One thing the news never seems to get right is the use of the allegation.

In media law an allegation is a way of ascribing cause to an incident without actually blaming or pointing the finger in a way that may be defamatory. “The alleged killer was the guy with the black hat”, etc. Once a jury decides that the guy with the black hat actually did it, you can then say without fear of litigation: “Black hatted man is the killer!”

But the media often gets confused. Take last year when a TV news station reported “an alleged explosion” in a factory.

No. The building really did blow up. And it’s not going to be offended if you say so.

Or today when Australian news services (yes all I heard) reported that a taxi driver was injured when his cab was rammed by a “stolen car” in “an alleged hit an run”. The report continued: “The driver of the stolen car ran away.”


No, dear colleagues, the hit and run did happen. We know this because there’s a big dent in a cab and the driver of the other car wasn’t there at the scene after.

But look what you’ve done. You’ve in fact failed to cover your intentions. What you wanted to say was this:

A taxi driver was injured today in an apparent hit and run when an allegedly stolen car rammed it and its driver allegedly fled.

Whoever that driver was, the police need to first adjudicate his behaviour before describing the act. The judicial system then needs to rule before anyone can tell us that any car was stolen, by whom and who didn’t hang around to find out.

© 2017 Adam Parker.