E.S. Isaac presented this paper at the conference “Reporting Religious Controversies” on Sept. 8, 2007 in New Delhi, India.
Journalists have a challenging job while reporting controversies. They need to raise questions, to generate doubts and probe the soft and vulnerable spots of a news story.
When it comes to reporting religious controversies, they need to subject the story to a variety of tests, so that honesty and accuracy can withstand falsehood, exaggeration and minimize harm.
The followings ten tests would help in making an excellent report on religious controversies.
1. The Intention Test: This test seeks to determine whether it was the stated or implied intention of the news source to accurately convey the news. In order to establish the right intention, the news source needs to be properly investigated for accuracy. It should be well supported by witnesses or other sources.
2. The Ability Test: Even if the right intention of the news source is reliable, how can a journalist be sure that the accuracy of news has not been tempered by the inability of the source? The ability test will lead to an integrated news story.
3. The Character Test: This test looks at whether it was in the character of the news source to be truthful. Was there any evidence of dishonesty or immorality that might taint their ability or willingness to be accurate?
4. The Consistency Test: Many times different versions of news appear to be hopelessly contradictory with each other. In the case of religious controversies, the diversity in points of view may lead to irreconcilable discrepancies. Controversies may also lead to contradictions. But if properly observed and practiced, the consistency test will hold the controversies together.
5. The Bias Test: This test analyses whether the news source had any biases that would have colored their points of view. Did they have any vested interest in skewing the material or the incident? Bias could also be due to attitudinal perspective.
6. The Cover-up Test: When people testify about events they saw, they often try to protect themselves or others by conveniently forgetting to mention details that are embarrassing or hard to explain. As a result, this raises uncertainty about the veracity of their entire testimony. The cover-up test helps in cleaning up the smoke without demeaning the sources.
7. The Corroboration Test: When the sources mention people, places and events, do they check out to be correct if independently verified? Often such corroboration is invaluable in assessing whether a source has a commitment to accuracy. Corroboration adds integrity and accuracy to the story.
8. The Adverse Witness Test: This test asks the question: Were others present who would have contradicted or corrected the story if it had been distorted or false? In other words, a reporter may come across examples of others present at the venue complaining that the accounts were wrong. The adverse witness test is actually a safety valve for reporting religious controversies.
9. The After Effect Test: While reporting religious controversies, a journalist must also imagine the effect of publishing such a story among its readers. If it could cause more harm than public good, then it could be pushed into inside pages.
10. The Fraternity Test: In all reporting, more especially, while reporting, the end in view should be to uphold human fraternity — the universal brotherhood and sisterhood, which should never be forgotten.