Bringing 360-degree video and virtual reality (VR) to journalism


Imagine your readers having this reaction to a story.


This video was a roller coaster ride simulated by a computer. But what if the same thing could happen in journalism?

With cameras and rigs that allow us to film in all directions, and a create 360-degree view.

With platforms like Youtube and Facebook that allow 360-degree video to be uploaded and shared on the Internet.

With mobile apps that bring virtual reality content directly to your phone to be watched on more and more accessible and cheaper headsets.

Virtual Reality technology is the next great wave in media. We are beginning to be at the same point as when cellphones started becoming popular.

For my project I partnered with Fusion. Fusion is a joint venture between Disney and Univision.

One of the goals of Fusion is to experiment with new technologies to prepare their parent companies for the future.

My project was to research how to use 360-degree cameras for Investigative Unit at Fusion. This is the first 360 video we made.

As you see, today we have two types of content in virtual reality, one created by a computer — the other by a camera.

The first one has more history. Because it’s made entirely by a computer it allows for much more interaction.

The second — 360-degree video — is really new, only pioneers have been trying it lately. Because it is created by a camera, we can explore, but we still cannot really interact.

What’s happening now is that these two fields are CONVERGING.

That is why filmmakers are beginning to talk about the possibilities of volumetric filmmaking. The capacity to film and 3D model a real scene, capturing pixels with depth. So we can film people like this woman with depth and place her in a virtual environment.

For my project, I was one of the first three beta testers of the new VR version of Klynt, an interactive editing software.

Klynt VR, is one of the first software programs that will allow us to create interactions inside 360-degree videos. Like this short sample:

And more importantly, it allows editors start placing spatial sound in video.

In this demo you can see how inside this video I’m able to position the sound of the TV or the window so the user will be able to feel the changes as she explores the video.

By now, we can all agree that VR is a new medium. The workflow to produce it is different, the way users interact with the content is new.

And little by little we begin to acknowledge how big of a shift this is. When Molly Swenson from Ryot said the following, during the StoryNext Summit.

Or the creators of The Displaced realized:

Also myself I have encountered many shifts and challenges when trying to do journalism with this technology. For example:

In journalism we used to think: the crew cannot appear in the shot. In 360 video that is impossible. So how do we solve that?

Maybe we are going from asking questions to agreeing to scenes.

And what about using light in 360? See this test:

So maybe we are going from:

The audiovisual language for 360-degree video is completely new.

One thing we know for sure. We will soon be able to put the viewer inside the story.

Meanwhile 360-degree videos and virtual environments are converging.

I would like to encourage you to begin testing low cost cameras and edit short experiments. The tech is changing quickly. No one has mastered it yet just jump in and start using these tools!

The workflows are becoming more and more complex. We have to understand other backgrounds and fields that we can now apply to journalism.

Share your findings! We are in the infancy of this new medium and we have to learn all together the possibilities and complexities of it.

I leave you with quote of the godmother of VR in Journalism. See how bizarre but inspiring this quote becomes in the context of journalism.

This project wouldn’t have been possible with the help and collaboration of many people at Fusion, specially Ketih Summa and Adrian Saravia. Also I wanna thank my classmates at NYU and Jay Rosen, the people at Klynt VR and many conversations I had in these past months.

Also I want to thank my friends and family. Thank you very much.

***Slides and notes of my final presentation at Studio 20 NYU

Depth your pixels!

Depthkit is a new technology to film 3D video. The tool allows you to record pixels with depth, relating two sources: the depth data from a Kinect XBOX and the image from a DSLR camera.

And it’s all open source!

Maybe you are familiar with this documentary project that appeared two years ago in a Kickstarter campaign:

The DepthKit, which many call “the future of filmmaking” is being developed by James George , Alexander Porter, Jonathan Minard and Mike Heavers.

DepthKit has been used in many projects, for example Katerina Cizek, used it for “The Universe Within”, the last part of her multi-year interactive piece Highrise.

Depth Kit is a really complicated process (don’t mistake it with the format that Radiohead used for her videoclip House of Cards in 2008).

Luckily for me this semester I met Sisa Bueno a graduate student at ITP-NYU that had taken an elective class with two of the developers of the Depth Kit and she was looking for a partner in crime to shoot with this format. Sisa and I stayed two nights at the Tisch Film School at NYU, filming for a story she is preparing.

