Some observers attribute Trump’s victory in the American presidential election to Twitter. This is an analysis that Trump himself agrees with. Trump more than once stated that the traditional media have been working against him since the beginning of his presidential candidacy and that they continue to distort his statements. Therefore, Trump prefers to address the world via Twitter rather than make announcements through traditional media.
Trump’s interest in Twitter compels the media to pay attention to his tweets, and the media has begun to use Trump’s tweets as the subject of news reports. Indeed, we have begun to see news headlines such as: “Trump Tweets about Qatar, Angering the Senate” or “Trump and Melania Send ‘Happy’ Tweets from Riyadh.” Before we were used to reading headlines like: “Obama’s Statements Anger His Allies.” “Statements” have been replaced by “tweets.” So what is the difference between Trump making remarks via Twitter and making remarks through the media?
Usually, what is considered to be a media statement is an excerpt from a journalistic interview, a political speech or a news conference. Traditional media do not usually mention everything that was said on these occasions; instead, the media select what they consider to be important and beneficial for their audience. This means that it is a matter of journalistic discretion, which is one of the tools that make journalists powerful. Journalists report on what they want and leave out what they want. Moreover, the context of media statements remains unknown to the audience, and what is permitted to be understood is at odds with reality. In addition, journalists do not leave media statements as they are, but frequently change them into indirect quotations and communicate them in their own words, based on their personal understanding of the statement. And this understanding is not necessarily in conformity with how the audience would understand the statement if they had heard it in its full context.
A prime example of this occurred with Hassan Fairouz Abadi, the senior advisor to the Ayatollah Ali Khameini, and his statement that appeared on Al-Jazeera on Nov. 30, 2016. Abadi’s statement was written inside quotation marks, meaning that it is a literal citation of his words, and it read as follows: “Iran did not send missiles to Yemen since Yemen was Russia’s greatest ally and has had rockets for a long time. We only supported Yemen on religious and humanitarian levels, as is our duty.” However, the news broadcaster did not quote what Fairouz Abadi said literally; rather he indirectly quoted Abadi when he said that “Iran did not send missiles to Yemen since Yemen was Russia’s greatest ally and Russia has had missiles for a long time. We only supported Yemen on religious and humanitarian levels, as is our duty.”
The announcer succeeded in indirectly quoting Abadi, but in the end he failed. The announcer changed the word “anna” to “inna” after the word “haithu,” which is linguistically a better choice. However, the announcer also used “yamtalaka,” the third person singular form of the verb meaning to possess or to own, when in the original unaltered quote, Abadi used “tamtalaka,” the feminine third person singular form of the verb, which changes the meaning of the sentence. From the first statement, it is understood that Yemen is the one who has possessed missiles for a long time, but from the second statement (the original) it is understood that Russia is the one who has possessed missiles for a long time. We noticed this change because we saw the literal statement written in front of us on the screen, and we heard the statement change into an indirect quote in the live broadcast. How many other statements for which we don’t know the literal text and letters have been turned into an indirect quote that changes the meaning of the statement?
The alteration in the conjugation of the verb in Abadi’s statement can perhaps be considered an unintentional professional mistake; however, many political announcements are intentionally distorted.
An English statement by Yasser Arafat, the deceased president of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which was published by global media outlets when he was besieged in his home in 2001, is a good example of how political announcements are intentionally distorted.
The top German news channel, ARD, and Al-Jazeera reported on Arafat’s statements, and we have translated them into Arabic. The German station’s translation of Arafat’s statements was as follows: “Is this acceptable? I cannot even leave the house. How long will this situation continue? This siege must have an effect on the stability of the entire Middle East.” As for Al-Jazeera, Arafat’s statements were translated as follows: “Is this acceptable that I cannot leave my house? Is this acceptable? How long will this situation continue? Do you think that this matter will have no effect on the security and stability of the Middle East?”.
The person who hears the German correspondent’s translation of Arafat’s statement thinks that the president is threatening the security and stability of the entire Middle East. This threat is evident in the phrase “This siege must have an effect on the security and stability of the entire Middle East.” The word “yejeb” (which means “must or necessarily”) that the German translation used implies a definite future threat to destabilize the region of the Middle East. Further, the word “biruma” (which means “entire” or “complete”) that the German translation uses demonstrates the massive scale of this threat, which exceeds the borders of historical Palestine and encompasses the entire Middle East.
As for the person who hears Al-Jazeera’s translation of Arafat’s statement, that person understands the matter differently and is given a different impression. For in this translation, the listener will notice a single succession of interrogative statements without a single declarative statement. The president expressed a series of repeated questions, and the listener understands from this that he is complaining about his situation under siege and the current state of affairs. Moreover, it is not understood from the president’s words that he was threatening the security and stability of the Middle East. This example clearly demonstrates how it is possible for a journalist to make subtle adjustments to a political statement to give it a completely different meaning.
As for tweets, no journalist can control them. Tweets reach the recipient directly, without journalistic mediation and without distortion or manipulation. The tweet itself is created outside the context of a speech, and its owner can directly edit, fix or explain it with another tweet. The most important thing is that journalists cannot do anything but take the tweet as it is, since there is no space for debating it. This explains the media quoting tweets just as they are, as they would with images. So then is Trump to be blamed for his passion for tweeting instead of making traditional media announcements?
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