By: Er. Prabhat Kishore
One basic guideline of news presentation is respect for sanctity of facts. In other words, accuracy for a news agency it is an imperative test of its credibility. For a news agency caters a wide variety of interests’ newspaper, Akashvani, Doordarshan, Private News Channels, government agencies, commercial and public organizations-with differing views on politics, economics, and every aspect of life.
The news agency’s job is to supply to its subscriber’s facts about events as they unfold themselves. It should present these facts with proper attribution of source and without bias of a sort. It should, as far as possible, cover the complete story giving facts relevant to all aspects and angles of perception of an incident or issue. This, in a nutshell, is what is understood by the term objectivity. Another essential requirement of a news agency report is speed. Because its consumers have varying deadlines spread around the clock, a news agency has to be fast with the news. It does not work towards a deadline. It deadline is always now.
News agency reporting differs from newspaper reporting. A news agency reporting is factual, objective and impartial, whereas a newspaper reporting may be subjective and partial according to the policy of the paper. A news agency report is without any colour, whereas a colourful report is preferred in newspaper report. A news agency reporter has his deadline because it has to cater to either Akashwani, Doordarshan or some of the foreign papers, whereas a newspaper reporter has deadline by which time he must submit his report to enable it to go to the press.
The opening paragraph or ‘lead’ of a news story should be short and crisp or so as to catch attention and direct the reader’s interest into the body of the story. It should not be burdened with details that can afford to wait till later down in the story. If a leader has to look over a sentence second time to understand it, then the sentence has no place in a news agency copy.
Basically a news story must answer the three W’s’, what, when and where. Three other questions should be who, why and how. The opening of a story should not be on a negative and not suggesting that nothing has been happening; for example, we should not begin copy with quotations: ‘There is no change in the condition of Shri Ram Adhin Singh, renowned freedom fighter’.
However, it is the context that matters, and if a negative sounding has a positive context then it may become the lead point. For instance, ’The Finance Minister Mrs Nirmala Sitaraman told the states that there would be no more writing off of any crop loans.’ is fully justified opening a news story.
Objectivity in news coverage
In news copy carrying only one version and ignoring others, in the coverage of a controversial matter, amount to taking sides. Objectivity demands that both sides of all points of views in a controversy are fairly presented. A news writer should adopt reference to point about, which he himself is not sure. If such a point has to be introduced the copy should clearly state that it was unconfirmed.
In order to maintain its objectivity, a news agency has to be very particular about the source of fact in its report. A news agency’s reputation depends on the voracity of its story. There are certain types of story where no source is required; as for instance, proceedings of legislature or meetings, conference and judicial proceeding, directly covered by a reporter or a team of reporters or press conferences-where the person addressing the reporter is named. In all other cases a news agency report requires to be authenticated with a proper source since the agency itself does not accept any responsibility for the statement issue or the facts offered by any person. By dropping mention of the source, the agency would be needlessly accepting responsibility for news or information, which may be open to question.
What is proper source? There is no fixed source, which is proper for all cases or stories. A particular source, however highly placed, may be relevant for one kind of story and may be totally irrelevant for another. This makes it necessary to determine in each case the appropriate source/sources. It is essential to name the source, except in special circumstances. It is not enough for a reporter to be assured in his own mind that his source was perfect. It is equally necessary to convince the reader of it.
A source can be hard that is to say the horses’ mouth or it may be weak. The hardest of all the sources is where facts in a report are ascribing to the concerned person or persons by name. On government policies, for example, the Prime Minister or other ministers, top officials of the concerned ministries or the department are the hardest source. But they are not hard enough with regard to matters that do not fall within the purview of their own functioning. Equally hard are official press releases and briefing by spokesman, even if not identified by name. Only press releases from the Central or any State Government may be described as official press release. In other cases, the particular office releasing the press note may be named. For instance, a press from a Collector of district or from Commission or Police or from Municipal Commissioner must be identified and not described as an official press release. The distinction is necessary to convey to the readers that the release had been issued by a local official source and not by the government at the highest level.
When a general opinion within a particular group is wide base is to be given, the practice is to quote ‘Circle’; for instance, business circle, trade circle, political circle. It should be noted that such sourcing can relate to reaction pieces, comments and not to any hard news. Then there are other phrases, which constitute weak sourcing and should not be used when harder source is possible. These include-(i) ‘It is learnt’-This suggest second hand or third party information awaiting confirmation from a more authentic source. The modern tendency in the world of the news agencies is to avoid use of this phrase and instead indicate separately that confirmation by appropriate source was due, (ii) ‘It is believed’-This expression could imply that it was the news agency that believes which an agency has no business to do. Instead, if a belief has to be carried, it should be properly ascribed to the person or the group that holds to belief. For instance, “the police believed that two persons were killed in a group clash in Harnaut”, (iii) ‘It is stated’- This is to vague in the absence of who is stating, (iv) ‘It is gathered’- This is to weak a way of sourcing and news agency should have nothing to do with it, (v) ‘It is reliably learnt’ or ‘According to reliable sources’-This has no particular value, since, an agency is always expected to obtain information from reliable sources only. (vi) ‘According to usually reliable sources’- At one time, it was a popular expression but it is dying out now. Usually reliable means what always reliable or in other words, sometimes ‘un-reliable’. And who is to place faith in a source, which is so condemned. (vii) ‘According to political observer’ or ‘According to political circles’-This is used in interpretative stories and is permissive but the tendency to put across a reporters or a partisan view should be checked.
Multiple identification in news reports
When the subject of a story has multiple identification, the most pertinent among them is that which we mention in the opening paragraph. The others can be suitably spread in later part of the news copy. An opening with “The Chief Minister Mr. Nitish Kumar who is also the Janata Dal (U) President”, does not get the story moving well. The fact Mr. Nitish Kumar is President of the JD(U) can easily be held over for mention in the second paragraph.
A person should be identified first by the office or position consequence he currently holds. Any position he held earlier may be mentioned if warranted in the next paragraph. For instance, Mr. Gulam Nabi Azad would be identified first as the Congress leader or the leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha and subsequently as the former Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir. Where, however, the subject does not hold any office currently he would be necessity fact to be identified by the former office for instance, “The former Prime Minister Mr. H.D. Deve Gawda”. Some personalities like Chhatrapati Shivajee, Mahatma Gandhi, Vithal Bhai Patel, Sardar Patel, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam etc. do not require any identification.
In the news copy circulated within the country, the word ‘Indian’ is not required to describe our Prime Minister of other dignitaries of state as also personalities. Thus in covering the activities of the Prime Minister on a visit abroad we say “The Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi today met his Mauritius counterpart, Mr. Pravind Jagannath.”.
The expression ‘Indian Government’ is not used in a news copy circulated in the country. First reference would be ‘The Government of India’ or ‘The Union Government’ in carrying a policy statement for an official announcement. Subsequently reference may be simply ‘The Government’. In the case of State/UT Government, we would say ‘The Government of J&K’ or ‘The J&K Government’ on first reference and subsequently ‘The UT Government’ or just ‘The Government’.
(Author is a technocrat and educationist. He studied Journalism and Mass Communication at Patna University)
Presenting news : a viewpoint
By: Er. Prabhat Kishore