Activism – Letter to ATV


The media’s choice of words and how they present facts can affect a whole story. One man’s freedom fighter in indeed another man’s terrorist, and it’s important TV news and press get it right. It seems that, in a fit of over-cautiousness, ATV got it wrong this week when they used ‘allegedly’ in describing the deaths of Tiananmen Square activists.

This is a term usually thrown in to protect news teams from prosecution, usually during ongoing cases, but the Beijing crackdown occurred in 1989 and many of the facts are quite clear.

Here are the BBC’s ethical guidelines:

I wasn’t expecting a reply from ATV, so just emailed off a short rant. I received a surprising response a few days later…


I noticed some of the language used in your report on legislators visiting Guangdong (17/5/09). I was confused by your use of the word ‘allegedly’ when describing the deaths of students at the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

Is this a suggestion that there is somehow ambiguity surrounding the fact that protesters were killed. I understood that outside of the mainland, this is a simply a given fact?

Tom Grundy.


Thank you for your feedback.

I wasn’t working the day that report went on air, but looking at the tape now, you do have a point. I think it’s pretty much an accepted fact that protesters were killed in that crackdown. What’s disputed is the number of people killed. I think the duty editors in charge that day mixed up the two points in using the word “allegedly”.

I’ve forwarded your email to everyone as a reminder.

Best Regards,

Yonden Lhatoo
English News & Public Affairs

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