How justified is the use of anonymous sources?

South Asia Check / March 31, 2018

During the two months between November 1st and December 31st of 2017, among the seven major national dailies that we monitor, Nagarik daily outdid the others in terms of the use of anonymous sources in the news reports published on the front pages. Nagarik used altogether 140 anonymous sources in the front page reports during the period.

South Asia Check tracks the use of anonymous sources in the news reports published on the front pages of seven leading national dailies of Nepal — Nagarik, Kantipur, Annapurna Post, Gorkhapatra, The Kathmandu Post, Republica and The Himalayan Times.

After Nagarik, the dailies using most number of anonymous sources included Kantipur, Republica and Annapurna Post respectively.

Gorkhapatra used the least number of anonymous sources during the period. In the two months, it used only three anonymous sources in its news reports. But this does not necessarily mean that Gorkhapatra is the most credible newspaper in Nepal. Most of the reports on its cover page are about formal functions and events including inaugurations and speeches delivered by top government officials on several occasions and press statements. This justifies the least use of anonymous sources in the Gorkhapatra reports.

During the two months, the front page reports of the seven dailies used altogether 436 anonymous sources.

News related to politics gets more priority in the newspapers in Nepal. Most of the news reports on the front pages of the newspapers were on politics. Anonymous sources were also mostly used in the politics-related news reports (in 168 instances) during the period. Nagarik and Kantipur were the first and second national dailies respectively using the highest numbers of anonymous sources in their news reports related to politics; Nagarik used anonymous sources in 42 instances and Kantipur in 36 instances.

Corruption is the second topic in the Nepali newspapers where anonymous sources are used in highest numbers. During this period, anonymous sources were used in 117 instances in corruption-related news reports in the seven newspapers. And again, Nagarik had the highest numbers of anonymous sources in the corruption-related news reports. But it should be also be noted that Nagarik published the highest numbers of corruption-related news reports on its front page during the period.

Quoting anonymous sources in news reports is a normal practice. Regarding the use of anonymous sources in news reports, ‘Journalist’s Code of Conduct, 2016’ issued by the Nepal Press Council states the following:

“Source should be quoted for the reliability of the news. However, while quoting the source, the name and identity of such source should be kept confidential so as to avoid any serious damage to the source.”

The identity of news source should be protected only if revealing the source’s identity can cause serious harm to him/her. But some news reports published during this period have quoted anonymous sources even when there is no apparent need to do so.

For example, a report headlined “Province number 5: Whim voters, unpredictable election results” published in a Nepal-language daily stated the following:

“It is not appropriate to guess the election results on the basis of the past election results,” a CPN-UML worker in Kohalpur says, adding, “Since the people give priority to individual candidates over political parties while casting their votes, we are still not sure about the outcome.”

“All four candidates in this particular constituency are equally competent, thus we cannot say for sure who will win,” says a Nepalgunj based Nepali Congress supporter, “Candidates should pitch their political agenda effectively to win the election.”

‘Here, the voters and even the political party workers are not under the control of the political parties,” says a leader of the Left Alliance, “They swing to whichever direction the wind blows, so it’s too early to discuss about the outcome of the elections.”

In this news report, the use of anonymous sources looks unjustified because revealing the identity of news source would not cause any harm to the source.

Haphazard use of the anonymous sources diminishes the credibility of news reports and newspapers publishing such reports.

Click here to download the statistics prepared by South Asia Check on this issue.

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