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Humor and Political Communication

Comisión de Arbitraje, Quejas y Deontología (Spain) (1). Watch out

Humor and Political Communication
a) An inaccurate name: the Commission acts neither as Arbitrator nor guarantees Ethical decisions in all its resolutions. Its full name is Commission for Arbitration, Complaints and Ethics of the Spanish Federation of Press Associations (FAPE). To begin with, I haven’t seen arbitration anywhere, and I’m going to provide evidence that the arbiter of the […]

a) An inaccurate name: the Commission acts neither as Arbitrator nor guarantees Ethical decisions in all its resolutions.

Its full name is Commission for Arbitration, Complaints and Ethics of the Spanish Federation of Press Associations (FAPE). To begin with, I haven’t seen arbitration anywhere, and I’m going to provide evidence that the arbiter of the resolution I’m going to write about here didn’t abide by the Ethical Code she claims to defend.

My friends, acquaintances and students have been asking me for a long time now, “Tell us about your experience with FAPE’s Commission for Arbitration, Complaints and Ethics!” And when, the digital university newspaper, launched a petition on and gathered 2,500 signatures in record time, they once again reminded me that I had to tell them about my experience with the Commission. So here are my belated impressions.

I’m going to focus mainly on the Arbiter of this particular Resolution, María Dolores Massana Argüelles. Let me say at the outset that the Commission doesn’t make the name of the arbiter public, but I discovered it by chance, specifically by the way a last name was erroneously transcribed. Later I confirmed that she was indeed the arbiter of my case.


María Dolores Massana Argüelles

b) The Commission does not guarantee a just resolution.

The Commission doesn’t guarantee a just resolution in every case, because of the different professional backgrounds of its members. How can you compare the legal education of the president, Manuel Núñez Encabo, or that of Commission member Rafael Mendizábal Allende, to mention two examples, with that of María Dolores Masana? The difference is enormous! No one who finds themselves involved with the Commission should forget this. If they have the luck to deal with the above mentioned Manuel Núñez or Rafael Mendizábal they can be reasonably certain that they’ll receive an impartial resolution. In my case, the arbiter did not give everyone a fair hearing, and the Resolution was biased, since no evidence against the plaintiff was allowed.

This Resolution could be quite useful as an example of the kind of resolution that all organizations in a democracy should avoid. That’s why I’m happy that it’s still available on FAPE’s website. The problem is that whatever I write here about the Commission is going to be translated in due time into, French, Italian, German and Russian in, and perhaps foreign opinion about how the Commission functions will not be so favorable. The way things are, the Commission might seem European, but it by no means meets the standards of other countries, as I’ll show in my next article.

A friend who read the Resolution, handed me a quotation taken from Vitali Shentalinski’s book Esclavos de la libertad (en los archivos literarios de la KGB) [Freedom’s Slaves, in the KGB’s literary archives] (Barcelona, Círculo de Lectores, 2005): “The examining magistrate…eliminated everything that could serve as exonerating circumstances…and in general suppressed everything positive contained in his biography. At the same time they brought to light and underscored compromising activities. They omitted significant observations and conclusions by Babel, in which the writer proved to be intellectually far superior to his examiner… During the process of Babel’s rehabilitation, in 1954, the Prosecutor called attention to the fact that they had committed a legal error.” (p. 49)


c) The arbiter neglected to place the resolution within the framework of an academic debate, like another of the Commission’s arbiters did in Resolution 2011/56 concerning a dispute among journalists.

Among the Arguments of Resolution 2011/56, which the arbiter was required to know in order to act fairly, and which she didn’t bother to examine, were the following:

“We find ourselves facing a debate that directly concerns two journalists, and a claim originating with a blog, an Internet publication commonly characterized by a broadly subjective point of view. We’re talking about freedom of speech and information in a medium, the blog, which is by nature personal.”

“Disputes among journalists are frequent in the history of international journalism as well as among us, and have frequently appeared in both the press and on radio. If we add to this the numerous, more or less informative books analyzing the panoply of vested interests that accompany the birth and development of news media, we can see that the exchange of criticism among journalists themselves is nothing new. Likewise, we shouldn’t underestimate the value of comments being disseminated that are habitual in the news room and that frequently help the public to better understand the media groups that provide us with information. Learning to read the news according to the media providing it, exposing their interests and rivalries, is something offered by journalists dedicated to what is known as media criticism.”

