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Aug 15 2010

Journalists unable to cope with the conditional?

A short rant on the newspapers today. Is there something in the style guides that says either something must happen or something is not happening? I take as an example, this piece in the Observer:

In its first few months in government, the coalition has delivered one major housing reform after another – from plans to cut down on “garden-grabbing” to crackdowns on housing benefit and the unexpected announcement by the prime minister that council tenants would no longer be guaranteed a right to lifetime occupancy.

This (emphasised) statement is simply not correct. Or it’s only correct if you believe it’s an accurate reflection of this reply the prime minister made to a question at a PM Direct event:

At the moment we have a system very much where, if you get a council house or an affordable house, it is yours forever and in some cases people actually hand them down to their children. And actually it ought to be about need. Your need has got greater … and yet there isn’t really the opportunity to move.”

“There is a question mark about whether, in future, should we be asking, actually, when you are given a council home, is it for a fixed period, because maybe in five or 10 years you will be doing a different job and be better paid and you won’t need that home, you will be able to go into the private sector….

“So I think a more flexible system – that not everyone will support and will lead to quite a big argument… looking at a more flexible system, I think makes sense.

I’m a simple scientist not trained in the intricacies of the English language (particularly the apostrophe), but even I can tell the difference between asking a question and making a definite statement of policy. It seems important to me that events should be reported accurately and not simply re-worded to suit your prejudices. The article I quoted here is actually quite good, and interesting, but given this example of a deviation between what was said and what was written, how can I trust the rest of it?

*Preparation for this blog post hindered by @HappyMouffetard’s Tourette’s Syndrome breaking out whenever she hears the voice of David Cameron.

3 comments

  1. HappyMouffetard

    *!##$!!

  2. LillaBrunaElk

    My peeve is the "Tomorrow X will present their new policy on …" Given that X could be run over by a bus or any number of other lesser misfortunes, it is impossible to say that they will. They intend to, plan to or even hope to but saying they "will" is all a bit lazy.

    *here endeth minor pedantic rant*

    I love the precision of science applied to journalism!

  3. SomeBeans

    @lillaBrunaElk – this is the advantage of blogging: you can disseminate your peeves to a wider audience!

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