Learn English – The meaning of “did not immediately respond to requests for comment”


This expression is included in many news stories but to me, it's frustratingly vague.

I see these as "weasel words" – some journalist leaves a voice mail for someone, waits 10 seconds for a callback then goes to press saying there was no immediate response.

From a journalistic perspective, what is the true meaning of this expression? Is the meaning deliberately vague to sensationalize the news?

Best Answer

No, it is not meant in a pejorative sense.

Journalists report on events as they occur. It is always helpful to get additional input from parties involved, e.g. family, employer, public relations representative, attorney, or experts. Sometimes that isn't possible, because the event just occurred, and has been confirmed by authorities. If the event or situation is newsworthy, journalists must report on it, rather than waiting until they get a response from whomever they contacted for additional information.

These are not "weasel words". In fact, good news media reports often republish the story with one or more updates, as responses to comment requests are received. Reuters is particularly good about doing that, occasionally multiple times for a news story! Both Thomson Reuters and the BBC have guidelines on requests for comment.

Via Reuters Handbook of Journalism excerpt, "Vetting"

Give the other side every opportunity to comment. If you don’t elicit a comment in an initial contact, call again. Record all the times you tried to contact them. If they decline to comment, note that down.

and excerpt, "Legal":

When a key subject, company or institution declines to comment, provide its point of view. Preferably, this would come from a credible, on-the-record source; at the very least, provide contextual information that may put things in a more neutral light.

Via BBC Editorial Guidelines - Right of Reply excerpt:

Providing a fair opportunity to reply to allegations requires providing enough time to make a response. The amount of time that is fair will change according to circumstances, including... whether there is a pressing need to broadcast in the public interest; the nature of the subject and their resources...a large corporation with a sizable PR operation may be expected to respond quicker than a small business with just a few employees or an individual.