preloder

Extract from Valores y Contravalores del Periodismo/Valuations of Journalism

Fernando Quirós Fernández (2015)

I chose this text not only because of its interesting and highly topical subject matter – the representation of journalists and newspapers in the media and in political discourse over time – but because it provides an illuminating exercise in research and back-translation. In this introductory passage, the author makes use of various direct quotations, originally in English or French, but here translated into Spanish. In working on this text I initially back-translated these quotations before finding the original English, which is the form used in the final target text.

POLÍTICA, DEMOCRACIA Y PERIODISMO

POLITICS, DEMOCRACY AND JOURNALISM

Thomas Jefferson tuvo a lo largo de su vida dos percepciones completamente opuestas sobre los periódicos y los periodistas. El redactor de la Declaración de Independencia, el padre fundador afirmó: “prefiero periódicos sin gobierno a gobierno sin periódicos”. Sin embargo, el tercer presidente de los Estados Unidos de América, escribía a John Norwell, en 1807, a dos años del fin su mandato:

Over the course of his life, Thomas Jefferson held two completely opposing views regarding newspapers and journalists. The original drafter of the Declaration of Independence, one of America’s “founding fathers”, once stated that “I prefer newspapers without a government to a government without newspapers.”[1] Nevertheless, Jefferson, the third president of the United States of America, wrote the following to John Norwell, in 1807, two years away from the end of his final term of office:

“A su requerimiento de mi opinión sobre la manera de dirigir un periódico para que rinda los mejores frutos yo contestaría que limitando su misión a difundir los hechos verídicos y los sanos principios. Pero temo que un periódico así encontraría pocos suscriptores. Es una triste verdad que si se suprimieran los periódicos, la nación no sufriría mayor pérdida que los beneficios que éstos proporcionan al prostituirse y caer en la falsedad y en la mentira” (Jeffferson, T., 1965).

To your request of my opinion of the manner in which a newspaper can be conducted so as to be most useful, I should answer ‘by restraining it to true facts and sound principles only’. Yet I fear such a paper would find few subscribers. It is a melancholy truth, that a suppression of the press could not more completely deprive the nation of its benefits than is done by its abandoned prostitution to falsehood. [2]

Algunos años más tarde de la furibunda campaña de prensa en contra de Jefferson (la causa de su desencuentro final con los periódicos se debió a las críticas de la prensa por haber hecho aprobar leyes que le favorecían personalmente), Alexis de Tocqueville escribía La democracia en América en la que dedicaba un capítulo entero a la prensa en la naciente democracia que le merecía esta opinión: “La prensa es esa potencia extraordinaria, tan extrañamente compuesta de bienes y males que sin ella la libertad no podría vivir, y con ella apenas puede mantenerse el orden”. (Tocquevuille, 1957; Muñoz Alonso, 2014)

Some years after the furious press campaign against Jefferson (his final dispute with the newspapers was the result of press criticism for having approved laws which favoured him personally), Alexis de Tocqueville was writing “Democracy in America”, an entire chapter of which was dedicated to journalism in the nascent democracy, which he considered to be “an extraordinary force, in which good and bad are so curiously intermingled that, without it, freedom could not live; but with it, order can barely be maintained.” [3] (Tocquevuille, 1957; Munoz Alonso, 2014).

En Europa tenemos también dos ejemplos de talla. Edmund Burke definió a la prensa como el “cuarto poder”, pero no precisamente como un poder que se suma a los tres clásicos de la democracia, sino como algo nocivo. Burke estaba pensando en la Francia revolucionaria, de la que abominaba:

In Europe we find two further matching examples. Edmund Burke defined the press as the “fourth estate”, not quite comparable to the three classic powers of democracy, but rather something toxic. Burke had in mind revolutionary France, where he abhorred the fact that:

“Con treinta cabeceras sólo en París, los periódicos forman parte de lo que todos leen y son lo único que leen la inmensa mayoría. Poca importancia podría tener la obscuridad y lo indigno de los redactores, su efecto era como el las baterías artilleras cuya eficacia no la da el efecto de cada proyectil, sino la acumulación reiterada de ellos” (Burke, 2003: 234).