Me, trying to understand that I’m shooting for a depth sensor.

To create a 3D image of a video you are filming first you need to communicate to the DepthKit software the physical distance between both cameras. You mount the Kinect and the DSLR together and you move around the room 180 degree — , so the software can calibrate the distance between the cameras and a black and white check board.

This process took us around 6 hours. Normally it’s not as long as that but the whole process was long (first to understand how the studio worked, the lights, get the passwords for the computer, understand what we were doing…).

And after all that, we were ready to start.

In this picture you can see Sisa Bueno, the DSLR, the kinect and even myself.
Sisa ready to be filmed with the Depth Kit

Sisa managed to direct the whole operation very well, reading her notes from the class and the explanations in the DepthKit website. She is also a documentary filmmaker and it was a pleasure for me to enter into the world of computational video by her hand.

A few days after recording, Sisa showed me the results of our work.

And here a screenshot of our first 3D image!!

Using this technology made me realize how the future of filmmaking will be be made by cameras that can position pixels in the space and by software that allow computational images to be edited together, in a time sequence.

Right now, computer generated content and 360-degree video is processed in different softwares (Unity or Cinema 4D for the first one, Autopano and Adobe Premiere for the second one). But this technologies will probably merge soon and the possibilities of virtual reality and 360-documentary will explode!!!

Last but not least, thanks to Nicholas Hubbard, also a grad student ITP I met at the Storyscapes Tribeca, that connected me with Sisa Bueno!!

New York Times se lanza a la realidad virtual

El periódico estrena su primer documental en 360 grados y demuestra que existen posibilidades narrativas en el video esférico

En mayo del 2014 se filtró al mundo la estrategia interna que el New York Times (NYT) preparaba para adaptarse a la era digital. El llamado Innovation Report era un documento interno que reveló el miedo que el periódico empezaba a tener a sus competidores digitales.

En pocas palabras, el Innovation Report demostraba cómo una institución como el New York Times apostaba por una fuerte estrategia digital. Renovarse, antes que morir.

Desde el Innovation Report hasta hoy, muchas cosas han cambiado en la redacción del diario y este fin de semana más de un millón de subscriptores han recibido en sus casas, junto con el periódico del domingo, unas Google Cardboard: las gafas de cartón que permiten tener una experiemencia de realidad virtual (VR).

Unos días antes de enviar las Cardboard a sus subscriptores, el New York Times organizó una fiesta en Manhattan para celebrar que se unía a la revolución del video en 360 grados y presentaba The Displaced, su primera pieza documental en realidad virtual (de hecho, esta es la segunda que han realizado, la primera fue un reportaje corto que salió en abril).

“119 años atrás la revista del New York Times publicaba la primera fotografía” dijo el editor The New York Times Magazine, Jake Silverstein, en la presentación del NY TIMES VR: “Hoy presentamos nuestra contribución al periodismo en realidad virtual”.

El público en el evento de estrena de la APP NYT VR y el documental The Displaced. Foto encontrada en Twitter

Mientras nosotras, las cobayas y público del evento, nos desplazábamos virtualmente al sur de Sudán, Ucrania y Líbano con The Displaced, Jake Silverstein y Chris Milk (director de la productora VRSE con la que el NYT ha co-creado la pieza) aprovechaban para hacerse fotos para la posteridad de tan simbólico momento.

Jake Silverstein y Chris Milk haciendose una foto con el público de fondo.

Aunque la realidad virtual aún no será consumida ni producida masivamente, poco a poco se irá implementando en nuestras vidas. La tecnología para crear y experimentar VR es cada vez más accesible y son muchos los medios de comunicación que han empezado a probar este nuevo medio. De hecho, si tienes un Iphone 6 o un Android mayor de 4.3 puedes descargar la aplicación del NYT VR y otras, como LittleStar o VRSE, y ver muchos de estos trabajos pioneros. También puedes comprar unas Google Cardboard en Internet por unos 5 y 20 dólares.