And finally, the Resolution affirmed: “Given the arguments of the Arbiter, the Complaints and Ethics Commission declares that (the accused journalist) has not violated the FAPE Ethics Code since his revelations (in an article) belong to the sphere of free speech.”

The difference in the treatment received in the journalistic sphere by one arbiter and in the academic sphere by the arbiter of this case is incomprehensible.

d) The arbiter incurred in inaccuracies of fact, while I exercised my right to criticize, in accordance with the Ethics Code.

In fact, the arbiter of this Resolution, in the main, was responsible for an escalation of inaccuracies with regard to the truth inadmissible in either Science or Journalism.

In VII, the Resolution specifies the Evidence Presented. Well, the inaccuracies of fact by the arbiter, principally (or her “falsifications” if we go by the definition of Falsify offered by Maria Moliner in her Dictionary as “To disfigure something’s true nature or way of being”) violate Principle I,2 of the Ethics Code: The journalist’s first ethical obligation is respect for the truth. And I,3: In accordance with this obligation, the journalist will always defend the principle of free inquiry and honest dissemination of information as well as the freedom to comment and criticize.


1. On page 6 we read: Valbuena continues to pick apart Dader’s speech by way of Aristotle’s ‘cadenced criticism.’ No, Cadenced Criticism (crítica acompasada) was developed by Manuel García Viñó (and not Vinyó, as the arbiter wrote and which was what allowed me to first identify and later confirm her identity).

2. On page 8, we read: “five photocopies of El Adelanto and La Gaceta of Salamanca between the years 1996 and 2005, with mutual accusations between Dader and Valbuena.”

Not so. The 1996 accusations were between Professor Dader, the Rector of the University of Salamanca Enrique Berdugo and the Deacon Pablo del Río. Professor Valbuena did not intervene in this dispute in any way.

As for 2005, the publications cited by the arbiter in fact did not appear. But a very important document did appear, in which Professor Dader offers unacceptable justifications for why he didn’t present allegation to ANECA. And the dispute which the arbiter refers to was in an e-mail from the Complutense University between Professor Dader and another professor, candidate for department head. By the way, that professor won the election by a clear margin.

3. On page 11 we read: To cite just a few: “ignorant theorist”; “real idiot.”

Nowhere in the articles of Professor Valbuena do these phrases appear. They are simplistic generalizations and inaccuracies of fact made by the arbiter. The minimum we should expect of an arbiter is an accurate report.

“A lecturer whose humble origins are evident.” The arbiter takes Professor Valbuena’s meaning completely out of context; what he wrote was:

“The humble origins of this ‘lecturer’ are immediately apparent. Yes, because he sees himself riding his pony on his imaginary ranch, in a timeless realm –he speaks of more than two centuries- and seeing others as though they were Lilliputians.”

That is, the arbiter cut off, edited an allegory. Where would we be in the world of journalism if we acted like the arbiter, without using metaphors or allegories?

4. On page 11 we read: “photocopies of academic confrontations, letters and articles between accuser and accused, published in El Adelanto and La Gaceta of Salamanca between the years 1996 and 2005.”

I’ve already referred in number 1 above to the arbiter’s inaccuracies with regard to the facts (falsification, according to María Moliner).

e) The arbiter of this resolution, mainly, is guilty of numerous instances of the tactic of omission.

According to María Moliner, to omit is “to fail to say or indicate something.”

1. Aristotle made it clear in his Rhetoric that in every speech there’s an Ethos, a Logos and a Pathos. We can use a simile: every physical body has length, width and height. So, after having based her arguments on falsifications, the arbiter claimed that the only way to understand or draw conclusions with respect to the complaint against Professor Valbuena was by ignoring the photocopies of academic disputes, letters and articles between accuser and accused published in El Adelanto and La Gaceta of Salamanca between the years 1996 and 2005, thus completely mutilating the meaning of Aristotle’s Rhetoric, and without presenting a consistent intellectual framework on which to base the Resolution and which the Commission endorsed.

This shows that she lacks a solid Theory of Communication, since she confines herself solely to the manifest content, totally ignoring the hidden one.

She omitted all mention of Professor Dader’s poor practices at the University of Salamanca and Madrid’s Complutense University, which included omitting information in order to attack or manipulate institutions or harm third parties.

