Reset project to cafeambllet members [sp]

Marta Sibina from cafeambllet

“Mr President, I have very bad news for you” VIDEO [cat]

Albano Dante from cafeambllet

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