Parece que podemos confirmar que, como auguraba hace meses Eva Domínguez: “el 2015 será el año en que el video esférico se hizo popular.” Sí, el mismo año en que los ejecutivos de Sillicon Valley se pasean con sus inventos y softwares 3D por las redacciones de los periódicos de la costa este y la primera vez que la agencia de noticias Associated Press revisa sus estándares periodistícos y éticos para adaptarlos a la grabación en 360.

Afortunadamente para todxs, no hace falta ser el NYT para hacer realidad virtual. Pero si eres el New York Times y consideras que la tecnología es intrínseca a tu trabajo, si combinas tus elevados presupuestos, tu saber hacer y la pionera experiencia de artistas de VR como Chirs Milk, puedes lograr hacer una magnífica pieza como The Displaced.

No voy usar este post para desvelar mucho del documental que han lanzado en VR, solo diré que en estos últimos meses he visto muchos videos en 360 grados y asistido a muchos debates sobre cómo será el nuevo lenguaje audiovisual o si se podrá usar en periodismo.

Hoy el New York Times ha dado un empujón al documental de realidad virtual, primero enviando gafas de VR a tanta gente y promoviendo el uso de esta tecnología, pero muchísimo más importante, demostrando que en realidad virtual existen posibilidades narrativas.

El video en 360 grados no sólo ofrece la posibilidad de sentirse en el lugar donde situaron la cámara, sinó también de percibir como habitamos el mundo. Nos hemos acostumbrado a representar la realidad a través de la fotografía y el video tradicional, a través de encuadres rectangulares y frontales. Pero nuestra sistema perceptivo es mucho más amplio. La direccionalidad de los sonidos, los ruidos de fondo, las zonas donde enfocamos o no la mirada, mover la cabeza para buscar lo que queremos mirar, quedarnos quietas a escuchar…

Hemos estado muchos años creyendo en la ilusión de la imagen cinematógrafica, pero las posibilidades representativas pueden ir mucho más allá. Véanlo por ustedes mismxs.

What is 360-degree video, and how can we apply this to journalism?

This post is a summary of frequently asked questions that I get everyday from friends, family, colleagues and classmates. Right now I’m working on my final thesis about the possibilities of 360-degree video in journalism and I’m partnering with Fusion Network for my hands-on research.

Panoramic frame of a 360-degree video inside a juvenile kids in Louisiana by Fusion Network

360 degree video:

360 video is a new form of shooting and experiencing video that allows the user to look in all the directions of a video-recorded scene. In 360 video or spherical filmmaking, the user, or the audience, no longer looks straight to a flat framed image, but explores the video by moving the fingers (by swiping the image around) or by moving a device like a smartphone or a tablet. 360 video can also be enjoyed in a VR headset although it doesn’t mean all 360 video is virtual reality.

VR Festival Kaleidoscope, NYC October 2015

360 video is not exactly the same as Virtual Reality (VR)

360 video is the simplest form of immersive video, but although one can experience 360 video with goggles or a headset (like Google Cardboard, Oculus Rift or Samsung Gear), it doesn’t mean it’s Virtual Reality or cinematic VR.

Cinematic VR requires 3D vision and ambisonic sound (which means you see different images for each eye like in “real” life and you also hear the direction of the sound as you move your ears). In many cases not only you feel immersed in the VR but you u can actually interact with your body and move around.

Freedom 360 mount. This rig shoots in all directions but still in 2D

Right now, the majority of 360-degree videos are shot in 2 dimensions (so like a “traditional video”) and the sound is often stereo — not ambisonic — and often not even binaural (different sound depending on each ear).

Keep in mind, the majority of 360-degree videos you will see online are just an expanded spherical 2D video. And the majority of VR content out there (today in 2015) is mainly computer generated (CG.).

Immersive is a term we borrowed from videogames

The word “immersive” is borrowed from the videogame industry. The concept of “immersive” was applied to designate videogames that blurred the line between physical and simulated world. So for example, games where the user interacts with a musical instrument, or a toy-gun, or goggles, or a headset. Basically it means that you are immersed in this virtual world created (often) by a computer.

Pioneering project of Nonny de la Peña Hunger in L.A — Photo by

In this instance, Nonny de la Peña was the first journalist to start using videogame technologies and computer generated environments for factual reporting. To describe her work she used the term “immersive journalism”. The pioneering work of Nonny de la Peña Hunger in L.A in 2012 or the most recent “Project Syria” have acquired a great following.

