In My Opinion: Bill Heaney: Time to drop the Mr

WHY do newspapers feel it necessary to call an accused person Mr when he first appears in court?

We get this all the time in some newspapers and it looks incongruous. Is it really necessary that we still carry on this ancient custom and practice into the 21st century?

I notice that some papers do it and some don’t.

Is using an honorific title in this instance just a piece of pedantry or does it really matter?

I cannot, for the life of me, imagine any judge or juror being influenced by the fact that an accused person did or didn’t have Mr or Mrs before his/her name in a court report.

So why do reporters, editors and sub-editors continue with this practice?

What could they themselves be accused of if they were to drop it?

Nothing at all, I would imagine.

It appears to be a case of ‘we have always done this, so we will continue with it’ until someone shouts ‘stop’.

Well, I am shouting ‘stop’ for the simple reason that it grates on me and others, as do many so-called ‘house rules’ in newspapers.

Honorific titles have largely disappeared and that is as it should be.

Women in particular consider it patronising to address them as Mrs or Miss and certainly never want anyone to call them madam.

Men think it’s aggressive when people call them Mr. as in “Listen here, Mr” or “Drop it, Mr.”

So let’s drop this forelock-tugging practice from last century and have Mr and Mrs in newspapers no more.

Bill Heaney is an award-winning journalist who edited the Lennox Herald for many years and was a special adviser, on the regional Press, at Holyrood and a media adviser at Westminster. He is now retired but continues to operate as a columnist with the Lennox Herald and a pro bono media consultant to a number of churches and charities.