Image courtesy of Henning Mühlinghaus and released under Creative Commons

Standing between the evidence and the claims

There has been a strike at a steel works. The union claims all its 100,000 members were out on strike, but the employer says 50% turned up for work and defied the picket line.

You were reporting from the main gates of the steel plant all day and you didn't see anyone crossing the picket line. You witnessed the mass meeting after which all those taking part left and walked away from the steel works.

You didn't see any action inside the factory grounds. It was clearly at a standstill with nobody but security staff on site.

So, the company says half the staff have defied the strike action but the trades union says all its members were on strike. How do you report the situation?  Do you:

a) accept the union's line and say that there was a 100% turn out for the strike.
b) accept the company's line and say that 50% defied the strike call.
c) offer both versions and keep quiet about what you saw because it contradicts what has been said and could confuse the audiece.
d) offer both versions, admit you can't confirm which is right or wrong, but describe what you saw in detail.

Correct Answer:  d) offer both versions, admit you can't confirm which is right or wrong, but describe what you saw in detail.

Why d) is the right answer

As a reporter all you can do is report what you have seen and what you have been told. You can attribute comments to those who made them and give your own eye witness account of events.

You should say what the union leaders and the steel plant owners say happened - it is not your role to edit their claims. However you also have a responsibility to describe what you saw happening around you.

In this case you could report that all the workers moved away from the plant after the mass meeting and that all you could see behind the factory gates were a few security men patrolling the premises.

You should not directly contradict either of the claims made by the opposing sides in the dispute. However, by setting out the facts as accurately as possible you will be doing your job as a reporter, even if it appears that what those involved in the dispute are saying conflicts with what you witnessed.

To sum up, your journalism must be:

  • well-sourced
  • supported by strong evidence
  • examined and tested
  • clear and unambiguous.

Click here, or on the embed below, to return to the accuracy module.

The importance of accuracy in journalism

David BrewerThe author of this piece, David Brewer, is a journalist and media strategy consultant who set up and runs Media Helping Media. David has worked as a journalist and manager in print, broadcast and online. He delivers journalism training and media consultancy services worldwide.

This site has been given permission to use and adapt elements of the BBC's Editorial Guidelines in these short editorial ethics modules. They have been updated to reflect changing international, regional and cultural variations.

Image courtesy of Henning Mühlinghaus and released under Creative Commons



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