How to experience a 360-degree video

First of all, consider that this technology is really new and sometimes there are still some technicalities that make it difficult to enjoy. For example, if your wifi is not fast enough you will see the images in less quality and it can make the whole experience quite bad.

Youtube has its 360 Channel — you need to use it with Firefox or Google Chrome or install the Youtube APP on your phone.

Google Cardboard — you can put a smartphone on the front side and u are all set!

You should also download apps like VRSE , LittleStar , VRVideo, but you will need a smartphone higher than I-phone 4 or 5 or at least higher than an Android 4.

If you are really into it you should get a Google Cardboard (it can be really cheap, 5$/12$) and you will be able to enjoy some of this content on the Cardboad, you can also check this post with some reviews of more expensive headsets.

Some 360 video cameras have also their websites with videos 360 videos like Bubl Experiencies, 360 Fly, Theta.

Is this the next media revolution?

Nobody can see the future, but what we know is that the biggest tech companies are investing billions of dollars, and that the technology is becoming more and more accessible. Youtube has a 360 video platform, Facebook allows 360 video in its Newsfeed, the New York Times just announced it is going to distribute more than a million Google cardboards to its subscribers… These are big moves and signs of a change.

Other recommendations?

I think the best is to go to the nearest festival you find and enjoy the headsets and some of the VR works you will find there. If you download the APPS mentioned before, there are many interesting projects. Personally I think it is worth to check out the work of Nonny de la Peña and Chris Milk.  Also the work of Be Another Lab (The Machine to be another) or the story of the Nepal earthquake by RYOT.

Why I am interested in 360 video as a journalist?
Learning web and filmmaking changed my mindset as journalist. Learning new tools and working with professionals from different backgrounds helped me conceive stories differently. Because 360-degree video and immersive journalism seems to be the next incoming media revolution, for me, it’s key to understand how this technology will reshape my craft and how it will change society.


Why a master’s in communications and gender matters

In a few hours my colleagues in Barcelona (Spain) are presenting a pioneering graduate program in Gender and Communication. Isabel Muntané and Joana Gallego have built a groundbreaking master’s degree that not only challenges the pillars of traditional journalism, but also the patriarchal-university structure in itself.

At this point, we know that the white-heterosexual journalism is coming to an end, that journalists are no longer in control of news and that the media industry is under global “reinvention”.

And there we are WE, invigorating the journalism we need.

  • because media are key players in building a diverse and feminist society
  • because media should already be informing from the CHANGE our society has been experimenting.
  • because (we) women should no longer be treated in a discriminatory, victimized, infantilized or sexualized way.
  • because media should be at the forefront of applying a feminist perspective into its craft
  • because in the digital age universities should shift too
  • and because the time to build our present-future journalism is here.

Personally, I’m really proud and honored to be part of this pioneering program in my hometown. We cannot know how can we make the most cutting edge journalism, but we can create environments where feminist frameworks and innovation can thrive.

One of the greatest characteristics of this program is that students will have more than 30 professors participating in different skill-blocks. Activists, academics, journalists, data scientists, filmmakers, writers and feminists (from many feminist perspectives) will work together in a diverse, multi-background and healthy non patriarchal ecosystem.

This is the first time the J-School of the Autonomous University of Barcelona offers this kind of program and it’s really, really exciting!

Congratulations for all the work already done and have a good presentation today!

Photo by Rich Anderson cc flickr.
Photo by Rich Anderson cc flickr.

We’ll be part of the Lumen Festival!!

“The Common Pulse” will be showcased at Lumen, the Contemporary Video and Performance Art Festival in Staten Island (NY) this weekend!!! The project is a remix of remixes with images of Home is NOT in the AIR, NYC Home Shuffle and the pulse-sensor installation Collective Pulse.

We are so thrilled with the success of Home is NOT in the AIR and The Common Pulse that we plan to keep collaborating with  Spanish-New York based artist Begonia Santa-Cecilia.

Keep tuned!


Home is NOT in the air from MareaGranate NYC on Vimeo.

Home is NOT in the air from MareaGranate NYC on Vimeo.

