Who are we? language and impartiality in BBC radio journalism

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Mitchell, Philip ; Stewart, James (2017)

This article scrutinises the usage of the words “we”, “us” and “our” by BBC radio journalists when reporting and discussing news and current affairs. By analysing reports and discussions on the “flagship” Radio 4 Today, a daily news programme whose centrality to political and public debate is widely recognised, the article raises substantive questions about clarity, accuracy and impartiality in senior broadcast journalists’ choice of language. In exploring the assumptions which may underlie the invocation, via such language choices, of an implied community, and against the backdrop of the BBC's commitment to impartiality in its Editorial Guidelines, the article identifies numerous recent examples where the choice of words and identifiers can be seen as undermining the BBC's impartiality and which show several of its senior journalists adopting the first-person plural “we” when reporting on matters of public policy. The findings therefore indicate a general need to codify norms which are seen to integrate the need for accuracy as well as impartiality, and for these norms to take into account issues which might at first glance seem to be inconsequential, micro-level features of the journalists’ language. The evidence suggests that more fine-grained guidelines on permissible circumstances for BBC journalists’ usage of “we” and “our” need revising and disseminating in the light of these findings.
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