Monday, May 17, 2010

Bad Journalism

Proceso Digital is a fairly new Honduran digital newspaper, formed by two professional journalists, Marlen Perdomo de Zelaya and Orfa Sofia Mejia Maradiaga.

Perdomo has a professional degree from UNAH in journalism, and teaches journalism at UNAH. She is also a member of the advisory council of UNAH. Mejia Maradiaga is an investigative reporter, also with a professional degree in journalism from UNAH. She has worked for a number of radio stations and newspapers in Honduras, including Radio Cadena de Noticias and La Prensa. She has also worked for EFE and Reuters, and the digital magazine Revistazo.

In a recent interview in El Heraldo Mejia Maradiaga described journalism as playing a role in the development of society and the strengthening of democracy:
"Objectivity, they say in the classrooms of the university, is the goal (ideal). It is not easy, but it is possible. Obviously you will never please both sides. What we have to try to do is keep as much as possible to the truth, to be as responsible as possible in the treatment of information. We should not think that our truth is the truth which we should impose on our public."
Proceso Digital sometimes comes close to the above journalistic standard, but more often than not fails to distinguish between claims of fact, facts, and opinion.

Their article today about Porfirio Lobo Sosa's impending trip to Spain is a perfect example of when they fail, and is suggestive about what is wrong with Honduran journalism in general. The problems begin with the headline:
Lobo Sosa will go to Spain and make the boycott by "Twenty-First Century Socialism" fail

Already we're in trouble.

As our previous post on the Naumann Foundation showed, the phrase "twenty-first century socialism" is not a fact; it is editorializing. It has no business being in the article or headline except as part of a quotation. But it isn't taken from a quotation; it is inserted by the journalists.

Lobo Sosa will travel to Spain tomorrow, missing the EU-Latin American summit, which is attended by representatives of those countries that threatened to boycott if Lobo Sosa were present. In other words: Lobo Sosa is not there today; he is not at the EU-Latin American summit; and in fact, that means the UNASUR countries got what they demanded.

Lets look at some more of this "news article", datelined Tegucigalpa:
Twenty-First Century socialism failed in its boycott of Honduras, whose representatives will attend the Third Summit of the European Union and Latin America, with which the country has broken the diplomatic siege that some South American governments and their partners in the region still insist on making.

Fact Check: Lets see, the boycott failed because some representatives of Honduras, but not Porfirio Lobo Sosa, will attend the back room meetings, not the meetings of heads of state, at the Third European Union - Latin American summit?

Umm, no, the boycott threatened was by heads of state against Porfirio Lobo Sosa attending the meeting of heads of state. Redefining what the boycott was about is just making things up.

Not very objective journalism, but certainly within the realm of what rags like La Prensa and El Heraldo print every day as news.

Proceso Digital continues:
President Porfirio Lobo Sosa, the representative of Honduras, will travel to Spain to attend the summit, which is on the brink of failure because of the impossibility and the limited political clout of Spain to get other governments in tune to achieve the objectives of the meeting.

Fact Check: Better. Porfirio Lobo Sosa will travel to Spain to attend the EU-Central American summit, a subset of the larger EU-Latin American summit. The Central American meetings will happen the day after the Latin America-wide meeting.

Some European news sources, including the BBC, have said the purpose of the meeting is unclear since both sides are divided about how to deal with each other and Europe is distracted by a financial crisis. There are economic trade agreements being negotiated frantically that Spain would like to see signed at the summits, one with the MERCOSUR countries in South America, and a separate agreement with Central America, including Honduras.

The goal of the Madrid EU-Latin American and Caribbean Summit is to get two documents signed. One is a declaration of political alliances between the regions, including themes like technology transfer, the other is a joint action plan. A strategic alliance declaration may well fail.

Returning to Proceso Digital:
Lobo Sosa will participate in the meeting between the EU-Central America, where the main goal is the signing of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, with its free trade component.

Fact Check: Good. This sentence communicates both where Lobo Sosa will go, what meeting he will attend, and why he's going. Note that the UNASUR countries would never have been at this meeting, so the boycott is irrelevant.
In addition, the summit will serve to allow Lobo Sosa to keep bilateral meetings with several leaders and figures of Latin American and Spanish politics.
In addition to meeting with the Spanish authorities who bowed to the boycott of the governments of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), Lobo Sosa will meet with the head of the [Spanish] Popular Party, Mariano Rajoy.
Fact Check: The first sentence is good, emphasizing Lobo Sosa's prominence on the world stage. The second sentence, however, goes off the rails yet again. It was the UNASUR countries that threatened a boycott, not the ALBA countries. They are distinct, separate groups, even if some of their membership overlaps. You need to keep them straight if you claim to provide reliable information.