They are a part of the reading of all, they are the whole of the reading of the far greater number. There are thirty of them in Paris alone…the writers of these papers, indeed, for the greater part, are either unknown or in contempt, but they are like a battery in which the stroke of any one ball produces no effect, but the amount of continual repetition is decisive. [4] (Burke Vol IV, p17 Boston 1791)

Y en otro lugar:

Elsewhere, Castro notes that:

“Burke matizaba que el propósito de los autores no parece tanto la difusión de ideas, la presentación de argumentos y razones dirigidos a un público ilustrado, como la agitación, el conmover suscitando pasiones contrarias a los representantes de los intereses económicos sustentadores del viejo orden, especialmente en los más bajos estratos sociales, de cuyas pretensiones y quejas se erigen en portavoces. (Castro, 2006: 86)”

Burke intimated that the object of the authors [of newspaper articles] did not appear to be the dissemination of ideas; the presentation of arguments and of reasoning to an educated public, so much as agitation; the stirring up of sentiments in opposition to the representatives of economic interests which sustained the old order, especially in the lowest social strata, for whose aspirations and complaints they appointed themselves as mouthpieces.[5] (Castro, 2006:86)

En 1840 Balzac se despachaba a gusto en la Revue Parisienne:

In 1840, Balzac gave free rein to his feelings in La Revue Parisienne:

“La Prensa es, en Francia, un cuarto poder dentro del Estado; ataca a todos y nadie la ataca. Critica sin razón ni certeza. Pretende que los políticos y hombres de letras le pertenezcan y no quiere que exista reciprocidad; estos hombres deben ser sagrados para ella. ¡Hacen y dicen disparates tremendos! Es hora de discutir a estos hombres desconocidos y mediocres que ocupan un lugar importante en su época y que movilizan una Prensa equiparable en producción a la edición de libros”. (…) SI la Prensa no existiera, no habría, absolutamente, que inventarla”. (Daniel, 1987)

In France, the press is a fourth power within it state; it attacks everyone and is attacked by no one. It criticises without reason nor evidence. It seeks to own politicians and men of letters without the slightest reciprocity; these men should be sacred to it. What tremendously stupid things they say and do! Now is the time to stand up to these faceless, mediocre men who hold such a powerful position in their age, and who marshal a newspaper industry comparable in output to book publishing… if the press did not exist, there would be absolutely no reason to invent it.[6] (Daniel, 1987)

Dos siglos después, la percepción que los ciudadanos que se han dotado de democracias parlamentarias, tienen de periodistas y de medios de comunicación se sitúa entre los mismos polos, casi sin zonas grises entre el blanco y el negro en que la pintaron los autores que acabamos de citar. Los profesionales son percibidos como héroes y los medios para los que trabajan como piedras angulares de la democracia (cada vez menos) y como villanos que trabajan para empresas dedicadas a la manipulación y al engaño o la obtención de réditos económicos a cualquier precio (cada vez más). En el caso de España, dice la Asociación de la Prensa de Madrid, en la presentación de su informe anual sobre la profesión:

Two centuries on, the perception which citizens blessed with parliamentary democracies hold of journalists and the media remains polarised between these two extremes, and there are almost no shades of grey between the black-and-white views of the authors who cited above.  With ever dwindling frequency, professional journalists are perceived as heroes, and the media platforms for which they work as cornerstones of democracy; with ever increasing regularity, they are portrayed as villains, working for companies intent on manipulation and deception, or the pursuit of profit at any cost. In Spain, the Press Association of Madrid had the following to say on presenting their annual report on the profession:

“El Informe de este año se complementa con otra encuesta encargada por la APM al conjunto de la población española para conocer su opinión de los periodistas y su papel en la sociedad. A este respecto, la nota, en una escala de 1 a 10, es de un 5,3 en 2014, frente al 5,2 de 2013. Los motivos de esa escasa confianza deben buscarse en los intereses políticos de los periodistas y de los medios, en la falta de independencia de ambos y en los intereses económicos de las empresas de medios”.

This year’s report is accompanied by another survey of the Spanish people commissioned by the APM [Asociación de la Prensa de Madrid – Madrid Press Association] to investigate their opinions on journalists and the role that they play in society. The resulting score for 2014, on a scale of 1 to 10, is 5.3, in comparison to 5.2 in 2013. This lack of confidence can be attributed to the political bias of journalists and the media, their lack of independence, and the economic interests of media companies.

Pero, lo más curioso es que ambas percepciones también han sido generadas desde los medios y las asociaciones profesionales. Cuando los medios y los periodistas se miran a sí mismos encuentran rápidamente el arsenal de los autoelogios y reaccionan corporativamente ante cualquier cosa que perciban como una crítica a su labor. Generan una visión ideal del periodismo, del periodista y de la empresa mediática. Pero, al mismo tiempo las presiones mercantiles, los intereses espurios de los propietarios y la costumbre de algunos periodistas de convertirse en guerreros a sueldo de su empresa, por encima de cualquier otra consideración les hacen ser una fuente inagotable de insultos, descalificaciones y ataques, a cada cual más rastrero, sobre los medios y los profesionales de la competencia. (Picos, 2002). El mundo académico muestra la misma división. Citando ahora solo bibliografía española reciente, encontraremos azucaradas visiones que ensalzan al periodistas “héroe” (Bezunartea. 2007; Mera, 2008) y críticas muy acidas al periodista “villano” (Picos, 2002; Ortega y Humanes, 2000; Ortega, 2006).

