We live in an age of unprecedented communications technology. With access to cell phones, Skype, email, Twitter, etc., it is has never been easier for people to communicate with one another. So why then is it so hard for reporters and headline writers to talk to each other?
Headlines that mislead or that do not fairly represent a writer’s article are a perennial problem. A recent, especially egregious example can be found in the U.K.’s The Telegraph. Here is the headline and subhead on an article by religious affairs editor John Bingham:
Religion told to halt weddings over gay rights
The future of traditional Indian weddings in Britain is in doubt because of the fallout from gay marriage passing into law, it has emerged.
An entire category of human experience – “religion” — is told to halt weddings? By whom? And if the headline is intended to refer to a specific religion, why not just say so?
Perhaps the subhead is intended to provide a clue by mentioning “traditional Indian weddings.” But that doesn’t really narrow it down since India is the birthplace of four of the world’s major religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism.
It’s advisable to never use a nationality as a stand-in for any religion, but since the headline does, can we assume it’s a reference to Hinduism? Since Hindus account for 80 percent of the population of India that must be the religion that holds “traditional Indian weddings,” right? Well, no. This article is about Sikhism, which is not only a minority religion in the U.K. (accounting for only 0.8 percent of the population) but is a minority religion in India too (only 1.9 percent of Indians are Sikhs).
Aside from the confusing and grammatically suspect headline (what does “it has emerged” even mean?), the article itself does a commendable job of reporting on the controversy without editorializing: