An article from AAP published on The Australian’s website yesterday afternoon raises the question of how much background information should news providers give to their audience about an unfamiliar topic. The headline of the story focussed on the politics of the issue:

Liberal senator Cory Bernardi’s bid to curb Sharia banking dealt blow by colleague George Brandis

You can read the whole article and not have the faintest clue about what Sharia compliant finance products are, or how they differ from the mortgages and loans that we’re most familiar with. There’s no explanation about why Senator Bernardi is opposed to them or what specific advantages there might be to engaging with this market.

What is the point of news without context? One of the best things about writing for the web is that there is no need for constraints on length, and additional information can easily be hyperlinked to your article if you don’t want to have to spell out every detail yourself. The Australian has a ‘Related coverage’ box on every story online, but in this instance the only thing related is a story about how poorly Sharia compliant banking has fared in the UK. At least that story makes some effort to explain the concept, but it’s still fairly opaque:

The main aims of Islamic finance include the avoidance of riba, or usury, and making sure that money is not used to support industries considered to be unethical, such as alcoholic beverages, pornography and gambling


Is there a need for news providers to educate their audience, or should we as readers be willing to research new concepts on our own? I’d argue that while you can’t expect an encyclopaedic explanation of every topic that news agencies report on, there needs to be a reasonable attempt to help audiences understand what you’re telling them about and why it’s important, especially when the subject matter is unfamiliar. Failing to keep an audience informed is what leads to debate being replaced by competing soundbites, which serves no-one’s best interests.

(H/T @chrisberg & @mtats)