Monday 12 May 2014

Careful wording

Here's how BBC international development correspondent Mark Doyle could (and in my view should) have reported the news this morning on Radio 4's Today programme
"Nigeria would be pleased to have Israel’s globally acknowledged anti-terrorism expertise deployed to support its ongoing operations,” Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan told Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he accepted Israel's offer of assistance in helping to track down and rescue the more than 200 school girls kidnapped by the Muslim terrorist organisation Boko Haram last month. Mr Netanyahu expressed his country's "deep shock" over the abductions and said that the Israelis would work in collaboration with teams from the United States and Britain who are already in the country and their Nigerian counterparts to intensify the search for the girls.
Instead, this is what Mark Doyle said (in both the 7.00 am and 8.00 am bulletins):
The Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan said that the involvement of the Israelis meant the whole world was now supporting the search and rescue mission for the more than 200 teenage girls. But the arrival of the Israelis, whatever their technical and military expertise, is bound to be politically controversial in Nigeria where there are frequent and deadly clashes between residents of the mainly Christian south of the country and the Muslim north. President Jonathan is a Christian from the south. His predecessor was a Muslim. The violent insurgency by the Islamists who seized the more than 200 girls has got worse during the time the Christian president Jonathan has been in power. 
I heard that as I drove to work and thought, "Uh-oh, sounds like he doesn't think it's a good idea having Israelis involved". I took him to be heavily implying that Israel's involvement will further inflame Muslim-Christian tensions and, therefore, that's it's a bad move. 

I was also struck by the odd way the report was phrased - Deborah at Biased BBC has accurately described it as "carefully worded" - and I doubt I was alone in thinking that Mark Doyle was placing a good deal of the blame for the "violent insurgency by the Islamists" on the Christians and the "Christian president Jonathan".

Reviewing it tonight in the cold light of an English evening (and now seeing it written on the page), I can see that Mark Doyle's careful wording has resulted in a deeply ambiguous report. Sentences and facts are placed side by side and few explicit connections made between them. "Something" is "understood" maybe, but what?

Well, the implicit message that Goodluck Jonathan's decision to accept Israel's help is a potentially inflammatory move still seems to ring out loud and clear to me, as does Mark Doyle's disapproval of it. 

All the careful wording in the world can't disguise that.

Was it also a "carefully worded" attempt to 'share the blame' between the two religious communities, and make 'the Christian side' as culpable-sounding as 'the Muslim side', in true BBC fashion?

Well, I certainly 'understood' it that way. Did you?


  1. Thanks Craig for the acknowledgement. I have noticed these Radio 4 news reports fairly often where the reader reads as thought from a careful script, usually on items which the BBC would think of as contentious. I am not sure whether there have been many hands in the rebroadcast writing of the items or where 'the view to take' has produced a struggle in telling the story, keeping the truth and yet producing a slant to maintain the BBC narrative. These items are hard to define and analyse objectively yet they are so obvious when heard on Today or PM

    1. It was perfectly clear though on the BBC World Service however that the aim in the story of the Muslims sheltering in a church in the Central African Republic was to show that the only victims were Muslims. This was because there was no context whatsoever for the conflict which started when the Muslim group Seleka ran rampage there in 2013.


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