Just the facts please…?

EVAN Davis takes a look at the kinds of choices journalists must make when presenting news. There’s fine line between comment and bias, he admits, but does merely presenting the facts really do a story justice if those facts are incomprehensible to the audience?

Remembering that the “facts” may be true, but already presented to the journalist with a certain emphasis by whoever commissioned them, and that decisions have to made about which facts and figures to use too, it means that “true” objectivity – while a necessary and admirable aspiration – is, in reality, impossible.

Davis takes a look at some guidelines:

Usually (but I stress not always) the best practice is to give an interpretation to a story that conforms to a few simple criteria:

It should not be partisan on an issue that divides the public. (Note, you can be as biased as you like on an issue that does not divide the public: we have relatively few complaints about biased reporting of the national sports teams).

It should give due weight to the body of expert opinion on the subject (we don’t want the idiosyncratic rantings of a particular correspondent).

It should be clear in a report (by the tone, and the form of coverage) whether the reporter is giving a fact, an impression, an obvious interpretation or a personal hypothesis.
Above all, journalists should usually avoid drawing conclusions from their interpretation: how ever useful the audience might find Jeff Randall’s interpretation of British Airways results, the BBC would not encourage him to draw an inference about whether they should buy or sell shares in the company.