She failed to take into account that Professor Dader wrote to Manuel Romero, director of the digital publication La Voz Libre, who published articles by Professor Valbuena, explicitly demanding the removal of Professor Valbuena’s articles, confusing rectification with removal.

She omitted the fact that Professor Valbuena challenged the presence of José Luis Martínez Albertos during the entire process within the Commission’s activities. Mr. Martínez was director of the Department of Journalism I from 1986 to 2001. The case which the Complaints and Ethics Commission was hearing concerned José Luis Dader, professor of Journalism I. Although José Luis Martínez Albertos has not been director of the department for 12 years, he currently presides over the Editorial Board of the Journalism I publication Estudios sobre el mensaje periodístico. Since 1991 he has been lifetime Deacon of the Advisory Council of the Founders of the Spanish Society of Journalism (S.E.P). In the allegations, Professor Valbuena challenges the behavior of Professor Concepción Edo Bolós, current president of the Spanish Society of Journalism. Moreover, José Luis Dader’s article was published by said society.

This is a serious fact as well because if Mr. Martínez participated in the Permanent Commission and in the decision to bring proceedings against me, then it’s clear that he should have abstained. Not to mention abstained from the process as a whole. Who does Mr. Martínez Albertos think he is?

The arbiter omitted the fact that Professor Dader, in a letter addressed to the Department’s professors, expressed himself thus: “The majority of them (attacks) have the consistency of a sugar cube in an ocean, except for those splashing about blinded by hate.” Now since when do Professor Dader’s insults lack importance? Apart from the absurd contrast of sugar cube/ocean.

She also omitted something as crucial as intellectual criticism. In my allegations, I reproduced extensive fragments from writings by Dader, and highlighted, among others, these fundamental points, which I continue to maintain:

  1. In the title of his lecture, Professor Dader reveals his ignorance since he neglects to explain what either credible or verifiable journalism is. Once again Professor Dader ignores that one must define one’s terms. He never again uses these terms in the entire lecture. So the title is completely pointless. Whoever initiates a search by computer will discover that Dader’s lecture has nothing to do with its title.
  2.  It’s completely ridiculous how he leaps through the centuries with a boldness that is just as empty of meaning. He even speaks of “vacillations that have lasted centuries.”
  3.  When he tries to define political reporting, Dader strays from the rules of definition with confusing and obscure results, just as had occurred with Political Communication. He offers no distinguishing factors of political reporting; or even reporting in general. He said that, according to Calcutt, one of the most vital concerns of journalism is its ability to question everything. This is a mere vulgarity, since, as Professor Valbuena shows in one of his columns, don’t philosophy and literature, to mention just two examples, also question everything? And psychology, and sociology, and…?

I could continue to enumerate the arbiter’s omissions, but then I’d have to reproduce all my allegations.

Compare this Resolution, badly written, structured and argued, which the arbiter presented to the Plenary Commission, with the high quality of the above cited Resolution 2011/56. There shouldn’t be such a huge difference in quality among the resolutions.


  1. The arbiter repeatedly incurred in inaccuracies of fact. Can you imagine what would happen if the Judge of a real trial constantly incurred in inaccuracies and they were proven to be so?
  2. If this is serious for any professional, it’s that much more so for the arbiter of an Ethics Commission. The arbiter cannot presume to give lessons on Ethics when she violates the rules of the Ethics Code itself.
  3. The arbiter shows signs of ignorance regarding Rhetoric, Communications Theory, FAPE’s Ethics Code and the Commission’s previous resolutions.
  4. Journalistically and ethically the arbiter writes badly. This resolution could become an example in courses on Ethics and Principles of Information and Journalistic Writing of how not to do things.

On May 3rd, 2013, I asked the Commission to accept this Response and emit a just Resolution. In any case, I requested an answer from the Commission and ultimately that they accept it as an official Appeal.

So I’ll finish for now, but will continue to analyze this case in my next column. Here is what I’ll discuss:

  1. The enormous help I’ve received from professors and students in researching foreign sources.
  2. The initiative of the digital university publication, who launched a petition on (referred to above) and which to date has received 2,500 adherents. Until the Commission changes, it will appear to be European, but only in name. Currently, it is definitely not.
  3. The figure of María Dolores Masana, who describes herself as “a journalist and writer.” We’ll examine what she has written.

See you in a few days.

Of interest