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October 23, 2014
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Local vultures prey on the language

Suspended prosecutor José María Campagnoli’s impeachment trial has hit the headlines over the past few weeks.

Mendacious media coverage can end up negatively affecting democracy

While the winter chill descends on Argentina and everyday life unfolds normally, the population seems to be hanging on two contests with uncertain outcomes — the World Cup and the vulture fund issue.

Yet it is also striking how stoically this society is standing up to the local media bombardment with its doom and gloom, whether regarding the prospects of the soccer squad or the financial onslaught of the international speculators. To which must be added the tenacious flapping of the local vulture wings. There is plenty which seems to irritate these low-flying creatures.

Perhaps good material for sociological material. The Argentine predators work tirelessly everyday, eroding the fibre of the citizenry with a grit worthy of better causes. How do they do it? Via distortion, lies and insinuation — that everybody knows. But also via a lesser-known technique which is worth underlining — the linguistic distortion which already affects all Argentines.

And that does not cease to be worrying because the first thing which identifies any country is its language while nothing defines the real and deepest moods of a society than its spoken language.

Looking at the social networks (especially Twitter) and readers’ letters in some dailies as well as the constant cheek of some rebellious television channels, one is entitled to speak of the worrying phenomenon of linguistic vultures who hover over our present as decisively as their cousins of the international financial world and whose mission appears to be to satisfy “the dialectic appetites of the Argentine public,” as the writer and academic Noé Jitrik defined it a few days ago.

The abusive use of conditional tenses, malicious suggestion, the ideological falsification of verbs and adjective and in general, the promotion of hate and violence via the brutalization of the Argentine language resulting inevitably from the contumacy of its proponents are ever more dangerous and need to be exposed with some examples:

1- Submitted to the interests of their bosses and fearful of losing their jobs or due to their ideological affinity with the media in which they work, many editors of both metropolitan and provincial newspapers use apocalyptic headlines, sometimes negative to the point of nihilism, in order to brainwash their readers. Headlines constantly read: “It is assured that ...,” “There are fears that ...,” “It has been denounced that ...,” “It has been reported that ...,” etc. with nobody responsible for these “opinions,” which are falsely presented as “information.”

2- Another device is to reinforce the self-flagellating vision of any Argentine which many of its readers are known to have. Hence the headlines: “And so the world media see it ...,” followed by quotes clipped from the editorials of allied newspapers in Europe or the Americas, many of which seem to have been induced by themselves. And the text for these pieces is frequently no more than the repertoire of self-interested opinions from their own correspondents in different capitals.

3- These vulture texts generally abuse conditional language. “So and so is said to have said” means that he did not say it but the newspaper would like to believe that he did. “Expected for tomorrow...” means that the broadcaster has no reliable information beyond its own wishful thinking. “On-the-spot witness...” means that there was no witness and that the medium is making it up. “Unofficial sources inform ...” is another semantic lie because if the sources are unofficial, there cannot be information but only pointed rumours. And so on.

4- Already commonplace, the use of verbs in the present indicative has become a constant (they advise, ask, denounce, say, claim, question, etc.), which, used in an absolutely depersonalized form, results insidious and disturbing, which is exactly the effect sought.

5- Another variant is concealment. For example, regarding the suspension of the impeachment of prosecutor José María Campagnoli, it is informed that “judge María Cristina Martínez Córdoba suffered peak stress” and then “retired from the process” but they do not reveal that she was threatened by telephone and in the social networks, where they revealed her address and her mobile telephone number, promising to harass her unless she voted in favour of the prosecutor accused of malfeasance.

Fortunately, some local wits spot these tricks and point out the paradoxes. Thus the Friday online edition of an important newspaper had the headline: “The plane carrying (basketball-player Emanuel) Ginóbili declared in emergency,” about which a reader ironically commented: “You can tell it was not Aerolíneas Argentinas because then they would have run a six-deck headline saying that Aerolíneas almost killed Ginóbili.”

Anyway these formal and linguistic tics are ever more frequent in the corrosive articles of well-known columnists, most of them converts whose anti-Kirchnerite zeal and fury seems to place them in positions counter to the most basic national interests. That makes some articles dangerous because once a deformed and mendacious language is installed in a society, that society’s capacity to discern is reduced. And that affects democracy and liberty.

That’s why the linguistic vultures are dangerous and it is necessary to show them up.

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