Many of the Honduran newspapers have written that it is Hugo Chavez, not the presidents of Brazil and Argentina, who is behind the boycott, continuing a pattern of demonizing international pressure on Honduras by associating it with Venezuela. So perhaps the author of the Proceso Digital article is just confused because they've been reading the "journalists" Mejia Maradiaga and Perdomo trained in the university, instead of checking the facts of this story.

Lobo Sosa will, indeed, meet with the Popular Party (PP) head, Mariano Rajoy on his trip to Spain. That is not a surprise: the PP supported the coup, as did Lobo Sosa.

Again, returning to Proceso Digital:
In vain did the government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero accede to the blackmail of Chavez, as the Venezuelan president finally decided to punish the Spanish and will not attend the event and sending a person without weight, Deputy Foreign Minister Francisco Cardenas Arias.
It is also likely that the Brazilian President, Lula da Silva, the other agent who announced the boycott, will not attend.
Nor will with Uruguayan President Mujica attend.

In fact, Brazilian President Lula da Silva announced yesterday that he would attend the meetings, so this speculation is factually wrong, and that fact was knowable before the article was posted on the website. Mujica will not attend because of health concerns. The stress of being President of Uruguay has badly affected his health, according to local news sources. These are not responses to Spain's actions nor do they diminish the success of the UNASUR action.
It is likely that in Madrid, if a new obstacle doesn't force Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua to not attend the meeting, that there will be concretized a meeting of the six Central American leaders.

In fact, Ortega may or may not attend since he was listed as "iffy" about the economic agreement. He did not threaten a boycott if Lobo Sosa attended, but Nicaragua has not recognized the Lobo government either.
The above was stated by the president of Guatemala, Alvaro Colom, who noted that Madrid is propitious for the desired meeting where the return of Honduras Central American Integration System (SICA) will be defined.
If the reunion of SICA happens, and the Association agreement with the European Union is also signed, Lobo Sosa's trip will have been a diplomatic triumph.

Yes, Colom noted that he's trying to get the Central American presidents together in Madrid to discuss readmitting Honduras into SICA, and that Daniel Ortega might balk at getting everyone together. Getting readmitted to SICA is important for Honduras because symbolically it means Central America has forgiven the coup. It is the precursor to being readmitted to the OAS as well. Economically, Honduras is already participating in SICA, however, so its impact there will be non-existent.

Will it be a diplomatic triumph for which Lobo Sosa can take credit? I'm sure he will, if it happens. Not impossible that it will happen. But it will be Colom's "diplomatic triumph" if so, and a "triumph" of questionable value.
But Lobo Sosa also expects the offensive of the international left, which previously was in charge of the radical groups, unions and NGOs who fought several months for the Spanish government to withdraw the invitation to the Honduran president.
The groups said they had meetings and marches to censure the presence of Lobo Sosa.
The international groups will be supported by Hondurans, followers of the "melista" movement, that supported the ex-leader and employee of Hugo Chávez, Manuel Zelaya, when he was removed from power on June 28, 2009.
Several figures of the Honduran left went to Spain to make complaints and participate in the so-called People's Summit, which brings together all opposition to government figures.

Fact Check: Got a source for that? No one else is saying there will be protests against Lobo Sosa by anyone other than heads of state (remember the boycott?), so I'd really like to know where you got that information, or did you make that up?

And what about the characterization of former President Zelaya as an "employee of Chavez", which we presume is meant to smear supporters of Zelaya in his role as President of Honduras, by blurring the lines between a recent proposal to appoint Zelaya to a ceremonial position with Petrocaribe, and his role during his truncated term of office in Honduras. This is not a fact, it is a sneer.

This has been a fairly long exercise but if you stuck with me you have a fair idea of what passes for professional journalism in Honduras, written, we have to assume, since they are the only names on the website, by Marlen Perdomo de Zelaya or Orfa Sofia Mejia Maradiaga, or both. Certainly it falls far short of what Ms. Mejia cited above as the goal of good journalism. You can, and should do better, Proceso Digital.

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