¿Por qué un máster de genero y comunicación?

Uno de los motivos porqué me he implicado en el Máster de Género y comunicación es para intentar hacer un periodismo des del “AFUERA” – del que habla la escritora y arquitecta chilena Margarita Pisano:

“Al plantear este AFUERA, me refiero a la posibili-
dad de desprendernos para desmontar el orden sim-
bólico existente y no a estar fuera del mundo. Por-
que el mundo nos interesa y nos interesan los que lo
habitan, consideramos urgente el derrumbe de este
sistema de relaciones violentas y la construcción, a
su vez, de otra cultura macro, a la que no debemos
bautizar, pues se inventará a través de un intercam-
bio humano entre nosotras y luego –no antes– con
otros seres humanos que no serán los tramposos
patriarcas modernos.”

Margarita Pisano “Julia, Quiero que seas Feliz”:

*** Espero se llenen las clases de este Màstery venir a dar clase a Barcelona!! Será una super experiencia para alumnxs y profesorxs!!

master genre

NYC Tenants Project

This is the project I’ve been coordinating during my first semester at NYU.

The students of Studio 20 met with tenants, community organizers, lawyers and academics to try to understand the state of New York housing and its potential future. With the use of video, audio, photography and interactive storytelling, the piece spotlights the loss of approximately 300,000 rent regulated apartments in New York City and prompts us to ask: what kind of city do we want?

FYI: I created the interactivity with a software called Klynt – mainly during my winter break.

Visit the Interactive

Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 3.09.06 PM

Sensor Journalism: first day at The Quantified Self About Town

Arduino came into my life in a small black box via shipped mail. My roommates exclaimed in admiration as I felt the fear growing into my belly. It was the same sensation I had back in 2003 when they put a Betacam camera in my shoulder, or they sat me in a dark editing room – for the first time.

I wanted to be writer. A journalist. And I had thought that camera, and those buttons had nothing to do with me.

20150201_190130Check the  collective blog I created for all my class so we can easily follow each other

There I was 12 years later, coming out of the elevator at Tisch NYU with my arduino-box in my purse, trying to walk smoothly in between the lab atmosphere of the 4th Floor. As if I, from journalism school, knew the building.

This new elective I’m taking is called The Quantified Self About Town. All of my classmates at Studio 20 NYU are taking Data Journalism, but I decided to do something different and I registered in Arlene Ducao‘s course. She is from the MIT Media Lab and a research fellow at at the MIT International Development Initiative. We are about 20 students: half from Tisch, half from CUSP (Center for Urban Science and Progress) and… me. I think I’m the only one from Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute NYU.

First Class
Tuesday February 03 was an introductory class and I noticed how some of my classmates took out their “black boxes” from their bags with my same lack of confidence.

The class last 3 hours. The first part of the class will be a lecture–discussion. The second half will be a hands-on-lab.

Today in this post I will talk about the lab part.

My First Day with Arduino

Sitting next to me I had Tanya Campbell, a student at Tisch who had a tool-box 3 times bigger than mine. She said she liked doing workshops with kids and my neighbor Kania Azrina (from CUSP) and I knew immediately that our first lab session was saved.

We started imitating Tanya and following her instructions.

She introduced us to The Elements Of Our Box:


Arduino_Uno_-_R3  Breadboard (such a funny name!!)

400_points_breadboardBreadboard Wires in 8 colors

wiresA light sensor (or photo-resistor). That’s the sensor  we used in our first practice!

M034796P01WL_grandeResistors (apparently, if we don’t use one of these, we could “burn” something).

Achieve that the red LED goes on when the light sensor “feels” there is less light in the room.

How do we do that?

We plug the wires in the breadboard. We connect the breadboard to the Arduino. We give instructions to Arduino via USB cable from our  Arduino software in our laptop, then the Arduino gives the instructions to the breadboard again.

It’s kind of easy.

Kind of easy, in the sense that if you follow all the instructions as if you are cooking a recipe, it should work.

My friend Nori Yoshida, a visiting journalist-student at Studio 20, explained to me later in a bar the basis of how I should think now: input and output.


“Coding Arduino is simpler than HTML or CSS,” he said. “We have to think in terms of Input and Output”.

