The myth of impartiality in journalism…

I thought we’d lost this one to the distinctly inhospitable Daily Ireland archives. Thanks to Newshound, it has been recovered for the wider world. Jude Collins argues that there is no such thing as an impartial media. He recounts restrictions of space, ownership, and self censorship as sources of bias and finishes with the paradoxical proposition that objectivity in reporting is a myth that should be both dispelled and aspired towards:

Media people are human beings and each sees the world from his/her own perspective. To claim detachment is stupid and wrong. Worse still, though, would be to abdicate responsibility.

What journalists must do is, first of all, be honest about the lens through which they see the world; don’t insult the reader’s intelligence by claims of bogus impartiality. After that, they must struggle to present, if not all of the facts of the case, at least its major features.

And finally, they must rely on facts and logical argument in their writing, not on name-calling and abuse. In the end, impartial news reporting is a bit like the perfection of sainthood. Getting there may be beyond our powers but that doesn’t excuse us from trying, each day, every day.

  • Fanny

    I await Jude’s analysis of Daily Ireland’s impartiality with interest.

  • reality check

    fanny-Can you provide any evidence as to if and when the daily ireland was not ever impartial?

  • Mick

    Have either of you actually read Jude’s piece?

  • slackjaw

    Decent enough piece.

    After that, they must struggle to present, if not all of the facts of the case, at least its major features.

    The way a journalist chooses to present ‘the facts’ also requires a parti pris. Long lists of facts and the like can also serve to present a bogus impartiality.

  • fmk

    this one could go off into a whole argument about relativism and what is truth … but to keep it to media, the piece is right, media outlets are not impartial. every organisation has their own bias – if not quite their own agenda. you read something like the economist, and you just know that every article will spin a line saying that capitalism would have solved whatever problem is being discussed. you read the guardian, and you know they’re coming at everying with their liberal bias.

    the problem is one for the punter – to know what bias different media bring to different stories. most times, on larger issues, it’s easy, but there’s times when you need someone else to point out some of the bias to you. take the irish independent. their reporting of the slagging match in irish show jumping is compromised by sir tony’s relationship to one of the protaginists. or take their stance on the rossport five story – it might help to know about sir tony’s own mining/mineral rights in that part of the world.

    this is one of the problems with new media. we’ve grown up with the old media, and know their bias, but new media, it’s harder to know.

  • Fanny

    Haven’t you read Jude’s piece, ‘Reality Check’.
    There’s no such thing as impartiality.

  • Denny Boy

    fmk

    “this is one of the problems with new media. we’ve grown up with the old media, and know their bias, but new media, it’s harder to know.”

    True, but all the same we’re more info-savvy than ever before thanks to the net. If you suspect your paper isn’t delivering the real deal then you go googling.

    But with printed media, it’s not as if we’re all living in North Korea. There are so many papers to choose from that you can quickly find one that’s as impartial as you wish it to be. If my daily and Sunday try to sell me bollocks wrapped as news then I simply mail the editor.

    That works more often than you might think. Every rag wants to be elected Newspaper of the Year and to field a stable of award-winning journos. They know they’re being monitored more than ever before.

  • aquifer

    Its hard to be objective, reflective, and fast. Editorial ‘news values’ rewards airtime terrorism a lot of the time, grabbing coverage at gunpoint and pouring bloody unloved manifestos into our living rooms along with the body parts.

  • felix quigley

    There is bias of course and Collins is right, of course he is.

    Then there is downright lying.

    And such a photograph was that by ITN which showed a skinny man behind a barbed wire fence to prove a Serbian concentration camp. On which the US invaded Yugoslavia.

    There were no prisoners behind any barbed wire fence, it was a set-up, a lie.

    For full story see http://www.tenc.net

    But Belfast people do not need to be told about psyops by the British army.

  • Denny Boy

    “There were no prisoners behind any barbed wire fence, it was a set-up, a lie.

    For full story see http://www.tenc.net

    This is what I was alluding to earlier, Felix: the power of the net. For every news “story” there’s a counter claim, such is the nature of propaganda.

    All a chap needs to do is google “srebrenice massacre” to get the skinny (bad pun) on Serb atrocities.

  • Mickhall

    There is bias of course and Collins is right, of course he is.

    Then there is downright lying.

    And such a photograph was that by ITN which showed a skinny man behind a barbed wire fence to prove a Serbian concentration camp. On which the US invaded Yugoslavia.

    There were no prisoners behind any barbed wire fence, it was a set-up, a lie.

    For full story see http://www.tenc.net

    But Belfast people do not need to be told about psyops by the British army.

    Posted by: felix quigley at September 6, 2005 12:02 PM

    Hi all,
    One of the main reasons journalists should do their best to ensure their facts are correct, is if they fail to do so, some apologist for genocide will come along in later years and quote the offending article, their purpose being is to paint all similar articles as being untrue.
    The nazis did this when they revealed the Stalinist massacres of the Polish officer corp and intelligencia in the Katyn Forest. By so doing it spread doubt about the Stories reaching unoccupied Europe and the USA about the death camps.

    Felix Quigley is not the first apologist for the Milosevic dictatorship to mention the above TV news footage, as if by so doing it airbrushes the massacres at Srebencia, etc from history.
    Those who do this are doing no favors to the Serbian people who are attempting to rebuild their country.

    On Jude’s article, good stuff as there is clearly a difference between a journalists and columnist. The latter is merely expressing an opinion whilst hopefully the former is describing a fact, although due to human nature it is bound to be expressed in a subjective manner. Although there is nothing wrong with that, it is the reason most of us prefer certain columnists over others. The problem is those with opinions which are against the norm of the day [anti neo liberal economics for example] are often excluded from the media, or only allowed the odd look in.

    Regards to all

  • fmk

    “This is what I was alluding to earlier, Felix: the power of the net. For every news “story” there’s a counter claim, such is the nature of propaganda.”

    but are the majority willing to make the effort to find both sides of the story? or will they buy the first one sold. or, seeing contradictory versions of the same story, simply walk away from the whole story?

  • Denny Boy

    Yup, that’s the problem we face, fmk.

    We can only hope that in such cases as Srebenice that right = might, and not vice versa.