Spain's female Defence Minister refuses to be a football widow

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Spain's new Defence Minister Carme Chacon has banned her staff from using ministry computers to trawl sports and leisure websites during office hours. The military has fiercely opposed the measure and accuses the minister of censorship.

The ministry's computer system has often jammed because of the propensity of military personnel to check out football results in the sports dailies As and Marca, and surf the website of the weekly Interviu, which specialises in nude photographs of celebrities interspersed with gossip.

The ban was announced in a circular by Spain's first female defence minister, who took office just over a week ago in Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's mostly female cabinet and who is expecting her first child in June.

In addition to those three named publications, Ms Chacon also banned access during office hours to eBay and similar auction sites, various blogs and chatrooms, and other websites where individuals can post items for sale or to buy.

A communique circulated throughout the ministry explained that the restriction sought to prevent "saturation of the network" that has crippled the ministry system on many occasions and left officials and military commanders unable to navigate or communicate by internet on defence business.

The ban applies not just to employees at the actual ministry but to all military staff serving in the headquarters of the army, navy and air force, which has prompted many Spaniards to wonder what exactly the defenders of their realm do all day.

The military's professional association, AUME, condemned the measure yesterday. There was "no justification for establishing filters or censors for the military," the association's head, Mariano Casado, said. "Members of the Spanish armed forces continue to be second-class citizens. We have to treat people like adults and not apply a paternalist policy," he said.

Others criticised the ban for being selective. "Why ban the Madrid-based dailies As and Marca and not the gay magazine Zero or the Catalan sports dailies Sport or El Mundo Deportivo?" asked a regional commentator. "Could it be because soldiers don't support Barca? Or because the minister, Carme Chacon, is Catalan? Surely not," wrote Francisco Suarez Alamo in the Canaries newspaper Canarias7. "It's a bad show for the Spanish army if the new minister's first measure is to filter access to the internet."

However, many contributors to yesterday's lively cyber-debate expressed amazement that the Defence Ministry hadn't already restricted internet access. Most ministries, and many private companies, already limit private internet use from the office, they reckoned. "The ban should apply to all employees paid out of public funds who access the football-gossip, tit-and-bum yellow press, our national opium," one blogger wrote.