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Iñaki Gabilondo and journalistic responsibility

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“There isn’t a Spanish topic that isn’t European”, says the most famous journalist in Spain. Gabilondo’s journalistic curiosity and integrity have secured the growing support of his listeners over the past 25 years.

I am greeted by Spain’s leading radio journalist on the 8th floor of a building in Madrid’s main street. After finishing his programme Hoy por Hoy (Today for Today), aired daily from 6am to 12pm on the channel Cadena SER, he has barely had the chance to catch his breath before meeting with me. It is midday in Spain. Coffee no longer flows but refreshing beers and other drinks do. He opts for one without alcohol. I choose really cold water.

Observing society

So I find myself interviewing the interviewer. When asked if he feels uncomfortable in the role of interviewee, he responds that no, it is a conversation between equals, we have merely swapped roles. Gabilondo explains that in the end he is always asked about politics – for him the public is extremely politicised - and also for his view on public opinion. As professional observers of what’s going on around them, journalists spend their time analysing society under the microscope on a daily basis. This provides them with a certain impression of what is said and thought, although such impressions may not give the whole picture.

Scepticism about journalism today

When questioned on the level of European debate within the media, he is categorical: “debate does not exist, at least not in Spain. I think that in other countries debate is more prominent than it is here. The world is experiencing a tremendous transformation. We are in the process of figuring out how education and peace, amongst other things, should function. But in Spain we are still trying to work out what Spain actually is.” In spite of Iñaki Gabilondo’s efforts, a debate where different ideas interchange in the hope of resolving or stressing differences simply does not exist.

So are journalists providing a public service or just churning out propaganda? “A journalist, as a noun, is a public servant”, he explains. “As an adjective, he can work in a private or public company, from the Opus Dei to the Communist Party. I personally see myself as accountable to the people, to the listeners of my programme, much more than to my company.” But aren’t people in Spain and Europe too blinkered in their opinions as a result of highly editorialised programmes? Gabilondo doesn’t think so: “The problem doesn’t lie in being opinionated”, he replies impassively. For him, what is harmful is the way in which opinions are formed without relevant information. “I, for example, need more and more information each day to be able to form a viewpoint. Despite this, I realise that others form opinions based on very few or no facts, or even in spite of the information available”. But he does not believe that possibilities for innovation in journalism have been exhausted. Half jokingly, he suggests that journalism has biological pauses every 10 years so that society can recover from the lashes that the profession inflicts.

Europe under the spotlight

In this case, is more information regarding the European community needed? “Certainly”, he replies. Everyone has been convinced at some point that things had reached the point of exhaustion, that nothing more could be invented or discovered. But it has always turned out not to be the case. “I don’t know everything,” he resumes, “in our conversation today I have discovered channels of information like café babel that I was unaware of”. At this point I suggested that Europe is perhaps a topic which interests only elites, but he soon put me right. “We’re talking about a long process”, he says reassuringly. He believes the problem is that European topics are a luxury only exploited when there is no other issue to be debated.

Taking each day as it comes

When asked about the future of interactive communication methods, he responds “I don’t have a crystal ball, and in any case, all predictions are erroneous to some extent. What I am sure of is that a wide variety of channels for structuring information will appear”. He has the feeling that he is living on a Ferris wheel in a city that is experiencing an earthquake in which “we are experiencing a phenomenon of integration in all spheres. Why shouldn’t communication methods also combine?”

Finally, I am curious to know whether, having climbed up so many rungs of the ladder in the past 25 years and winning the confidence of the general public, he felt that there were any more rungs left to climb. On this point, he refused to compromise. “I’ve never aspired to climb rungs but rather to live each day as it comes. I’m a very lucky man”, he explains, “people are living a reality that changes constantly but they don’t realise it. In my work, I have to face this changing reality in terms of hours, minutes and seconds. It is an extraordinary privilege that allows you to make each day different. My life has always been this way. Before the programme begins, at 5am, I take my colleagues up to the roof terrace and I tell them: ‘this may be the last sunrise you will see today’. The only thing that is certain,” he concludes, “is the European process. Name a Spanish topic that isn’t European”.

Translated from Iñaki Gabilondo: la responsabilidad del periodista