A case for smart newsreading

Syed Badrul Ahsan | Friday, 24 September 2021

A newscaster at one of the television channels abroad reportedly lost her job not very long ago because she made a mess of the name of the Chinese President.

One wonders if she was entirely to be blamed for the faux pas, given that individuals who are employed at the news departments of media outfits --- and that includes television, radio and newspapers --- are not imparted the sort of training they would need in handling news and commentaries that have a global touch about them.

The fault for the blunders which newsreaders often make lies, in a major way, on those who recruit them and, worse, do not provide them with the training they need before they make it to the newsroom.

If the newsreader did not understand that the XI in the name XI JINPING was not a number but part of the Chinese leader's name, that the pronunciation is 'Shi', it should have been for her departmental senior officers to brief her. Again, she could have gone through the item on her own and got the name in its proper form before stepping into the newsroom.

The episode is one more demonstration of the inherent weaknesses the electronic media in our part of the world continue to suffer from.

Here in Bangladesh in the early 1980s, not long after General Ershad assumed power in the country, an official of Bangladesh Betar had the misfortune of reading the day's initial news bulletin in the absence of the regular newsreader. He simply did not know that 'Lt General' was actually to be read as 'Lieutenant General' and bravely went on to read 'Lt' as LT. One can imagine the consequences.

And then there are, even today, that grating sound in the ear when a newsreader or newscaster mispronounces names. Quite a few have been the occasions when newsreaders have played truant with the name of the Father of the Nation. 'Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman' has ended up as 'Bangabandhu Sheikh Muzibur Rahman.'  Tajuddin Ahmad has been pronounced as Tazuddin Ahmad. Newspapers spell 'Bhashani' as 'Bhasani'.

A half century into our independent status as a nation, these people appearing on the national media cannot differentiate between a J sound and a Z sound, between 'sh' and 's'? As for the names of foreign personalities, the less said the better. One wonders how many at our news outlets, television and radio and newspapers, can correctly pronounce the name of the French Foreign Minister, Jean-Ives Le Drian.

Which brings us to the very crucial matter of how such an embarrassing situation can be corrected. Let us begin with basics, which is that in line with modern news formats, every media institution should have distinct departments dealing with the various aspects of news, the foreign news department being one of them. Those manning the foreign news department should be well-versed in an understanding of global politics, which will of course entail endless research into political developments around the world. Their performance should be without flaws.

And then comes the matter of a recruitment of newsreaders. Every aspiring newsreader should not only be subjected to a voice test but also be examined in his/her knowledge of current affairs. In modern times, the newsreader is expected to be fully conversant with everything that goes on anywhere in the world, which is why every aspiring newsreader should be tested on how much he/she knows of global affairs. Reading the news is a clear public responsibility. And, of course, those who supervise them or question them at the interview must themselves have global events on their fingertips.

Another mechanism in preparing newsreaders for the job they are expected to do, once they have been selected by their organisations, should be for them to undergo mandatory post-appointment training at the Press Institute of Bangladesh (PIB) and the National Institute of Mass Communication (NIMC) at the hands of experts. It is not just pronunciations of the names of personalities they will be expected to master but also go through a crash course on contemporary history, both of Bangladesh and the outside world.

In our social circumstances where newsreading remains monotonous in the extreme, the emphasis should be on injecting verve and energy into the job. The job of a newsreader is not to draw attention to himself/herself but to the grave issues he/she is presenting to the audience. Glamour cannot be part of newsreading. Substance is important.

The old stiffness in newsreading introduced decades ago on Bangladesh Television has over a period of time been adopted to a good extent by the private television channels. The trend should be jettisoned and newsreaders should be permitted the liberty of being natural, of smiling, of improvising, even of injecting an element of humour where it is called for. All of this ought to be part of training, both at the news organisations and at PIB and NIMC.

Every news department at every media outlet should be a platform for an exchange of ideas involving both management and newsreaders. Daily meetings should be the new trend and the old tedium of handing the newsreader a sheaf of papers he/she must read minutes before the he/she enters the studio needs to be done away with.

News presentation must be based on a considerable degree of intellectual output on the part of the one reading the news. The newsreader needs to be a storehouse of knowledge --- of the country, of the world, of the issues which dominate discussions everywhere. It is a theme which must be worked on by those who manage the newsroom at Bangladesh's media organisations.

Smart newsreading is the requirement in Bangladesh. It is an exercise which audiences should happily look forward to. But for that to happen, good and thorough homework must first be done.


Syed Badrul Ahsan is a senior journalist and writer. [email protected]