Santo Santoro’s obsession about the use of the word “our” as in “our troops,” should be savaged for one simple reason. In reporting news,
journalists should never use first person pronouns without extremely good reason.

So, that means “I,” “we” and “our” should be off limits without a compelling reason to do otherwise.

Remember the old joke. The Lone Ranger and Tonto are surrounded by hordes of Indian warriors. The Lone Ranger turns to Tonto and says “Look’s like we’re in trouble,” to which Tonto replies “What do you mean ‘we’ pale face?”

A couple of examples:

During the 1974 federal election coverage, ABC political correspondent Ken Begg was caught out by an unexpected throw to him from the studio. Caught off guard, he responded with the thought bubble “We’re back.” He then proceeded with what he was going to say, which was “Here at the tally room, the Whitlam government has been re-elected.”

Unfortunately for many Liberals watching, the use of the first person plural “We’re” was seen as implying the ABC and the ALP were at one in the victory. Poor old Begg spent an hour going backwards and forwards over the tape with chairman Talbot Duckmanton trying to mollify outraged conservatives.

Then there was Mary Delahunty in the 1992 election, with her use of the “We’ve lost another minister” line. Presumably she meant Victorian, and she used the same line to both Bob Hogg and Michael Kroger, but Liberals all thought “We” meant Labor.

Or perhaps Senator Santoro should go to Perth, where the commercial news bulletins regularly refer to “Our Premier” and “Our government,” or indeed “Our” anything to do with Western Australia.

Speaking in the third person referring to “Australian troops” while covering Iraq is the right way to report the story. As is terms like “Australian aid.” In reporting Anzac day, formulations like “all Australians” are always better than “we.”

A script written in the first person is generally seen as bad journalism. Perhaps in direct comment, or in reporting personal observation, the first person singular “I” has a place. But on almost all occasions, you avoid using “we” or “our” as the meaning of both is in the ears of the observer.

In recent years, ABC stories by Geoff Thompson and Tim Palmer have been picked up and run by international networks like BBC World and CNN. Doesn’t it make sense therefore to use “Australian” rather than “Our” so that those stories make sense to the rest of the world?

Christian Kerr adds:

Santo was stroppy last week in Estimates when he demanded to know why ABC presenters all wore sprigs of rosemary on Anzac Day but not poppies on Remembrance Day.

Oddly enough, when I stuck my head into the Senate at the end of Question Time yesterday Santo seemed sans poppy – although a couple of colleagues were sporting them.