However, the most intriguing point to note is that both of these opposing perceptions have also been propagated by professional associations and by the media themselves. When the media, and journalists, scrutinize themselves, they are quick to find an arsenal of self-praise and tend to react defensively en masse to anything perceived as a criticism of their work. They construct an idealised image of journalism, of journalists and of media companies. However, at the same time, commercial pressures, the spurious personal interests of their corporate owners and the tendency of some journalists to transform themselves into hired guns for the company combine to overcome all other considerations, causing them to behave like an inexhaustible fount of increasingly low insults, disparaging remarks and attacks on competing professionals and companies within the media sector (Picos, 2002). A similar polarisation of views can be found in the academic sphere. Restricting ourselves to recent Spanish scholarship, we will find rosy depictions extolling the virtues of the journalist as “hero” (Bezunartea, 2007; Mera, 2008) as well as highly acerbic critiques of the journalist as “villain” (Picos, 2002; Ortega y Humanes, 2000; Ortega, 2006).

Copyright © 2016 Ruth Grant. Source text published by redalcy.org under the Open Archives Initiative (OAI).

CITATION

Quirós Fernández, F. (2015). Valores y Contravalores del Periodismo: La Imagen Negativa de la Profesión en Diez Películas Americanas y Su Percepción en los Medios de Comunicación en Estados Unidos y en España. Ámbitos [Online], 30. Available at: http://www.redalyc.org/articulo.oa?id=16842876002 [Accessed 10 February 2016].

TRANSLATOR’S NOTES

[1]: Here I have back-translated the author’s very loose rendering of Jefferson’s actual quote in English, which is :

[W]ere it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. (Cited in Aron, P. (2008). We Hold These Truths…and Other Words that Made America. Williamsburg VA: Rowman & Littlefield, p100.)

[2}: Back-translation of the author’s rendering in Spanish:

As for your request for my opinion on the most profitable way to manage a newspaper, my answer would be to limit its mission to the dissemination of verified facts and sound principles. But I fear that such a newspaper would find few subscribers. It is a sad truth that, if the newspapers were abolished, the nation would suffer no greater loss than that of the profits which they make by prostituting themselves and indulging in falseness and lies.”

[3]:  Again, this is a back-translation of the Muñoz Alonso’s rendering of the original French:

En Amérique, comme en France, elle est cette puissance extraordinaire, si étrangement mélangée de biens et de maux, que sans elle la liberté ne saurait vivre, et qu’avec elle l’ordre peut à peine se maintenir. (De Tocqueville, A (1837) La Democratie en Amerique I (4th Ed.), Brussels: Société Belge de Librairie, p 113.) 

In the English translation by Henry Reeve (published by Project Gutenberg; available at: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/815), this sentence reads:

…a singular power, so strangely composed of mingled good and evil that it is at the same time indispensable to the existence of freedom, and nearly incompatible with the maintenance of public order.

[4]: Back-translation of the author’s rendering in Spanish:

With 30 titles in Paris alone, newspapers are read by everyone, and for the immense majority, they are all that they read. Regardless of the obscurity and unworthiness of their editors, their effect is that of the artillery batteries, whose efficiency lies not in the impact of each individual bullet, but in their continuous reiteration.

[5]: This is simply a direct translation as Castro’s original quote is in Spanish.

[6}: Original French:

La presse est en France un quatrième pouvoir dans l’Etat: Elle attaque tout, et personne ne l’attaque. Elle blâme à tort et à travers, elle prétend que les hommes politiques et littéraires lui appartiennent et ne veut pas qu’il y ait réciprocité ; ses hommes à elle doivent être sacrés. Ils font et disent des sottises effroyables, c’est leur droit ! Il est bien temps de discuter ses hommes inconnus et médiocres qui tiennent tant de place dans leur temps, et qui font mouvoir une Presse, égale en production, à la Presse des livres…Si la presse n’existait pas, il faudrait ne pas l’inventer. (Balzac, H. (1873). Œuvres Complètes Vol. 23. Paris: Michel Levy, p669. and Balzac, H. (2002). Monographie de la Presse Parisienne [1843]. Paris: Editions de Boucher, p90.)

These quotes actually seem to come from different sources. The first part (before the elipsis) is from the first issue of the short-lived La Revue Parisienne, a magazine founded by Balzac in July 1840 and which produced only three issues. The second is from a later work,  Monographie de la Presse Parisienne.

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