I am resigned to my local rag, Stroud news and journal, telling me that a particular story it is running is “incredibly moving”—even within the editorial content, where such remarks have no place at all, and even if they have no hope of substantiating it.
Here are two examples where journalists have chosen to add editorialising adjectives which are not just out of place but simply wrong.
Nicola Sturgeon was widely reported after the UK referendum 2016 saying that Scotland had voted “overwhelmingly” to remain.
62.0% of those who voted in Scotland voted to remain [*1], but turnout was 67.2% in Scotland, and that means that only 41.7% of the electorate there voted to remain. it may be churlish to cavil at the word ‘overwhelmingly’ when every Scottish constituency voted to remain, but I am going to cavil anyway: I would prefer an adjective such as ‘decisively’ or even just ‘strongly’ to reflect this vote. 41.7% is not even a majority.
“Referring to Scotland’s “overwhelming and emphatic” vote to remain within the EU on Marr…” [*2]
“The first minister said she believed a second referendum on independence was highly likely after Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain within the EU…” [*3]
On the Radio 4 show, The Westminster hour, 31 july 2016, the presenter, Carol Walker, introduced an item by saying,
“Gary Connor has been to Hartlepool… to find out why nearly 70% of people voted for brexit”.
The reporter, Gary Connor, then said, “People here [Hartlepool] voted overwhelmingly to leave”.
In fact, 69.57% of those who voted in Hartlepool [*4] voted to leave, but only 65.54% of the electorate there chose to vote at all. I calculate 45.60% of the electorate in Hartlepool actually voted to leave.
Walker’s statement that “nearly 70% of people [in Hartlepool] voted for brexit” is clearlyn exaggeration (it could only be right if nearly everyone entitled to vote had done so, yet barely two thirds of the electorate bothered).
But Connor’s statement is jaw droppingly wrong. This is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an “overwhelmingly” vote. It is not, of course, even a majority.
One is prepared to resign oneself to the lies and deceit of politicians, as the referendum campaign has taught us to do, but a BBC reporter? Can it really be that reporters lack ultra-simple numeracy? Given that this is far from being an isolated example, the answer must be one of:
- yes, and they don’t care
- they can do basic arithmetic but they don’t understand the problem.
When many people listen or read this sort of thing and don’t examine it critically (why should we have to?), there is clearly an undealt-with problem.
[*1] figures in §1 from BBC news
[*2] Nicola Sturgeon: Scottish parliament could block Brexit (Libby Brooks, comment piece, the Guardian, 26 june 2016)
[*3] Nicola Sturgeon: second Scottish independence poll highly likely (Severin Carrell, Libby Brooks . the Guardian, 24 june 2016)
[*4] figures in §2 from the Guardian
© 2016 Jeremy Marchant . image: Free images