And actually that’s what we do when we send code to the Arduino. We say when Input “says” A, output does X.
So when (input), the light sensor, receives light, the LED (output) turns off.

So I tried the thing at home.
(Yes, with the admiration of my roommates).
I copied all Tanya had told me.
the opposite of what I was meant to do.

I was happy because at least I had achieved communication between the LED and the sensor. But take a look at the video:


The LED is ON all the time and it turns OFF when there is no light. WRONG!

I took a look at the code. And without really understanding what was happening, I googled another code.

I copied and pasted. ….and voilá! IT WORKED!!


Here you have the 2 codes I used. Find the difference.
Nori says maybe it is because in the first code the LED is a “const” (constant).

Proud anyway of my first successful-alone-encounter with Arduino. I kept silent on the sofa thinking of Matt’s Wait quote: “Data journalism, meet sensor journalism. You two should talk.”

Well, there we where.

And the Arduino smiled at the camera.



const int ledPin = 7; // pin that the LED is attached to
int photocell=A0;
int analogValue = 0; // value read from the pot
int brightness = 0; // PWM pin that the LED is on.

void setup() {
// initialize serial communications at 9600 bps:
// declare the led pin as an output:
pinMode(ledPin, OUTPUT);

void loop() {
analogValue = analogRead(A0); // read the pot value
brightness = analogValue /4; //divide by 4 to fit in a byte
analogWrite(ledPin, brightness); // PWM the LED with the brightness value
Serial.println(brightness); // print the brightness value back to the serial monitor

CODE THAT WORKED (so light if OFF until there is less light)

int photocellPin = A0; // the cell and 10K pulldown are connected to a0

int photocellReading; // the analog reading from the sensor divider

int LEDpin = 7; // connect Red LED to pin 11 (PWM pin)

int LEDbrightness; //

void setup(void) {

// We’ll send debugging information via the Serial monitor



void loop(void) {

photocellReading = analogRead(photocellPin);

Serial.print(“Analog reading = “);

Serial.println(photocellReading); // the raw analog reading

// LED gets brighter the darker it is at the sensor

// that means we have to -invert- the reading from 0-1023 back to 1023-0

photocellReading = 1023 – photocellReading;

//now we have to map 0-1023 to 0-255 since thats the range analogWrite uses

LEDbrightness = map(photocellReading, 0, 1023, 0, 255);

analogWrite(LEDpin, LEDbrightness);



Spain: A Birds Eye View of Surveillance & Censorship Challenges Ahead

Spain: A Birds Eye View of Surveillance & Censorship Challenges Ahead

Authors: Clàudia Prat & Sandra Ordonez

One week after we celebrated the academy Award nomination for Laura Poitras and Citizenfour, the documentary about Edward Snowden, a major storm began in Catalonia. The documentary “Dead City” was broadcasted on Catalan television, sparking an emotional, nationwide debate about police brutality and overreach, torture and government corruption. This comes at the heels of the Ley Mordaza, a law which attempts to stomp out social movements and their coverage by making things such as demonstrations illegal.

This same week we, the authors of this post, were preparing a talk for Techno-Activism 3rd Monday in New York, focusing on the current state of censorship and surveillance in Spain. We were alarmed at the increasing surveillance and targeting of social activists in the past decade we were documenting. This lead to extensive talks about the Spanish Civil War and the Franco era, and the impact its fascist past may still be having on the Iberian country.

The following is a collection of recent events that help contextualize the censorship and surveillance issues Spain is currently experiencing.


Current Challenges in Spain @ a Glance

  • Spain has the highest unemployment rate in the EU at 26%, and a 50% unemployment in Spanish youth. Valencia is the region most hit by the economic downturn, and holds the country’s record for home repossession.
  • Spain’s new public security law, Ley Mordaza (Gag law), has been described as an attempt to stomp out social movements and their coverage. For example, non-sanctioned demonstrations are considered illegal as is their coverage. In addition, it is now legal for police to have blacklists for alternative press, activists and protesters, and perform external bodily searches at their discretion.
  • The Catalan region has their own PRISM-like surveillance program called CESICAT. In addition, in 2014, various “anarchists” were arrested for, among other things, using encrypted email RiseUp. This is troubling since generally strategies are first tested in the Catalan area and then implemented in the rest of Spain.
  • The country has suffered an array of dramatic political scandals of corruption and deception in recent years. This includes discovering that during the Franco era thousands of children from the underclass were stolen by hospital care-takers, many who were Catholic clergy, to be given to adoptive parents seen as more “proper.”
  • Hundreds of family have been evicted from their homes, causing social unrest and sparking strong social movements. For example, the Occupy Movement in Spain, known as the Indignados Movement, witnessed half of the nation’s population occupying public squares.

