Sunday, October 14, 2007

Anatomy of a news report

The BBC ran a story headlined "Indian temple stampede kills 12" today, 14 Oct 2007; the URL is "". I believe it is instructive to examine it.

> Twelve people have been killed after a stampede
> at a hilltop Hindu temple in India, police said.

1. "Police said"? Which police, or who? The Gujarat Police's official spokesman, or the local officer in charge of the district, or a constable in Delhi who is the correspondent's acquaintance, and owns a pocket radio on which he heard about the tragedy.

> A further eight people were injured at the
> religious festival at a popular temple of
> Hindu goddess Mahakali, in the Western
> state of Gujarat.

2. Inappropriate choice of article: "a religious festival", and not "the religious festival".

3. Unnecessary capitalization: "western", instead of "Western".

4. Was this also said by the police? Or is this something the writer personally knows to be true?

> Thousands of people reportedly crowded a
> narrow path leading to the temple when
> the stampede occurred.

5. Interesting - who reported this? Still the same "police", or someone else now?

> Some worshippers are thought to have been
> pushed off the bridge while others were trampled.

6. Who is doing the thinking here?

7. Some are thought to be pushed off the bridge, but what of those who were trampled? Are they also "thought" to have been trampled, or is the writer now conveying a statement personally known to be true? One wonders how the writer comes by this personal knowledge - or is it indeed yet another source? If the latter, then this increases the potential number of distinct sources to five.

> The BBC South Asia's correspondent says
> there are accounts that thousands of
> people climbing up to the temple and
> thousands more descending after completing
> their visit were all trying to use one
> narrow bridge across a gorge.

8. Finally, a named source! Well, almost named. And this worthy correspondent speaks of "accounts"! Accounts by those present at the scene? Or did they see a news report on a local TV channel? Or read it on another news website?

9. Is the figure mentioned here reliable? Who is responsible for its truth value? The BBC? Well, they don't claim it is true - merely that it's what their South Asia correspondent says. Is he or she responsible? No, that's what he or she has been told by an unnamed person or persons, or read in an unnamed publication, or heard over an unnamed news channel.

10. The language leads one to believe that there is a single BBC correspondent for all of south Asia; using geography, one wonders if they have one person covering around 1.5 billion people. This is surely an interesting job. One more for China, a third for the rest of Asia, 85 more for Jerusalem, four each in Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan and perhaps that makes a total of hundred for Asia!

> There was a crush and then a
> stampede, he says.

11. Ah, it is a he! Now we know a little more - the unnamed correspondent is a man. Does he continue to relay an "account" he picked up somewhere, or is this statement his personal truth?

> The temple is situated in Panchmahal district,
> nearly 150km (90 miles) south of Ahmadabad,
> the main city of western Gujarat state.

12. This is probably the "most" true statement in the entire article. Perhaps they would have done well to be consistent, and add "according to the high-school atlas he bought two years ago".

13. Prefer a space between "150" and "km", i.e. "150 km" and not "150km".

14. "main city of western Gujarat state" - the last word is puzzling. Is Ahmadabad the main city of western Gujarat, or is Ahamadabad the main city of the western state of Gujarat?

15. The BBC choice of accompanying visual is as inane as ever: a map of the region! One wonders what the green bit above Delhi is meant to represent. Either an addition to the state of Gujarat, hundreds of miles away, has taken place, known only to the BBC, or the school-atlas the correspondent bought wasn't a very good buy.

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