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Hansard General Editing Principles

Published date: 17 Nov 2017

Hansard is a near-verbatim report of what politicians say in the House of Representatives. But what does that look like in practice?

Below are the broad guidelines that Hansard editors use to decide how best to transform the spoken word into a written report without changing the meaning of what was said in the House. It also includes the guidelines editors use to assess members' requests to change their Hansard (draft Hansards).

Man holding an open book in the Debating Chamber Enlarge image

Source: Office of the Clerk

A1       WHAT IS HANSARD?

Hansard is the official record of debate in the House. It contains the words of the presiding officer and the words of members who have been called by the presiding officer to speak. Words spoken by members who have not been called are generally not recorded.

When language is spoken, the audience has non-verbal cues and context to help them understand the meaning of what is said—for example, gestures, facial expression, tone of voice, emphasis, and inflection. When spoken language is recorded on the page, however, meaning can become obscured because readers have no visual and audio cues to help them interpret meaning. For that reason, Hansard is not a word-for-word (verbatim) record of every word uttered in the House. It is a near-verbatim record—that is, minimally edited to retain the spoken word while helping the reader understand the meaning of the words spoken.

Hansard is produced in many fragments and many people are involved in its production. Hansard editors are responsible for ensuring that the written record accurately reflects the meaning of what is said in the House, and follow principles to render words spoken in the House into a near-verbatim record of debate. Of necessity, these principles are not mutually exclusive. The judgment that Hansard editors exercise when weighing up when to retain and when to set aside a member’s words is informed by guidelines. Particular applications and rules and precedents that guide Hansard editors are informed by our house style.

A2       OVERARCHING EDITING PRINCIPLES

Retain the member’s words

The member’s words are retained wherever possible. In particular:

  • the meaning or emphasis must not be changed
  • the flavour—for instance, colourful, colloquial, or idiosyncratic language—of the member’s speech must be preserved.

A verbatim rendition is essential if:

  • reference is made in the House to the original wording
  • a member makes a deliberately ambiguous statement or the meaning is not clear even from the context
  • a member makes a factual error and has not given the correct fact or figure elsewhere in the speech.

Set aside the member’s words

The member’s words can be set aside only:

  • to convey the member’s intended meaning if it is obscure without audio and visual cues
  • to correct slips of the tongue
  • to omit false starts and stumbles
  • to complete incomplete references to names of organisations
  • to correct incorrect references to parliamentary, procedural, and legislative matters
  • to omit redundancies where they obscure meaning
  • to correct grammatical errors in keeping with house style
  • to omit minor matters that may be defined as “housekeeping”, such as the seeking and giving of the call.

Justify every change

Every change made to the member’s words must be justifiable. Be mindful of the limitation of the tools that we may use to render a spoken speech as accurately as possible in a written form. We firstly:

  • use skilful punctuation
  • change verb tenses, singulars and plurals, pronouns, prepositions, and conjunctions (grammar)

If the meaning is still obscured in its verbatim form although clear from the verbal performance, only then we consider:

  • changing word order
  • adding or subtracting minor words to complete a sentence
  • word substitution.

Below is an illustration of the hierarchy of the Hansard editor’s tools:

A table showing the tools Hansard editors need such as skilful use of pronunciation. Enlarge image

The hierarchy of the Hansard editor's tool.

Source: Office of the Clerk

 

Members’ requests to amend draft transcripts are assessed according to editing principles

Members can check that what they said has been correctly understood in the reporting of that speech. They may request correction of slips of the tongue or errors of transcription, and may supply text in response to a Hansard editor’s request; for example, personal names or expressions in a foreign language.

Hansard editors assess whether the member’s requested amendments should be accepted, as per Hansard’s editing principles.

This is not an opportunity for the member to improve what they said. They may not introduce new material and they may not change the meaning or tone of the words spoken in the House. Speaker’s ruling 4/3 says that “Alterations of meaning or substance are not allowed.”

We tell members when requested changes have not been accepted and why.

A3       ASSESSING REQUESTS FOR CHANGES TO DRAFT HANSARDS

When members request changes to their draft transcript, Hansard editors prioritise their speeches for editing and email them to let them know what changes have not been made and why.

The Draft Hansard process enables editors to correct any errors of transcription that sometimes occur, such as when two words sound the same but have two different meanings and the reporter has misinterpreted the text. It is particularly valuable for speakers for whom English is not their first language as well as for those speakers whose speech styles and patterns make it difficult for Hansard editors to accurately hear and interpret their words. Hansard corrects such errors of transcription when the member brings those errors to our attention.

In assessing other requests for changes, we apply the same judgment that we apply in editing copy.

  • In particular, proper names need to be verified against a reputable source—although supplied spelling of family members’ names are accepted as correct.
  • We do not add or omit words that introduce any new content or change meaning, however minor, or, conversely, delete words to omit a point made by the member in the House unless it can be ascertained from the speech itself that their omission or inclusion was the result of a slip of the tongue.
  • Nor do we correct factual errors, other than where the fact appears correctly elsewhere in the speech.

When members supply missing text at our request (for example, foreign language phrases or names of people) and the wording they supply is not obviously what was said (say, they supply five words when they said only one or two), we accept it.