Is balance important in the news?

Mary Rafftery has a nicely argued piece on RTE’s consumer block buster Rip-Off Republic. She believes it is playing in a half way zone between bona fide current affairs and satire, and that the programme’s considerable polemical content is not subject to the forms counter balance that RTE normally provides.

RTÉ’s factual programming, particularly in the news-current affairs area, is rigorously presented to a universally acclaimed high standard. Once again, scrupulous attention is paid to the matter of balance. Comedy and satire, on the other hand, are almost by definition not subject to the same rigours, aside perhaps from the desirability that there be no sacred cows. Indeed, to impose on satirical programmes a current affairs concept of balance would be to kill them stone dead.

There is no doubt that it is the satirical element of Rip-off Republic that has made it such a stunning success. The savage lampooning of Fianna Fáil Ministers, principally Martin Cullen, on last Monday’s programme was delicious to watch. To be able to transform something as dry as vehicle registration tax into a source of huge enjoyment is a remarkable achievement.

It’s certainly worth reading the entire article. Her point about the mixing of satire and factual reporting is particularly important. But the article also raises an equally important question. Is it always necessary to have balance in all news/current affairs output? When considered honestly, most stories aren’t balanced either in their facts or their wider import.

The programme has clearly created a buzz in the Republic. With the question over it’s satirical content to one side it’s the kind of buzz that’s reminiscent of the early days of the Channel 4 Dispatches programme, or, Margaret Thatcher’s least favourite ITV documentary, World in Action.