Speaking of Which | The Last Resort

11 Jan,2013

By Vidya Heble


If you are someone who writes – or edits – for a living, it is not always enough to get facts, spelling and grammar right. You also have to remember the sub-text of what you are saying. I’ve seen a reporter pulled up for describing someone in their 50s as “elderly”. Of course, this was in a newsroom which was extremely, um, straitlaced, but it drove home to me the importance of implication.


One such mistake that reporters often make is implying that when police teargas, lathi-charge or open fire on protesters, they are forced to do so by the unrelenting provocation of the mob. This is done, probably unwittingly, through the simple expedient of using “resorted to”. “Police resorted to a lathi-charge,” is the most common example. It must be made clear that “resorted to” is not a synonym for “carried out”. “Resorted to” means that the police, at the end of their tether and unable to quell the frenzied crowd by any other means, resorted to violence and there was no other option available.


With the explosion of media, the practice of plain old reporting seems to have fallen by the wayside, but one of the tenets of straightforward reporting is that there should be no slant or opinion injected into it. Implying that the police were pressed into firing or lathi-charging as a last resort is not recommended. “Had to” is another such phrase. Using such phrases implies that there was provocation from one side and retaliation by another. Hold off doing this. The reporter’s job is to be the word-camera, and all you need to do is think about each word as you write it.


If someone says it, of course they can be quoted, and the same goes for an opinion piece. In reporting, stick with the facts. The mob marched, or threw stones, the police carried out a lathi-charge, or opened fire, or water-cannoned the protesters.


Here I have used the police as an example; it can well be the other way round, as in one report where I read that the crowd resorted to stone-throwing and damaged some vehicles. Beats me why it couldn’t have been just “the crowd threw stones”. (None of them, I presume, live in glass houses.)


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