LA VANGUARDIA SUNDAY, 27 JULY 2003
BY OMBUDSMAN: JOSEP M. CASASÙS
Photo: CARMEN TAYLOR / CNN
One of the images referred to
Last 13 July, on page 6 of La Vanguardia, Eduardo Martín de Pozuelo
and Xavier Mas de Xaxàs published a second report on the mysterious
reflections or shapes of unknown origin observed in shots and photographs
of the plane that crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center
in New York on 9/11.
The first report by these journalists on the subject appeared in page 4 of La Vanguardia on 22 June 2003. Several readers expressed their interest in how the enigma was dealt with journalistically. A quote from one, José Luis Ruiz. He says, "I find it difficult to imagine how the plane in the photograph could have 'objects' attached to the fuselage that reflected under the sun. What are we supposed to believe, that the hijackers came out of the plane in full flight and 'placed objects' on the fuselage? Or are we to believe that it took off from Logan with the objects already attached?"
The reader adds, "I suppose that in some Banana Republic's airport it would be easy to bribe a dozen individuals and allow a passenger plane with 'lumps' on the fuselage to take off, but at Logan, no matter how unsafe the airport may be, I somehow get the impression that a mere dozen bribes would not prove enough. What are we to think? Am I to imagine that the authors of the article didn't ask themselves the same questions? Or am I to suppose that they don't dare give expression to their opinions because of where it might lead to?"
It is logical for readers to demand greater commitment from our journalists in interpreting facts, but professional responsibility halts us from turning personal opinions into news, especially when it comes to hypothesising on a mystery. This is how Eduardo Martín de Pozuelo justifies his work, "We have attempted to inform as coldly as possible, offering the reader all the information available on the subject, so that he may come to his own conclusions. We have willingly and expressly endeavoured to prevent our opinions form forming part of the information, as Xavier Mas de Xaxàs and I believe that opinion and news can not and should not be mixed".
They delve further into the principle, "Obviously Xavier and I have our own hypotheses on the subject and, naturally, we have asked ourselves the same questions as the reader does, which are, precisely, those we have passed on to the sources named in the report. But the reader will agree with us that all these doubts arise from one central enigma: what is it we see on the fuselage of flight 175? Let our readers be in no doubt that we are still investigating the subject, that we will keep him informed of any further information we can confirm and that we shall never include our opinions in a news story". This is correct.
NEWS AND OPINION should be presented in strictly different forms. This root principle is one of the pillars of Anglo-Saxon journalism. However, the precepts of French-influenced journalism also includes the interpretative style, which combines facts and data with the views, explanations and impressions of the author of the report. It is a style used by news reports, features, and journalistic essays. It is a style that is deeply entrenched in the European press.
And risky, too. We have received mail from two readers complaining about the risks run by reporters in interpreting facts and entering the realm of opinion. One from Christian Comes on an article entitled "Cascos annoys" —Cascos, the Spanish Minister of Public Works— (3 July, in the Living Section). And another from Albert Esplugas Boter, which states, "A report published in La Vanguardia (24 June) mentions that the young American soldiers deployed in Iraq are 'tired and depressed because they are so far from home' and 'claim that they are not a Peacekeeping force and so want to go home'. This alarming piece of information does not come from any sort of survey, vast indications of unease, official communiqués, etc., but from a few short, off-the-cuff comments from one officer and three American soldiers. This is not exactly a very representative sample. La Vanguardia has gratiutously extrapolated on a very serious matter. Journalistic irresponsibility such as this generates misinformation".
Please note that the text objected to comes from the official French agency, AFP. One of the major world news agencies. It has worked under the name of Agence France-Presse (AFP) since 1944, though its origins go back to the Havas agency, the oldest on the European continent and founded in Paris in 1835.
The quoted text includes declarations by some identified soldiers, but it is wrong to generalise, even for a reliable news agency. The agency newsman should have written "some" instead of "the" American soldiers. It would be the correct thing to do.