Sunday, August 1, 2010

Proceso Digital: Advocacy Journalism?

Proceso Digital, the online digital newspaper that boasts of being run by professional journalists, demonstrated yet again the worst possible example of why Honduran journalism is in trouble.

The provocation? covering the report of the OAS High Commission on Honduras.

As a reminder: Proceso Digital is run by Marlen Perdomo de Zelaya, a professor of Journalism at UNAH, and Orfa Sofia Mejia Maradiaga, a graduate of the UNAH journalism program (self descriptions here).

All the other Honduran daily newspapers, even the pro-coup ones, provided credible reporting on the content of the OAS report.

Tiempo ran yesterday with the 7-point conclusion of the report, and today covered Arturo Corrales's discussion of possible scenarios for dismissal of the charges against Zelaya.

El Heraldo also covered the conclusions of the report yesterday, and today led with a story on Lobo Sosa's government's interpretation of the report as "favorable". La Prensa mirrored the coverage in El Heraldo, as usual.

La Tribuna covered the conclusions yesterday, and today reproduced the entire report, minus the annexes, without comment.

At Proceso Digital, in contrast, the journalism professors and their staff produced multiple articles, one factual article, and one that suffers from their usual excess of editorializing.

In the National news section, the headline was "Lobo describes the OAS report as "very positive". It contains good journalistic writing, quoting Lobo and Canahuati on the OAS High Commission report. In the Politics section, however, the headline is "Insulza strengthens impunity in Honduras". What follows bears no resemblance to actual reporting; this piece is laced with factual errors, as anyone who read the version of the report published in La Tribuna can plainly see.

The article starts with an opinion, a point of view, a take on the report, and a factual error:
Impunity was strengthened in Honduras with the report of the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Jose Miguel Insulza, which asks that the legal cases against ex President Manuel Zelaya and his collaborators be laid aside by the judicial system of the country.

The lie is that the report is by José Miguel Insulza; it is not. The report, as noted in every other Honduran newspaper, is by the High Commission appointed by Insulza at the direction of the OAS General Assembly. If you cannot get the basic fact of authorship right, how can you call yourselves journalists?

The next problem, apparent to those who have read the entire OAS report, is that the report does not ask that the judicial system lay aside the case against Zelaya: it states in the conclusions that the cases against Zelaya are politically motivated (as determined by a jurist consultant to the High Commission) and that they should be ended. The discussion in the body of the report describes at least three different scenarios by which the case might be ended in ways consistent with Honduran law, only one of which is judicial nullification.

The next sentence of the Proceso Digital article states:
Insulza asked that the legal cases initiated against Zelaya not follow their normal process as a condition by which Honduras could ask for its reintegration in the OAS.

That is also false. Insulza made no such demand. The report, by the High Commission, not Insulza, reached some conclusions, among which dropping the legal cases against Zelaya because they are so clearly politically motivated was one, but it made no recommendations whatsoever about the reintegration of Honduras into the OAS. It explicitly left that as an exercise for each member state to decide.

The next sentence, surprisingly, is not erroneous.

But in the next sentence, the authors return to form, writing
Among the conditions placed on the country, the most unusual is to free Zelaya and his followers of the responsibility to respond to the justice for their excesses, while also not guaranteeing that the government of President Porfirio Lobo Sosa can designate a representative to the OAS, because this power is authorized by the votes of the governments of the continent and many of them, with the power to block, have let it be known that they will not recognize the present arrangement.

Opinion; the use of the word "unusual" is the clue, but then it goes off into left field with the rant about guaranteeing Honduras a representative in the OAS.

Once again, people, the OAS High Commission report makes recommendations to improve democracy in Honduras; it does not make them the conditions of reintegration into the OAS. The report was never meant to make a recommendation, only to inform the OAS General Assembly so that it could better make up its own mind, each country individually, about whether, when, and under what conditions to reincorporate Honduras into the OAS. The report was never meant to promise reintegration, or representation; that is the prerogative of the OAS General Assembly, by at least a 2/3 vote in favor of reintegration.

So most of the above is just a red herring with no actual relevance. It shows either willful misdirection or a complete lack of understanding of what the OAS High Commission was charged with doing.

I could go on deconstructing the rest of the article but it's long and just as bad as the examples already cited above; certainly not their best work.

I have to conclude that these two journalists who, to be fair, often do fairly factual reporting, have confused journalism with blogging or editorial writing. What is written in this story would be suitable (but still factually wrong) for an editorial page or a blog, but has no place in something claiming to be a news article, digital or otherwise. As professional journalists, you need to write more responsibly.


phoenixwoman said...

Somehow I think that what El Libertador did to Adrienne's article is an even better example of what you have illustrated here.


RAJ said...

Adrienne Pine has responded to the shameless editing of her original article by El Libertador, which inserted assertions that she never made.

So we can certainly agree that this is a piece of bad journalism-- although bad in a different way than Proceso Digital. I would point to two things:

(1) the writing we criticize in Proceso Digital is original "reporting". It is not an opinion piece, and thus the insertion of egregious editorializing violates any journalistic norms.

(2) these defects-- which are shared by most Honduran media-- are especially problematic because Proceso Digital, unlike, say, La Tribuna, claims a degree of authority from its source as the project of journalism faculty.

phoenixwoman said...

Gee. El Lib even failed to credit Counterpunch. The failure to credit original sources is one aspect of Honduran media that I really, really don't like.

But, yes. El Libertador is run (though by a former mainstream journalist) as an all-but-completely underground operation. PD should have higher standards, especially on recognizing the line between opinion and fact reporting.