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Panpa Bulletin : April 2007
32 PANPA Bulletin March 2007 When I was actively involved as a media proprietor and a hands-on publisher, I thought the press was omnipotent. I was ready to defend verbally and in writing, its ethics, its right, indeed its duty, to editorialise and its journalists to comment on national, international and so- cietal affairs. Its use of language I accepted as beyond criticism. Now I am retired and have no active role except this modest monthly contribution to PANPA Bulletin and the occasional up-dating of my website picommentaries.com, I have more time to consider - and to criticise! And, in my opinion, there is much to criticise. The first is the ever increasing use of clichés. Think how often you have read: • Australian values. (What values do Australians exclusively have?) • Christian values. (This is not only a much used cliché beloved by politi- cians as well as journalists but oblique- ly implies that only Christians have values). • loved ones. How does the journalist know whether the (usually deceased) person they are writing about was loved? • laid to rest. Why not "buried" or "cre- mated"? • Australia has been shocked. There are many others all without any re- gard for the accuracy of the word or phrase. On her first morning at the University of Melbourne, Gabriel, the daughter of friends, was with a group introducing themselves. When it came to her turn, Gabriel identi- fied herself to her new acquaintances by the name she was known at home. "I'm Gay", she said --- and was surprised by the strange looks she got from the rest of the group. Why did they look strangely at her? Because of the modern connotation that is given to the word "gay". Because its use implies homosexuality without actually writing or speaking the word. Why have the words "homosexual" and "homosexuality" been replaced by "gay"? And why is "lesbian" used as an addition to or instead of "homosexual" when referring to female homosexuals. The definition of homosexual in my dictionary is "having, or pertaining to, sexual propensity to one's own sex". So '"homosexual" could (and, in my opinion, should), be used, irrespective of whether the person or persons being described are male or female and certainly instead of "gay". As an extension of this argument it seems to me that the categori- sation of people by their sexual preference is used more to add colour to a story than is necessary for accuracy. In 1946, when I joined The Argus as a D Grade journalist, by-lines were seldom published. They were a reward, the hard- won prerogative, of very experienced senior journalists, the acknowledgement of a particularly important piece of reportage or to identify the writer of a special article. It seems to me that the value of a by-line has been diminished by overuse. There is hardly an item in today's newspapers that is not by-lined and this ranges right down to the 10-liners across the foot of inside pages. Newspaper editors should re-assess the criteria by which a by-line is awarded. In my daily reading of newspapers I am surprised by the number of journalists employed and contracted to comment on general news, business news and societal matters. While acknowledging the need for balance in comment, it so often hap- pens that the reader is expected to take in the views of pundits each writing the same thing but in different words. These usually lengthy and mostly repetitive commentar- ies are more prevalent in the broadsheets than in the tabloids. Could this be partly the reason for the greater circulation and readership of the latter? I was horrified by a report in The Age of Saturday, 14 April, written by its education reporter, highlighted "exclusive" in red. The first paragraph was "A threatening letter containing a bullet was sent to the home of a Xavier student [Xavier is a Melbourne private school] by another boy at the Catholic college in 2005." Why was I horrified? I was horrified, and dismayed, by the identification of the school as Catholic. What did the writer, the sub- editor who passed the story and later the editor when he presumably read the item; think was important about the fact that the school was religiously Catholic. If the school had been known as an Anglican school, or sponsored by the Uniting church, would the writer have drawn attention to those denominations? I doubt it. The fact that Xavier is sponsored by the Catholic Church and is primarily attended by Catholic boys was not the reason why one pupil alleg- edly tormented another. Thus there was no purpose in further identifying the school by its religious bent. The identification by colour, religion, sexual preference, past and paid-for mis- demeanours, even nationality should be eschewed, unless such identification is nec- essary to the accuracy of the story. In the case in the item quoted above it was not needed. PETER ISAACSON Peter Isaacson is a former publisher and is a life member of PANPA . A grumpy old publisher -- and a cynic too! publishing matters Ever-increasing clichés, inaccurate language, unearned by-lines, repetitive commentaries and unnecessary information are fair game for criticism, writes Peter Isaacson. "While acknowledging the need for balance in comment, it so often happens that the reader is expected to take in the views of pundits each writing the same thing but in di erent words."