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Article Deconstruction: DER SPIEGEL: Dangerous Zeal

by DoDo Mon Mar 20th, 2006 at 10:37:44 AM EST

A central theme of Edward Said's Orientalism seems highly relevant on ET lately - the point about Western imperialist writers on Asia having made up an imaginary world (the Orient) to such an extent that they will see it even if they travel East, filtering out most of reality, morphing what passes the filter to preconceptions and filling in the gaps with images in their heads.

Jérôme showed again and again how biased foreign reporting of French events is, among them with four article deconstructions. De Gondi often criticised the unserious reporting of Berlusconi by the international media. ET's Russian contingent lambased the way RUssia is talked about.

Now, while my Hungary (and Slovakia) diaries give an unflattering view of Central-Eastern Europe, the West European stereotype of violent chaos is a tad bit off the mark. Below the fold an example: a short article from the 9/2006 (25 February) issue of the once precise German weekly DER SPIEGEL. You wouldn't guess how many errors can be packed into just two short sentences.

First the original German version:

Gefährlicher Eifer

Kriminelle Machenschaften und rohe Gewalt überschatten den Parlamentswahlkampf an der Donau. So wurde ein Helfer der linksliberalen Oppositionspartei ,,Bund Freier Demokraten" in Budapest mit einer Gaspistole angeschossen; am selben Tag drangen mehrere Männer in das Haus eines Kandidaten der bürgerlichen Zentrumspartei ein und schlugen ihn brutal zusammen. Eine 75-jährige Wahlkampfhelferin der nationalkonservativen Fidesz (,,Junge Demokraten") erlitt schwere Verletzungen, als sie in Pécs Nominierungszettel einsammelte und ebenfalls von Schlägern malträtiert wurde. Allerdings musste auch die Fidesz, ehemals Regierungspartei und nunmehr Ungarns wichtigste Oppositionskraft, die Anwendung unorthodoxer Methoden einräumen: Einige ihrer Mitglieder hatten kürzlich illegal den passwortgeschützten Server der regierenden Sozialisten gehackt. Es wurden knapp 3000 geheime Dokumente heruntergeladen, insgesamt elf Stunden lang. Die Parteispitze der Fidesz ist bemüht, die ,,Server-Gate"-Affäre herunterzuspielen. ,,Übereifrige" Mitarbeiter, so die offizielle Erklärung, hätten sie ausgelöst.

Der Vorsitzende der Freien Demokraten dagegen sieht die Verantwortlichen für die Übergriffe vor allem bei den rechtsgerichteten Parteien. Die würden, wie auch die Fidesz, die Atmosphäre aggressiv aufheizen, um die Sozialisten als Regierungsmacht ablösen zu können. Letzte Umfragen zeigen ein Kopf-an-Kopf-Rennen zwischen den Sozialisten von Premier Ferenc Gyurcsány und den massiv in die Kritik geratenen Konservativen.

Now my translation and criticism:

Dangerous Zeal

Criminal machinations and raw violence cast a shadow over the parliamentary election campaign on the shores of the Danube.

The stereotype is stated on the outset - Western readers nod at this reinforcement of their preconceptions. Then the author lists three events as evidence for the violence part - which looks as a pattern of violence by pro-government thugs:

A helper of the left-liberal opposition party ,,Alliance of Free Democrats" was shot with a gas pistol in Budapest;

First, get your facts right: unlike the victims in the other two cases named, this one's party is a government party. Calling it left-liberal without giving the Hungarian political context is misleading: today they are no more left than their German counterparts. Another point is that the shooter was an alcoholic "responding" to the activist ringing at his door. Finally, the shooting sounds grave, while in truth the student shot at suffered only minor burns healing under 8 days.

on the same day, a number of men intruded the house of a candidate of the civic [bourgeois] Centrum Party and brutally beat him up.

Well, the Centrum Party has bourgeois elements, but also some Greens and other 'political homeless' joined this formation - it is better characterised as 'nonaligned' (not part of either the big left or right blocks). The attackers numbered only two, and were probably common criminals. And they didn't beat up the candidate: in fact, he chased them away!...

A 75-year-old campaign activist of the national-conservative Fidesz (,,Young Democrats") suffered serious wounds while collecting nomination coupons and was also abused by rowdies.

This is two counts of severe exaggeration: she only suffered a broken handbone after falling in a tussle (over dropping leaflets into post boxes - NOT nomination coupons), and there was only a single attacker, and that was not a rowdy but a 46-year-old neighbour known to her. Furthermore, the article fails to mention two circumstances: first, the story only became news because Fidesz claimed the lady was attacked by a Socialist for being a Fidesz supporter. Second, the Fidesz version of the story has long been discredited: the attacker is no member or activist of any party (and in fact it came out since in the police investigation that he too is a Fidesz supporter: he gave his nomination coupon to them), and the issue was spam not politics.

You see: in just two short sentences, enough errors to be corrected in three long paragraphs... and an emerging "big picture" disconnected from reality. On the other hand, the remainder of the article is more or less factual:

However, Fidesz, the former governing party and now Hungary's most important opposition force, also had to admit the use of unorthodox methods: some of its members have recently illegally hacked into the password-secured server of the governing Socialists. 3000 secret documents were downloaded, for altogether 11 hours. The party leadership of Fidesz is striving to downplay the ,,Server-Gate" affair. ,,Overzealous" co-workers caused it, says the official delcaration.

The head of the Free Democrats however sees the responsible for the excesses above all among the right-wing parties. They, as Fidesz too, would aggressively heat up the [political] climate, so that they can replace the Socialists as governing power. The last polls show a head-to-head race between the Socialists of Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány and the Conservatives who now face heavy criticism.

Thanks for this DoDo. A great reminder of how distorted reporting can be, especially where it fits into established cultural prejudices.
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Mon Mar 20th, 2006 at 11:05:14 AM EST

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