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Annals of Shoddy Journalism

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Regular readers of Serengeti’s Media Report will remember a Yellow Couch piece in the March issue of last year about how some newspapers have the tendency to rely exclusively on anonymous sources in their news stories. As the piece argued at the time, anonymity, with few exceptions, is overused and has become a way for sources to disseminate information and their versions of the truth without being accountable for what they say. Far worse it can turn journalists into active participants in the spread of misleading and at times biased stories. You can read the rest of the Yellow Couch here.

A perfect illustration of this pathology appeared today on the front page of The Guardian. In a stunning piece of spin masquerading as journalism, the paper published a story that quoted ‘experts’ who think that the Bank of Tanzania (BoT) was right to spend Tshs 2.5bn/ to build new residences for it’s top two executives. Here are cited sources as they appear in the article:

‘leading economists and prominent industrialists’, ‘Dar es Salaam-based economic consultant’, ‘a retired banker who…has known incumbent BoT governor…“extremely well for decades”, ‘several prominent businesspersons dealing in import and export trade’, ‘a prominent business analyst’, ‘a BoT inside source’, ‘ a senior official of the central bank’, ‘a renowned political scientist’.

None of these sources are named nor is it explained to readers how they came to be ‘leading’, ‘prominent’, or ‘renowned’. Not a single sentence in the whole piece quoted an alternate perspective, allowing the opinions of these ‘leading’, ‘prominent’ and ‘renowned’ shadowy figures to enter the public sphere unchallenged. Furthermore, because of their anonymity readers are unable to ascertain the sources’ motives and why they decided to hide their identities. On top of that the story itself is not bylined. Readers have to contend themselves with the vague, ‘By Guardian Team’ (This in itself should be interrogated. Who makes up this Guardian team, especially since, according to news reports, most of the ‘junior reporters’ working for The Guardian Newspapers Ltd. are on suspension?) below the headline, ‘Experts:why furore over BoT chief’s residence?’

This is not journalism. It is propaganda. It is shameful and it should stop.

UPDATE: In its editorial today, The Guardian continues to push the spin advanced by the anonymous sources in the above story. Regurgitating almost verbatim the arguments put forward by its ‘leading’, ‘prominent’,  and ‘renowned’ sources, the paper has essentially become a parrot for their views. This is propaganda journalism at its most shameless. The intriguing question is, why is The Guardian engaging in such biased and shallow reporting in defense of this BoT decision?

UPDATE II: If you are curious on the subject of anonymous sources and how they should be used in journalism take a look at these guidelines from The New York Times and The Washington Post.

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Written by serengetiadvisersblog

January 19, 2010 at 17:42