Friday, December 2, 2016

Official newspapers

I like to know what's going on around me. Living in Spain, and not quite understanding the language, means that sometimes I don't. But the other day I realised that whilst the Spanish system was as plain as day to me I had no idea how the same thing was done in the UK. I'm talking about the BOE or Boletín Oficial del Estado which translates as the Official State Bulletin.

The BOE is the official gazette of the Government of Spain. It's published, every day except Sunday, by the Ministry of the Presidency. Nowadays it's published to the Internet. The purpose of the Bulletin is to provide information about new laws, council procedures, taxes and bylaws – in fact anything that affects the general public. For instance it's where bankruptcies and the registration numbers of cars caught speeding are published so you can't say you weren't told! Private concerns can also publish information in the bulletins.

The Spanish constitution says that the people have a right to be told about new laws and rules produced by any of the three branches of government - the legislature, the executive or the judiciary. Unless that information is published it is not considered to have been legitimately shared. So, although the difference is subtle, the Boletín is not about publishing; it's about about not keeping secrets.

The Boletín publishes Royal Decrees, the laws of the National Parliament (Cortes Generales), made up of the Senate (a bit like the Lords) and the Congress of Deputies (akin to the Commons). The arrangements and decisions of the Regional Governments, the Autonomous Communities, the Provinces and Local Town Halls as well as judicial rulings are also published in Bulletins.

The BOE gets mentions in the Spanish media quite regularly but I had no idea how the British Government officially disseminated information - was it through Hansard or Her Majesty's Stationery Office for instance? I was surprised to find that HMSO has been TSO, The Stationery Office, since privatisation over 20 years ago but I was even more surprised to find that we Britons have an official newspaper - The London Gazette

The Gazette is where all the official stuff, from the Honours List to new laws and army commissions is published. This is the official national record; the exact equivalent of the Spanish BOE. The Belfast and Edinburgh Gazettes provide similar information to Northern Ireland or Scotland.

I thought that the history of the British and Spanish official national newspapers was strangely similar. In Spain there was a bit of a tussle for the crown between Carlos II and Juan José de Austria. The latter thought that if a daily newspaper, a gazette, published his decrees it would be good publicity. The newspaper he instigated, first published in 1661, became known as the Gaceta de Madrid (The Madrid Gazette) a name it used for nearly 300 years being renamed the BOE in 1986.

In England, in 1665, Charles II was King. Like his old dad before him being King had had its ups and downs. When London was ravaged by the Great Plague Charles and his court scuttled off to Oxford. Charles thought a newspaper might be good for his public image so he used a new publication, the Oxford Gazette, to prove he was still working hard. When he moved back to London the Gazette went with him and changed its name to the London Gazette only recently changed to The Gazette.

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