Ley Mordaza

Spain’s proposed new public security law, known as the Ley Mordaza (Gag Law), passed the lower house of the Spanish parliament in December 2014, and is set to be approved by the Senate in February 2015. Many describe the law as an attempt to stomp out social movements and their coverage. Concerned parties also report that it will give overwhelming power to law enforcement.

In addition, according to Amnesty International spokesperson Maria Serrano, the law deprives migrants of the right to asylum and their guarantee to a right to counsel and effective remedy. El Pais reports that 82% of citizens wanted to change or kill the bill.

Most troubling for many, is the the power it gives to law authorities who: can prohibit any protest if it is deemed that public order will be disputed; have blacklists for alternative press, activists, and protesters; perform external bodily searches at their discretion; perform random identity checks, which may believe will impact immigrants and minorities the most;

In addition, the following actions will be heavily fined up to 30,000 Euros.

  • Recording, photographing or publishing pictures or videos of the police;
  • Demonstrations not formalized by the state;
  • Protesting outside of government buildings;
  • Refusal to identify yourself to a law enforcement officers;
  • Carrying out meetings or assemblies in public spaces;
  • Impeding or stopping an eviction;
  • Disobedience or resistance to authority or its servants in the performance of their duties;
  • Altering public order in a hoodie or any other element that obfuscates your identity;
  • Offending or insulting Spain, the autonomous communities, the local authorities or their institutions, symbols, anthems and emblems; Demonstrating in places deemed as critical infrastructure such as airports or nuclear plants;
  • Celebratory public events that break the prohibition or suspension ordered by authorities.

Dead City: A Documentary that Has Caused Public Outcry throughout Spain for the Torture, Police Corruption and Civil Rights Violations Experienced by Four “Squatters”

The award-winning film, Dead City, is proof that filmmaking is one of our best allies to fight surveillance, censorship and police brutality. It documents the horrible chain of events that began on February 4, 2006, which has caused intense public outcry. For months, various entities tried to keep the film off the air. However, because of its popularity, it was finally broadcasted on January 18, 2015 on Catalan public TV.

[vimeo 86709558 w=500 h=281]

Dead City (Trailer) from 3boxmedia on Vimeo.

In a twist of fate, on the same day of broadcast a judge censured 5 minutes of the film. In response, social networks began to buzz and the 5 minutes went viral. At 10:25pm audiences of all ages sat in front of their TV as though it was an important soccer match, and thus achieving a record number of spectators.

What Happened on February 4, 2006?

On February 4, 2006, over 800 people gathered in a “squatted” building in Barcelona’s city center. The police started a baton charge outside the building with the hopes of eventually evicting the squatters. In response, individuals from the top levels of the building began throwing objects. This included a flower pot that hit a police officer and put him in a coma eventually leaving him in a vegetative state. While various witnesses saw the flowerpot being thrown from the top of the building, the police arrested nine people that were on the street level. For 4 of those 9 people, what followed was a case filled with irregularities, corruption, and torture, and eventually lead to a guilty charge of murder despite strong challenging evidence.

It didn’t go without notice that the four prosecuted were from marginalized communities: three had a Latin American background, and the one female, Patricia Heras, was part of the LGBTQ community. In a tragic turn of events, the constant torture they experienced, caused Patricia to commit suicide while in prison. Additionally, in an unrelated racially charged case, several of the arresting officers were later found guilty of torturing a man from Trinidad & Tobago.

View the film here 

The case became known as the 4F case and was barely covered by the Catalan or the Spanish press. Only journalist Jesús Rodriguez from the alternative newspaper La Directa, kept an active investigation, and eventually joined the documentary’s filmmakers at Metromuster. The torture experienced by the detained, however, did get the attention of Amnesty International.

