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The Right To Have An Opinion On Opinion Makers

Lionel Barber, former editor of the Financial Times, argues that ” a newspaper has to be able to challenge its natural readers, nudge them from time to time.” It thus refers to the advisability of sometimes publishing opinions contrary to the editorial line of the medium and the general feeling of its readers.

EL PAÍS subscribers believe they receive from certain columnists not the odd nudge, but constant kneeing and kicking in the shins.

Complaints from opinion columns have been the most common in 2020. I usually reply ex officio that opinions are free and that EL PAÍS admits all of them, except those that defend violence. With the same argument, the opinions of the readers must also be known.

Those complaints center on two or three columnists and especially on Félix de Azúa, whom I already quoted in another column a year and a half ago for similar reasons. In her texts, she has described the socialist leader Adriana Lastra as a “tall woman” and an “uneducated forty-something” (December 1); he has called the Government “chaotic and tricky” and has advocated replacing it with another “of technicians, with a lot of experience and no ideology” (April 7); he has called the members of the Executive branch “rancid ideologues of Chavismos, Peronism and nationalism” (March 24); and he has said that being progressive, as this newspaper defines itself, is ” supporting the heirs of terrorism , charging in black from slaughterers like Maduro …” (September 8).

There are readers who feel attacked. Like Sergio-Ernesto Santillán: “The insults against Mrs. Lastra are tinged with machismo and ill will.” For Ángel Alda, De Azúa behaves as “macho and classist”. Miguel V. Freire observes “aggressive sectarianism” and adds that De Azúa and some other columnist say “nothing negative about the political leaders of the right except praise and eulogies, nor nothing positive about those on the left.”

Félix Rebollo: “Insults those of us who are not of his opinion.” Laura González: “Is this freedom of expression? No, this is pure yellowishness ”. Julio Villanueva: “Azúa’s columns are an insult to moderation, unworthy of a quality newspaper.” Juan Ochoa: “Can’t you lower those alarmist decibels?”

Félix de Azúa responds: “I understand the irritation of some readers who only want to read those texts that confirm their beliefs, so I apologize, but that is not why I can renounce mine. Happy year also to my adversaries ”.

Critics assume that the newspaper has the right to publish dissenting opinions. The protests come in “buts”: “… but nothing says in favor of the newspaper keeping a man so close to the extreme right” (Ricardo Forcat); ” but the question is whether readers want to read the nonsense, the exaggerations, the lies with which these gentlemen try to take away the legitimacy of a legitimate government” (Julio Villanueva).

Months ago, Javier Muñoz Álvarez asked the columnists “not to use thick and disrespectful expressions.” “Readers,” he commented, “are also free to claim that their editorial line is in line with what the traditional newspaper reader is looking for.”

The deputy director and head of Opinion, Andrea Rizzi, sees the situation as follows: “Among its founding values, EL PAÍS has the commitment to ’embrace all trends’ within the democratic framework and ‘respect as much as possible the will’ of the authors of texts opinion.

This is established by the Style Book, which also sets the limits: texts cannot advocate violence, they must “be based on verified data and be respectful of people even if their actions are criticized.”

“Some columns of Mr. Félix de Azúa”, adds Rizzi, “are questionable under this last criterion. I have spoken with him about it, expressing my full support for his freedom to criticize whoever he deems appropriate but inviting him not to forget that limit. \

The Opinion section ensures that these statutory criteria are respected and intervenes when deemed necessary. He has done it with Mr. de Azúa and other authors since I assumed responsibility for the area three months ago.

But the border between freedom of opinion and respect for people is not a mathematical formula. It is a delicate and subjective management. Therefore it is debatable and I understand that there are readers who disagree with how it is carried out ”.

The newspaper knows that readership is increasing with bruises caused by forceful nudges from columnists. Some days more than others. This is how Muñoz Álvarez perceives it: “De Azúa acts on Tuesdays, with a license to insult and offend.”

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