Should radio news be read in English?

Opinion from Peter Saxon

Every now and again we receive a misdirected email of complaint from a radio listener, labouring under the misapprehension that radioinfo is a radio station.

Last Friday’s email from “Lucy” is a case in point.


Listening to the 10.00 am news just now I thought I was living in the USA. A ‘sidewalk’ has been destroyed etc… For God’s sake, it’s a footpath, the last time I looked. Please don’t introduce American English into Australia. I love the English language just as it is.

Thank you very much,

Lucy (not her real name.)

I feel her pain. 

I won’t mention the station’s name. But “Lucy” knew and, having been redirected to the source of her displeasure, will have contacted the station in question by now.

News veteran Scott Mayman has been banging on about the drop in Radio News standards on these pages for weeks but I don’t think it’s overkill to jump on his bandwagon. 

Radio news and the way in which it’s presented is such an important part of our culture because it’s taken so seriously by listeners. If you can’t trust the news, who/what can you trust?

On FM music stations, news is the bit in each hour that’s meant to be a serious window into real events in the real world while the rest of the content is devoted to fun, lifestyle and music – as it should be. 

On AM talk, it’s the bit that presents an unbiased, fact based bulletin while the rest of the content is filled with opinion – which is far more entertaining than cold facts.

At this point I should confess that even I have fallen victim to Americanisation of the English language. Recently, a reader wrote to complain that I had used the American spelling of “jail” rather than the English version, “gaol.” 

In my defence, I explained that while I sympathised with our esteemed subscriber’s position, I felt that that particular horse had bolted. Most news outlets had abandoned the mother tongue some time ago and somehow, like the carp fish in the Murray, “jail” had killed off “gaol” to assert itself as the noun of common usage to define a place of incarceration. 

No use flogging a dead horse.

Speaking of which, the last time I went to the races was about 20 years ago at Royal Randwick. The race book that was handed me harked back to the Victorian era. The word “shown” was spelt “shewn” which my computer’s spell-check insists on correcting. I imagine they’ve brought the Randwick race book’s language up to date by now, if for no other reason, than to appease the Microsoft Word Nazi that formats it.

Language, of course, is a living thing, not unlike biodiversity. Each year new words are created as old ones die. If this were not the case, we’d still be speaking as if we were bit players in Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing.’ “Wilt thou perchance be the fifth caller, thou and thy consort shalt be feted to attend a merrie performanse of Twelfth Night to be shewn at the olde Globe Theatre…”

Heard on radio, there’s no difference between “shewn” and “shown” or “gaol” and “jail.” But “sidewalk” and “footpath” are literally an ocean apart.

What then is the role of Radio News as custodian of the English language? Should it lean towards the conservative or the progressive?

I’d be interested in your view.


Peter Saxon