Metromuster logo
Metromuster´s logo

Squatters and Activists in Spain: From Dirty Menace to Saviors of the Homeless

The film has also served to shed a light on the police’s profiling of “squatters,” which is tainted with racism, xenophobia, and homophobia.

The squatter movement began nearly 30 years ago in Barcelona, and its ideas and organizing have fueled popular networks like  the Platform for People Affected by Mortgages – a movement that has been well received by hundreds of families that have been evicted since 2008 because of bad mortgages and a worse economy.

For Spanish law enforcement and a percentage of the general public, the term “squatters” is used for anyone that looks a certain way, regardless of their lifestyle. As such social activists, protesters and others were placed under the same label. This is significant since “squatters” were seen as unacceptable, dirty, and an element that needed to be put under control. The 4F kids were arrested because they dressed a certain way. Ironically, Patricia Heras was a goth and was outraged that she was mistaken for a squatter, jokingly stating that she was more glamourous. When the 4F arrested it was not uncommon to hear people state, “ thats what you get for dressing that way.”

This view, however, has begun to change as more people benefit from social activism initiatives – and that number is quite large. Of all the countries in the EU, Spain has the highest unemployment rate at 26%, and a 50% unemployment in Spanish youth. In addition, the country has suffered an array of dramatic political corruption scandals. This includes making public that during the Franco era, which technically ended in 1975, thousands of children were stolen by hospital care-takers, many of which were Catholic clergy, and given to more “respectable” and “proper” adoptive parents.


The Occupy Movement of Spain: Branding Protesters as Violent Terrorists.

The Occupy Movement in Spain, known as the Indignados Movement, witnessed half of the nation’s population occupying public squares. Yet and still, the mainstream media began branding protesters as “the violent ones” even though it was later revealed that many of the violent incidents were purposely sparked by undercover police, and the media never bothered to verify those rumors. 

The Catalan Police seized this moment to conduct a witch hunt of protesters. In a gesture of “surveillance innovation,” they built a website in 2012 asking citizens to collaborate in finding protesters whose pictures were upload to the site.


The Catalan PRISM

Most alarming, in 2013 it was revealed that in 2009 the Catalan government had created their own PRSIM-like surveillance program called CESICAT. Thanks to documents leaked by Anonymous, we discovered that the program was being used to track journalists, activists, and lawyers. While CESICAT has not been really covered by the Spanish press, in 2014 the Center of Data Protection of the same Catalan government fined CESICAT for gathering unpermitted data of photojournalist Jordi Borràs, who denounced the case.

Security is Not a Crime Unless you are an “Anarchist”

In December 2014, 11 people were arrested and their electronics seized in different social centers and squats in Catalonia. It was known as “Operation Pandora” and brought hundreds of policemen to the oldest squat in Barcelona. The use of, or rather encrypted communications, was cited as one of the reasons the arrest happened. However, the police claimed they were terrorists, even though it is still not precise what kind of “terrorist” attack they had allegedly perpetrated. Today 7 of those 11 arrested people are still kept in Madrid prisons under secrecy order. Notably, the police branded these people as “anarchist” indepedent of whether they identified as such.

Decline of a free Press

In March of 2014, Spanish police attacked and injured seven journalists who were attempting to cover a violent arrest during a demonstration in Madrid. Throughout the year, other journalists have reported being prevented by law enforcement from taking photographs and gathering information during protests, and experiencing verbal and physical abuse.

Earlier this month, journalists at Spain’s state broadcaster RTVE started a sit-in to protest the arrival of the new heads of news, Jose Antonio Alvarez Gudin, who was previously at the right-wing daily newspaper La Razon. The journalists believe that Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government is trying to tighten its control of the network ahead of 2015 legislative and local elections. Two of the country’s biggest unions, Commissioners Obrerars and the General Workers Union, have publicly stated that they feared the government was trying exercise greater control in an attempt to manipulate the news.

The 2013 Freedom House report noted increased self-censoring in the Spanish journalism world and a drop in quality reporting. The same report cites a 2013 survey of 1,700 Spanish journalists where 80% of respondents said they had been pressured into changing or removing content.

*** Update. All the detainees of Operation Pandora were released the 30th January 2015.