Friday, June 24, 2011

How the BBC Jailed the Former Tunisian absentia

I trust the BBC. From the age of 7,  I can recall that every morning started with the Lilliburlero blaring from my father's Grundig radio which announced the start of the BBC World Service News at 7am. In those days, most of the news revolved around war games between the erstwhile USSR and  Reagan's USA. Although most of the content of the news was beyond my understanding at the time, my siblings and I played a game with my dad where we would guess the name of the presenter for the morning. 

Later on in the day, there was the almost ever-constant "This is Chris Bickerton with Focus on Africa" that marked our evenings and announced the start of the BBC flagship programme often presented by the late BBC journalist Chris Bickerton.

From the Cold War to the end of the Cold War, from apartheid South Africa to the end of apartheid South Africa, through famine and strive in the horn of Africa, the BBC was there. 

Aside from a commitment to journalistic integrity, I have  long-associated the BBC with impeccably spoken English language and grammar. That is why, a headline I first heard on the BBC and later saw on their website this past Monday, left me completely perplexed and befuddled:

"BBC News - Tunisia's Ben Ali jailed in absentia for 35 years". 

Former President Ben Ali and wife Leila....."jailed in absentia"
Former President Ben Ali is in exile and clearly not in Tunisia so how could he have been jailed? Also, what does being "jailed in absentia" mean anyway? This headline had me heading for the dictionary definition of jail from the Merriam-Oxford Dictionary online:



Definition of JAIL

transitive verb
: to confine in or as if in a jail

Still perturbed, I put the question to the wise people of the Twitterverse.The best response I got was:



Sadly for the BBC, due to its reputation as an authoritative and trusted news source, the original logic-defying headline has been reproduced on other sites world-wide including on Ghana's Joy FM online as you can see here

Nobody is infallible and we all make mistakes, grammatical ones included. But it is fascinating how this grammatical lapse gave the sentence a whole different meaning. Now...can someone tell Joy FM?  


Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

Thinking about it again, I guess I would not have noticed it. You are good indeed. Thanks for the short lecture.

Abena Serwaa said...

Thanks NF-A :)Indeed, I feel I'm being a little nit-picky but was i was indeed mislead by the original short headline "Ben Ali jailed" as it appeared on the news summary before I read the entire article. My own blog post title was also intentionally misleading.