Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Reporting on Evo Morales (long and in two parts -- if you're interested in media, language, and/or U.S. and Latin American politics, this is for you)

Well, well, well. Speaking of reporters. Here are two Associated Press stories. (Full disclosure: my brother was an AP bureau chief in Europe for several decades. I have AP friends in both Europe and the U.S.) No byline on either. They are the same story about the president of Bolivia. One in French, one in English.

Haven’t seen the Spanish version.

Presumably all written by same reporter, then translated, probably right at the bureau in La Paz. (But there has been an AP reorganization so this is speculation based on my knowledge of how the foreign bureaus operate. They always have staff who write in both English and the language of the country – not always the same people, but a La Paz office would have full bilingual capability, Spanish and English. Where the French gets written or translated I am not sure. But these stories come from the same news agency. I looked for the Spanish-language version but couldn't find it. If anyone finds it, let me know and send me the link and we'll do a three-way comparison. Cross cultural conversations R Us.)

Saw the French one first because it was among the three top headlines in “World News” on my French-speaking Yahoo home page headline thingie. (Sorry for the technical language.)

Muttering about how the English-language "World News” three-major-headlines thingie could have had this story since after all it is about the Americas, I clicked on the AP world news headlines link for more world news in English and still no Bolivia story among the ten or so stories on the page. Nothing. Finally I did a search on the AP world news site and found the story. (First question: what qualifies as "news of note" ?)

Same story. More or less the same headline.

U.S.-directed story:
******Bolivian president blasts capitalism.

French-audience-directed story:
******Capitalism “worst enemy of humanity,” says Evo Morales
******(actually it said Capitalism is "the worst enemy of humanity," says Evo Morales, but I abridged -- see how I adapted to my audience almost without thinking?)

Yes of course audience dictates language and it's natural for reporters to adapt to the audience with idioms, explanations, added paragraphs because of national or regional interest in particular questions.

But the nature of the differences is what's interesting here. And I have to go to bed, so I'll post the rest tomorrow, in this space. Stay tuned. (Or if you read both languages, have a look at the links above.)

Look for which story adds the qualifier "leftist" to the president's name. Any guesses?

So, it's tomorrow and here is the sequel.

Let me say that it is frequent for news agency stories to be cut and adapted by the newspapers that publish them. It's happened to pieces I have written, in fact. That's legit, though it was fascinating to see what different newspapers did with the exact same piece of raw material to suit their biases.

Agencies also often publish longer and shorter versions of the same story -- also legit. In fact, news stories are written by the reporters in such a way that you can cut out pieces of them for reasons of space; that's why the more important stuff is up front and naturally the lead (first sentence or two) gives you the main point of the story.

So it's not unusual that one story would have those three extra paragraphs.

Still, that's not all that's going on here.

The additional three paragraphs are in the English-language, U.S.-directed one, which makes sense since they are pertinent to the Americas.

There is also an additional adjective. Nowhere in the French story does Morales get called "leftist."

Also, while the French story refers to the conference he attended as a conference of “left-wing intellectuals," the English version translates the French intellectuels de gauche (a common French term, by the way; literal translation "intellectuals of the left") as“leftist intellectuals” – and you know "leftist" has a different connotation from “left-wing.” (Yes, there is a French word for "leftist," which is "gauchiste." Also pejorative, like the English "leftist.")

Let me print the two stories here, even though this will be long, and you can see for yourself. I'm highlighting some of the obvious differences in green.

The English-language story:

LA PAZ, Bolivia - President Evo Morales called capitalism the "worst enemy of humanity" at a conference of Latin American leftist intellectuals on Tuesday.

A coca-growers' union leader who became Bolivia's first Indian president, the leftist Morales has nationalized oil and natural gas resources as part of his effort to redistribute wealth in South America's poorest country.

"The transnational corporations always provoke conflicts to accumulate capital, and the accumulation of capital in a few hands is no solution for humanity," Morales said at forum in Cochabamba. "And so I have arrived at the conclusion that capitalism is the worst enemy of humanity."

Morales also said Bolivia's new constitution, now being written, would declare Bolivia a pacifist nation and explicitly renounce war. "Instead of making more weapons and bullets to kill humankind, we must concentrate on producing more food," he said.

The president spoke at a two-day conference on the role of media in political efforts to create a new Latin American socialism, sponsored by Bolivia, Venezuela, Cuba, and Ecuador. Morales counts Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Cuban leader Fidel Castro as close allies.

Morales has criticized the historic role of foreign business interests in Bolivia, often noting that the 1879 War of the Pacific, in which Bolivia lost its seashore to Chile, was sparked in part by a British trading company's rush to control the coast's valuable guano and saltpeter deposits.

Bolivia later lost tens of thousands of soldiers and another wide swath of territory in the 1930s Chaco War with Paraguay, which many historians describe as a proxy battle between U.S. company Standard Oil and Dutch-British Shell Oil over land thought to hold valuable petroleum deposits.

The French-language story (translated very carefully by yours truly):

La Paz. Evo Morales, first Indian president of Bolivia, Tuesday called capitalism “the worst enemy of humanity.”

"Transnational corporations always provoke conflicts in order to accumulate capital, and the accumulation of capital in a few hands is no solution for humanity,” said the Bolivian president during a conference of left-wing intellectuals in La Paz. “I have thus arrived at the conclusion that capitalism is the worst enemy of humanity.”

Elected in December 2005 for a five-year term on a platform of defense (protection) for oppressed populations, Evo Morales has since then nationalized the oil and natural gas industries with a goal of redistribution of wealth based on this transaction. He convened a constitutional convention last August, giving it one year to incorporate into the constitution the rights of the long oppressed Indian majority.

He noted Tuesday that the new constitution declared Bolivia as a pacifist nation and explicitly renounced war. “Rather than building new weapons and bullets to kill the human race, we should concentrate on increased food production,” he said.

[Note: I don't know what he said in the original Spanish -- "must" or "should" -- so there are issues of translation from the Spanish as well.]

So the French news outlet gives the story more prominence.

And the U.S. story has additional qualifiers as well as extra info on Latin America (Monroe Doctrine, anyone?) and oil.

Learn critical reading skills, I tell my students.

Though to be honest, I didn't first learn these skills in my fine U.S. college, I learned them in French elementary and high school doing explication de texte. But college did encourage them.


pj said...

Hi Jane R. Hope you don't mind if I go horrendously off-topic and thank you for your comment at OCICBW today. You know the one.

After the sneeze comment I decided to just be cutesy and step away, but I wrote about it on my blog because I was incredibly pissed off (by the sneeze comment, that is, not by MP, whom I think is a great guy if a bit laissez-faire with his language.)

Anyway, thanks.

Jane R said...

Thanks so much, PJ. It took me an hour to compose because I wanted to be calm and helpful, so I'm glad it was apt. And I agree with you on the comments...

I'll check your blog a bit later. Running late on work things -- but very glad you wrote!

pj said...

Don't even worry about it. :)

johnieb said...

That's not a call for guesses, but a declaration of the obvious.

Interesting comments on the shaping of Bolivia's borders too; they are certainly consistent with my Revisionist's perspective on U S policy, in Latin America as elsewhere.

Ed said...

I love that phrase "explication de texte" for which there really is no exact English equivalent. My instinct, based on my moderate French and basic German and Spanish, and reasonably advanced English :-), is that French is nuanced in a very unique way. Of course, the French seem to have a special relationship to their language; isn't there a Ministry for the Protection of the Language, or something of the kind? Anyway, we're sending one of our college students off to Bolivia next month for several months of cultural immersion; in light of this story, it will be very interesting to get her view from the ground.

johnieb said...

Jane R.

did you know a Hugh (last name escapes me at the moment) who was mostly out of the London Bureau, I believe? I had a wonderful lunch with him and George Espey (!), among others, in Hartford a few years ago. I was keeping company with the Hartford Bureau Chief at the time. Hugh was said to give some memorable parties at his home in Connecticut, but I never made one; he was in his early eighties, so he mighta had to give them up.

Jane R said...

Hugh Mulligan? George Esper? (Not Espey.) Know them both!

Sometime we must talk off-blog. But remember, I have to work on the Big Academic Tome this summer. But keep talkin'.

johnieb said...

Seems like it, don' it?

Thanks for the information and please don't respond to everything; my friend who's going to Eastern NC this Fall is defending in July, so I've been practicin' my disappearance.

George to the NVA grunt who comes in to the Saigon (Bay gio Thanh Pho Ho Chi Minh) Bureau offices: "Hi Sergeant; where you from? How long ya been in the army?" You've heard at least your share, I suppose.