Extraneous quotation marks in BBC headlines

I often read the BBC news online and I have noticed something lately that confuses me. Every day there will be at least one story on the front page with quotation marks in the headline that make no logical sense to me (e.g. here, and here).

It seems to me that these quotation marks are being used to emphasize certain words, which is not what quotation marks are for, right? So my question is what am I missing?

In the first case they are saying that the people in question were either located or just turned up.

In the second case they are saying that although he’s announced that he’s stepping down, that’s probably not the reality of the situation.

It’s like saying somebody ‘accidentally’ did something when you want to imply that it wasn’t really an accident at all.

They’re neither for emphasis nor sarcastic. This usage has a specific meaning: the quotes indicate that some other party has made the claims being reported, but the Beeb has not yet been able independently to verify the claim. It’s an ass-covering thing in case the claims turn out to be untrue. What can be confusing is that sometimes the word/s in quotes are a summary of the claim and not actually reported speech.

What **jjimm **said; just look at the junta article for an example “Some reports said junta leader Gen Than Shwe was among those to have stepped down, but other reports denied this.”

What jjimm and GHo7 said, and in fact this is made clear in the very first sentence of each report, which identifies that what is being reported is a claim:

*All the whitewater rafters missing after an accident on an Austrian river have now been found, the Red Cross says. *

Leaders of Burma’s junta are reported to have resigned from their military posts, days before the deadline to register candidates in the country’s first general election in two decades.

In other words, the inverted commas are simply headline-shorthand for “it is reported that” or “t is claimed that”.

This OP reminded me of something.

Took me a little time to find this, but here’s an example of a poster and his supporters misinterpreting the construction to attempt to show reporting bias: BBC continues their assault on Tony Blair, or Fun With Quotation Marks.

And here’s my comprehensive refutation of the charge, showing that it’s a standard British journalistic construction.

Not quite – they are attributing the verbs/participles used to the sources, hence the quotation marks. A headline saying “Missing Canoeists ‘Found’ After Search” is equivalent to one saying “Missing Canoeists Reported Found After Search” – but saves seven characters (including the space) by replacing “Reported_” with two single quote marks.

One school of journalism, largely but not exclusively British, is meticulous in distinguishing what it reports to us as having been reported or told to its stringers from what it is willing to state as factual knowledge. This styling is part and parcel of that sort of careful phrasing.

ETA: Or, in simpler terms, what jjimm said.