Saturday, August 20, 2011

Using the word "claim" in a broadcast news story...

...is something I tell my students not to do.

Why?

It's one of those loaded terms -- meaning one that can be interpreted in a variety of ways, including suggesting that the reporter doesn't believe what the source is saying.

I was reminded of that term again today, as I watched the 2:00 p.m. EDT al Jazeera news program. One of its headlines said that "the Americans who claim to be backpackers" were sentenced to eight years in an Iranian jail. (Here's an AFP report on the sentence handed down today by an Iranian court and the U.S. reaction to it.)

The Americans who "claim" to be backpackers...read those words carefully. As you do, ask yourself if you agree that one interpretation of the use of that one word is that the Americans are lying.

Interestingly al Jazeera's news anchor did not repeat that term as he explored the decision and what might happen next to the two men.

In my opinion, that is a wise decision.

No, I'm not using this example as a back-door criticism of al Jazeera, which I find to be a credible source and one that I regularly follow (either through its broadcasts or its Website). It is not the only network that uses "claim" and other such loaded terms (i.e. "asserted" and "argued", among others) in its reporting.

I say that "claim" is one word that ought to be used very carefully, and I think today al Jazeera used it incorrectly.

And in case you are wondering, my message to my students is to use "say" ("says", "said", etc) in broadcast writing. That word carries no baggage and advances the chance for an objective story to be reported.

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