Writing in complaint of coverage that is erroneous, misleading or inflammatory is one way of compelling the press and broadcasters to correct information that is inaccurate or irresponsible. If you don’t write and challenge what you see printed or broadcast, you can’t expect standards to be raised and improved.
Letter writing is a form of peaceful protest in a democratic society that allows citizens to hold their press accountable. If a free press in a democracy is to be valued for being free, its freedom should be invigilated too in order to ensure that it is not abused.
Some things to remember when writing a letter of complaint:
- SPEED - Is of the essence. Make sure you write in straight away in order to keep your letter current and newsworthy. It is advisable to write in response on the day of publication of the piece itself.
- RELEVANCE - Keep your letter concerned with the contents of the offending article and don’t turn it into a general comment on a variety of related issues. Stick to what matters now.
- CLARITY - Know that your reader may not be familiar with all the things about religion that may seem commonplace to you so be clear in your writing and explain, briefly, any terms that you might use that would be unfamiliar to a non-native reader.
- PURPOSE - Why you are writing should always be highlighted in your letter. Are you writing in response to something that was inaccurate? Unfair? Or because you feel an article does injustice to the subject matter either through argument or allusion; that it is misleading? Whatever your reason for writing, make this clear in your letter.
- RESEARCH – Ensure that you do not repeat the flaws of the article itself by playing cavalier with facts. Always check that your information is correct before posting or emailing your letter.
- BE CALM - Never respond to an article emotively. Hostile and discourteous letters are counter-productive. Always respond in a calm and collected manner, putting across your points in a clear frame of mind.
- BREVITY - Keep your letter short and succinct. Letters that have to be extensively edited are less attractive to editors when making their selections on what to publish.
- BALANCE - Don’t restrict your letter writing to negative news. Write to compliment and praise coverage that you feel is a valuable contribution and worthy of emulation.
- RIGHT TO REPLY - Where you think an article is a gross misrepresentation of events or facts, follow your letter up with a phone call to the newspaper and ask that your letter be considered for publication to provide an adequate right of reply.
- CONTACT INFORMATION - Always include your contact details in your letter, including a phone number and full address including post code. Newspapers will not normally publish letters that do not have full contact details.
- CC - Copy your letter to interested third parties. For example, copy to the journalist that wrote the article, or to the section editor. In cases of gross injustice, copy your letter to the Press Complaints Commission or the Broadcasting Standards Agency. Also send a copy to us at ENGAGE for our records. We will seek to publish the most relevant letters on the ENGAGE website in order to encourage others to get involved too.
- OUTCOMES - Letter writing is intended to alter newspaper policies that disregard or dispense with the need to ensure objectivity and accuracy. Follow up your letter by requesting meetings with journalists and editors in order to develop better working relationships and to promote factual and objective coverage.