Dear Auntie BBC,
I am sorry if you find some thorns amongst the roses in this bouquet for your 90th birthday.
I have to ask you, “Does syntax matter any more? Is it a 21st century irrelevance, a dying art; or is it a subtle cover for biased reporting?”
This morning on BBC Radio 4 it was reported that The Metropolitan Police had dropped their investigation into allegedly racist remarks made by referee Mark Clattenberg.
Somewhere along the line between facts and misinformation comes truth. I have always looked to you for truth. I weighed the different possibilities. I am willing to accept as fact that:
- Chelsea FC made some allegations
- The nature of the allegations was that a particular player on their team had been the subject of racist remarks
- The racist remarks were said to have been spoken by a match referee named Mark Clattenberg
- Racist remarks may be construed as abusive
- Racial abuse is a criminal offence punishable by law
- The Police have a duty to investigate criminal offences
- The Police duly investigated allegations that an offence had taken place
- The Police have now dropped their investigation
The problem begins in where to go next.
- Do we know why the Police dropped the investigation?
- Did they find that Mark Clattenberg made no remarks towards the player?
- Did they find that Mark Clattenberg made remarks towards the player but they were not racist?
- Did they find that Mark Clattenberg made racist remarks but they were not directed towards the player?
- Do they believe that Mark Clattenberg made racist remarks towards the player, but feel unable to reach a standard of proof necessary to arrest and charge him?
Your announcer said, “…allegedly racist remarks made by referee Mark Clattenberg”. The position of the adverb “allegedly” affects the meeting in a very important way. Located where it is, it affirms that the referee made some remarks and that some people had alleged they were racist. I don’t know if he made “remarks” as no supporting evidence is given in the report. We hear much about the pace and volume of communication in the modern age. People are busy, we are told, and they don’t want communication in depth; they want accurate messages on which they can rely.
Using media such as Twitter and FaceBook, they reduce communication to a granular sequence of short statements of fact or opinion, sometimes expanded through links to more detail. There’s the rub! We skim, we scan, we select and we build a view of the world upon ever more scanty information. So when I hear on the BBC the words, “allegedly racist remarks made by referee Mark Clattenberg” I might be inclined to “earbrush” out the word “allegedly”, and hear only “…racist remarks made by referee Mark Clattenberg” thus reinforcing the opinion, “He did it. I heard it on the BBC”. “Allegedly made” is so different from “allegedly racist” and I need to know which is true.
Auntie, I trust and admire you, even though you are so much maligned at the present time. That’s why I urge you to take more care. The syntax used by your announcer might be deliberate. Did you want him to suggest to us that Clattenberg definitely made some remarks, and we should decide or ourselves whether he “got away with it” because The Police could not prove they were racist? I hope not; If I wanted “wink, wink; nudge, nudge” journalism, I’d have gone to the tabloid press or the Internet. So am I left to conclude that in this modern age it is no longer important for an announcer for you, the World’s premier broadcaster to understand how the order of words affects their meaning in a sentence? Please say it isn’t so.