Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

When the right form of words is very hard to beat

As regular readers will know, one of the joys of a Readers' Editor column is the things you learn, thanks to the diligence of your actual readers (to coin a phrase).

This month it was about a military matter. Now, I'd always thought that a certain ceremony was called 'Beating the Retreat'. And so, obviously, did one of our writers, who used the term.

Reader Lorraine McCutcheon writes in to point out that this is incorrect. "It's Beating Retreat," she says. "The 'the' is redundant."

Not that I doubted Lorraine, of course, but an internet search lasting all of two seconds proved her entirely correct. If it's any comfort, I wasn't alone in my misuse of the term - in a straw poll of friends and colleagues, most people thought it was 'Beating the Retreat'. I've informed the staff to be on guard for 'Beating the Retreats' in future.

Incidentally, in case you're wondering, Beating Retreat as a military ceremony apparently dates back to 16th century England.

It replaced Watch Setting, the firing of a single round to summon soldiers back to base, with a ceremony initially centred on drummers, but that now includes marching and occasional cannon fire.

You can see the most famous British version of the Beating Retreat pageant at Horse Guards Parade in London (where even the ticket touts have got in on the action), but it's now common in many Commonwealth countries. What military value could it have? Well, apparently it's useful for breaking in new band members, but also good practice for difficult drill moves.

A SMALL, but meaningful victory for media freedom this week from the UK Information Commissioner's Office.

The ICO ruled that a weekly newspaper was correct to refuse to hand over a leaked council e-mail because doing so might reveal the source of the information.

The council in Cullompton (it's a town in Devon of some 8,000 people) had demanded the local paper hand over a leaked e-mail, which was the source a story that its finance committee had been meeting in secret against council rules.

The council and former councillor Ashley Wilce complained to the ICO that the newspaper's refusal was a breach of the Data Protection Act.

The Information Commissioner backed the paper, agreeing that section 32 of the Act exempted any disclosure of information held for the purposes of journalism, literature or art.

It was never going to be a case that would be a cause celebre, but it does add another welcome layer of protection for investigative journalists and their sources.

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