Friday, September 17, 2004

EL PAIS apologizes for the disgusting email advertisement campaign which included the imagery of the September 11 atrocity (see previous posts about the issue here and here).

In an editorial in today's edition (link in Spanish; presumably it will be in its daily English pdf version here, but as of this moment there's an error message). Credit where credit is due, they have quite harsh words for the initiative and they announce they have launched an internal investigation to establish responsibilities about it, and have given instructions to the email marketing company to send a message apologizing to all 50,000 recipients of the original advertisement.

I have no doubt that the reaction from the blogosphere has played a major role in this matter; after the visiblity that the advertisement reached on the internet (my initial post about this reached #5 on Blogdex yesterday), El Pais -and apparently some of the Spanish embassies around the world, particularly Washington- was innundated with complaints, and they reacted.

See, Dan Rather? It's better when you apologize!

UPDATE. The English version is still unavailable, but the one and only V-Man of Southern Watch has kindly translated the apology for all to see.

I echo his "apologies accepted".

By the way, I see he now translates the infamous text of the ad as "A lot can happen in a day", and not as "You can do a lot in one day" as I did.

In any case, the issue of the specific translation of the ad's motto was then, and more clearly now, irrelevant. After all, it's El Pais itself who unequivocally states that it's "regrettable", "an error", "repugnant" and "irresponsible", without addressing the wording issue at all.

In the original post I explained (see Update III onwards) why I translated the sentence the way I did and still think it reflects the spirit better, but English is not my main language (I bet you already noticed!) so there may be some nuance that I'm missing. I see this as a debatable question with no unique answer, but if there was any mistake in the nuancing of the translation (no pun intended, Mr Kerry!) I also apologize.

Actually, reader Maria Downing (a Spanish citizen who has been living in California for 26 years and who has an interest in language issues, though she admits she's not a professional translator) writes:
I would like to add a comment to the discussion about the translation of "Un dia da para mucho". I would like to suggest "You can get a lot done in a single day" instead of "You can do a lot in a single day". "Get a lot done" has the connotation of efficiency that the original Spanish phrase also conveys. "Do a lot" is a bit too neutral, I feel. Would you agree?
Yes, I agree; I think this is probably the best translation, and the one I would have used if I had thought of it then.

Finally, with this update I consider this issue closed; thanks to all readers over the world who read, commented, linked or sent emails about it. I think the blogosphere made, again, a big difference. To all of you visiting this humble blog, please bookmark it or enter the RSS feed into your aggregators and come back often. And don't forget to tell your friends too, I'd love to see you all hanging around here!

UPDATE II. John Pawlenko writes that he had asked Bertrand Pecquerie from Editorsweblog to forward a note about the controversy to Juan Luis Cebrian, the former editor of El País and currently the CEO of its parent media group PRISA, and apparently the issue did land on his desk, no less:
John, a young editor of Barcablog asked me, two days ago, to forward a personal message to Juan-Luis Cebrian, the former editor of El Pais and currently the Prisa CEO. And today, Cebrian answered me he apologised for this "regretful" ad and that all contacts were broken with the ad agency.
If they ad agency was the culprit, then I'm not sorry that they got the boot; they screwed badly. But I would be very suprised if no one inside the marketing department of the newspaper was involved.

FINAL UPDATE. More on the translation, via Howard Rheingold from SmartMobs:
“One day can yield a lot. Imagine what can happen in three months” (freely translated, and please bear in mind that translation here can be an extremely sensitive issue… in case you can read Spanish, the full sentence reads “Un día da para mucho. Imagínese lo que puede suceder en tres meses”)
Sorry, Maria, but I think this translation is even better than yours.

There's also a continuing discussion in several posts at Smartmobs on the kinda smartmob via SMS duringthe days between March 11 and election day on March 14, and particularly on Sat. 13 (by law a 'quiet day' in which any public demonstration or political statement by the parties are forbidden by law) by the same professor who sent the translation and by other commenters (Francis Pisani, José Cervera and José Luis de Vicente). So keep scrolling; I'm not sure I agree that the SMS campaign in itself was orchestrated by the PP-hostile media (led by El Pais and SER radio) as the professor says; my opinion is that these media organizations, as surfers do, rode the wave of the mounting perception by the public that the government was withholding information. But, as I wrote in a previous entry, that perception came in an remarkable degree from some information that these media organizations were feeding and which ultimately proved to be false. It's telling, as the anonymous professor is saying, that SER radio did delete all audio from their web archives, something unprecedented (a website owner made them available here and subsquent posts, though).

At the same time, I'd dispute José Luis de Vicente comment that it was El Pais and PRISA the first ones to break the news that the perpetrators may have been Al-Qaeda; as all three commenters say (himself, Pisani and Cervera) El Pais 'fell' for the 'trap' by Aznar who called its editor stating 'falsely' that it had been ETA, so they went ahead with that information on March 12, the day after the bombings. Of course, this doesn't explain why the rest of the main media, whose editors got the call too, refused to go along with the 'trap' on their March 12 editions and had both possibilities (ETA and AQ) on their front pages. Perhaps what this proves is that the 'trap' wasn't exactly that, and was merely an update about the status of the investigations which, until mid afternoon on March 11, pointed unequivocally towards ETA for the reasons the anonymous professor mentions. The thing got messy on Friday, not before, and during March 11 even pro-Basque politicians were openly indicating that it was ETA. The head of the regional Basque government included; in fact, he was the first to do so approximately one hour after the bombings in a public address televised all over the country saying that he was appalled and disgusted by what ETA had done, in very stark terms.

But, more importantly, this explanation -that it was El Pais and other media belonging to the PRISA group who broke the news of an Islamic link during March 12, after having 'fallen' for Aznar's 'trap' doesn't bode well with a very simple fact which is on the public record (link in Spanish from Telemadrid, Madrid's regional broadcaster): that on the very same March 11, at 8.30 pm (much before El Pais and SER started talking about the AQ link), in a press conference broadcast live all accross the country, Angel Acebes -the interior minister in Aznar's cabinet- announced that a white van with detonators and a tape with Koranic verses had been found by the police, thus acknowledging the Islamic link for the first time. He did say that the ETA authorship was the main line of investigation over AQ's, which actually is what all police officials appearing at the commission investigating the attacks have told: that they did start the AQ line of investigation -while considering ETA the most likely culprit- when the van was found, and later continued when they found a bag with an undexploded bomb on the wee hours of Friday March 12, but that they still considered ETA the most likely perpetrator until they got all the results from the forensic tests done to the SIM card in the phone which should have detonated that unexploded device. These tests -which obviously need time for the procedures- pointed to a phoneshop whose ownership and link to the attacks was unkown until the first arrests were done. And that was on Saturday 13 afternoon; during that same evening, Acebes announced the arrests during another press conference broadcast live.

These are the most obvious points that I'd dispute; the rest are basically not factual assertions but questions of judgement which, obviously, as matters of opinion are not answerable with facts.