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Rant

Sorry it's taken so long to get blogging again. I've been away.
I was in Britain around the time of the General Election. I couldn't believe that none of the BBC television commentators could be bothered to find out how to pronounce the name of the first constituency to declare a winner - Houghton. The correct pronunciation is Haw-ton. The commentators to a man, and they were all men, pronounced it How-ton. This was despite the elections returning officer saying the name correctly when he announced the winner. Houghton is a long way from London but that doesn't excuse such a lapse in professionalism. What these London luvvies appeared to be saying was that Houghton is so unimportant that they couldn't be bothered to say it properly. To me, a former print journalist, that would have been like saying " I don't care how you spell your name, I'm going to spell it anyway I like.” It's not as if the BBC commentators were caught be surprise when Houghton was the first to declare a winner and didn’t have time to find out the correct pronunciation. The elections workers there had vowed weeks before that they would be the first to declare. This might seem like a pretty minor point but it seems to be is a symptom of a drastic decline in journalistic standards. When I was training young journalists, I couldn't stress strongly enough the importance of spelling names correctly. "If you can't get the names right, readers are going to wonder what else you've got wrong," was my standard admonition. "Spell a name wrong and your story has lost all credibility and you've wasted everyone's time writing it."
Of course, the issue of mispronounced names pales into insignificance with the increasing tendency here in Canada for trial by media. Only yesterday morning I heard that some accused of a major crime had only been released from prison a day or two before the allegedly doing the deed in question. I always thought that for someone to have a fair trial it was important that the jury didn't know that the accused was a career criminal. I'm sure the half-witted reporter who revealed this gem of information thought they were pretty smart. In Scotland, once someone was charged, journalists had to wait until after the trial was completed to show off the little gems of information they'd dug up. When I worked in England, I was surprised at how much the papers could get away with saying about the accused prior to trial and someone not end up in jail for contempt of court. The lack of protection for an accused's right to be tried only on evidence given in court - which wouldn't include even a hint of a previous criminal record - in Canada turned out to be even worse. No matter how many times the judge reminds jury members that they can only consider the evidence heard in court, they can't help remembering earlier media coverage of the case. I sometimes think that the sum of Canadian reporters' knowledge of court reporting is drawn from what they see on US television. Now, in the US the media abuse freedom of speech to conduct what can only be termed "trial by media". Now, I've sat on the press bench in too many courts of law to confuse what happens in them with Justice but I can't help feeling that an accused gets a fairer trial in them than he or she would on the 6 p.m. television news.

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