The
following is yet another plea on grammar, style, content and other bits
and pieces that help make the ABC the best show in town, when we try.
This memo is, as usual, directed at all News/Caff staff across all
programs, in all states and territories and elsewhere. The rules are
not optional – they are mandatory.

Some staff continue to ignore
or – somehow – remain ignorant of the guidelines, despite the numerous
memos and the recently rewritten “Style” book.

  • We leave ourselves open to reasonable criticism when we
    place Opposition comment ahead of Government reaction on occasions.
    Specifically, at least one state newsroom (in the main drive-time
    bulletin) ran our correspondent’s report on the Bashir sentencing (on
    the afternoon it broke), and followed it with the reaction of the
    Opposition Foreign Affairs spokesman. The Foreign Minister was
    relegated to third place. Downer had been run in an earlier bulletin,
    while Rudd had not – but most of our audience do not appreciate the
    niceties of that dubious logic. And neither they should. Let’s keep our
    news values in perspective.
  • “The HOWARD Government” Okay occasionally, but overused.
    Sometimes it seems we’re trying to make some sort of unspecified
    editorial point by including the PM’s name. “Government” or “Federal
    Government” are usually best.
  • There is still some disregard for the style relating to
    the use of first names only, both in general news copy and,
    occasionally, during interviews on national programs. This is rarely a
    negotiable rule. ABC News and Current Affairs is not on first name
    terms with some people and not others. The safest rule, even with
    “softer” subject matters, is to be openly even-handed at all times.
    That means using honorifics, or last names alone (where appropriate),
    or first name and surname together – but (almost) never the first name
    alone.
  • Please remember that written/newspaper style has little relevance or application in the broadcast business.
  • The final word goes to the word “our”. The last mention
    of this point, in a similar memo, drew some media flak, when we said we
    should not refer to Australian troops as “our” troops. But the rule
    remains. It is not our dollar, our Prime Minister, our opposition
    leader, our premier, our tourism industry, or our sportsman/woman or
    team. The ABC does not own any of them. We should remain unattached and
    dispassionate in the language we use.

With regard to
much of the above, we may be swimming against a shallow tide of the
tabloid and vacuous in the wider media. But the fact we don’t have
commercial or political alignments – and that our editorial values are
not driven by ratings — is our badge of difference, and our big
advantage.

Peter Fray

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