I approach this subject with a fair degree of trepidation. But a number of people have asked about the relationship between correct English grammar and BBC radio news scripts; in other words how important is correct usage of language for a news broadcaster?
The first thing to acknowledge is that for a section of the radio audience (primarily listeners to Radio Three and Radio Four, but not exclusively) the dictionary use of words is of vital importance; these listeners get very annoyed at errors or at sloppiness and they write in making their views know with what is known as great vigour. It is a foolish and arrogant broadcaster who ignores these people and their views. I most certainly don't.
Of course, most broadcasters are not foolish and they make every effort to use words correctly and to acknowledge the basic rules of grammar. And my own experience is that correspondents are keen to be told they have made a mistake - and equally keen not to repeat it. I have not come across a correspondent saying this sort of stuff is not worthy of attention.
This can be taken to extremes. I remember vividly a war correspondent filing on a phone from the battlefront with the sound of bullets and shells exploding all around him. He filed and the only response from the Radio Four desk was a producer shouting back through the sounds of war: "You have misused the word 'ironically'; you mean 'coincidentally'."
All radio broadcasters are aware that the listener usually gets only one chance to hear what they are saying; it must be clear, concise and easily understandable; there is usually not a second chance. And rules of grammar are, for the most part, agreed to ensure clarity, concision and comprehension. So there is no problem. All broadcasters should obey all the rules.
Up to a point. Radio news broadcasts are not compiled like that. They quite often deliberately break the rules. And the reason why they do so is to enhance clarity, concision and comprehension. And I think they are right. Radio news broadcasts are the illegitimate child of demotic speech and formal prose. The end - in this case informing the listeners - justifies the means: bending, if not breaking, the rules.
And of course the language changes all the time. This is a whole issue in itself. When does a word or phrase enter the mainstream; when does it become acceptable? Decisions on individual words are taken all the time. And I know a lot of people do not like the decisions. I know because they write in to tell me. The people who accept the changes, of course, don't.
So the debate goes on. As it should, and we should all take part.
Tim Bailey is editor of the Radio 4 Six O'clock News
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