As I'm registered with the Yes To Fairer Votes campaign (which seeks a Yes vote in the AV referendum in May), I received an email yesterday inviting me to put my name to a petition calling on the BBC to reverse their decision - taken under pressure from the No side - to stop referring to AV as "electoral reform". Caron Lindsay later took up the issue by quoting the dictionary definition of the word "reform", and pointing out -
"By any standards, changing the voting system so that MPs have to work harder to win the trust of half of their electorate is a change for the better, and deserves to be called a reform."
Although I entirely agree with that, I must say that in the context of the petition it's a slightly odd, and almost certainly counter-productive, argument to be putting forward. Essentially it invites the BBC to accept the belief of the Yes campaign that AV represents a positive change, and reject the belief of the No campaign that it represents a backward step. How can they possibly do that without contravening the requirement for impartiality?
A much better argument to advance is surely that of consistency. The broadcasters seem to have no difficulty whatever buying into the concept of public service "reform", NHS "reform", welfare "reform", etc, etc, in spite of the fact that there are any number of people in each case who regard such a label as utterly outrageous. The only justification I can think of is that the broadcasters imagine themselves to be effectively "quoting" the proponents of change, without necessarily endorsing the sentiment that it is a change for the better. Well, surely the same principle applies here? The proponents of AV call it electoral reform, therefore so should the broadcasters. Either that, or I look forward to not hearing the Orwellian phrase "welfare reform" uttered by a newsreader ever again.