29 مهر 1390

Fairness, Lack of Bias, Neutrality and Impartiality in Journalism

Should journalists be impartial

21 October 2011

khabarnegaran.info:Fairness, justice, neutrality, balance, impartiality, and unbiased reporting are terms that journalists are familiar with.

However, to what extent can journalists use their own ideas and analysis in their reports? Does the personal analysis of a reporter distance the report from fair and unbiased news coverage? Can journalists act as photojournalists and only serve the role of witnesses who record events as they unfold? May journalists view themselves only as postmen who deliver the news package to the reader’s house doors? Should journalists be simple narrators of what they see? How do Iranian journalists view and respond to these questions? To what extend do Iranian journalists manage to keep an unbiased stance while reporting the news? And is impartial journalism truly a pillar of modern journalism?

Asia Times’ editor-in-chief Zohar Abdul-Karim states that none of the staff of the magazine these days speak of having a “neutral stance”; instead they stress the necessity for “balance and justice” in covering the news. Abdul-Karim notes that contrary to popular opinion, there is no problem with journalists using their own analysis in their reports.

Asia Times’ editor-in-chief says: “We analyse, we comment, and we use our own views while covering the news. There is no problem in this, as long as we are narrating the truth and seek to inform via greater transparency.” Where neutrality and lack of bias are considered to be pillars of journalism, how true and common is Abdul-Karim’s claim?

Journalism must be increasingly impartial

Some media experts believe that the truth must not be a victim of journalists, something which happens when there is financial and political dependence on the reigning power. They argue that journalists must serve as impartial observers of current events. And yet, here the question arises: what happens to political and factional affiliations? Can journalists truly separate themselves from all their own leanings only to view and report what goes on about them?

In an interview with the website “Iranian Journalists”, Nikahang Kowsar, an Iranian journalist and cartoonist states: “No human being by nature is unbiased. But increased neutrality is the principle journalists must keep in their focus.”

He points out that the various financial and political affiliations of journalists can result in propaganda and manipulative interference. “A large number of Iranian media outlets suffer from such dependence. Newspapers and media outlets affiliated with the government in Iran end up representing the government’s interests and in reflecting only these interests.”

Kowsar goes on to say: “affiliation to political parties and political authority is one the main problems of Iranian media in staying unbiased. Such dependence distances them from the principles of journalism. Representing a political party or a group makes the truth become a victim of special interest.” He further explains: “It is a possible that a certain media outlet belongs to a party that is in the local opposition. Their dominant mindset can lead them to confuse reporting on the ongoing policies with keeping a check on the rival party in power. Such a mindset, in my opinion, leads to the audience being deceived.”

He gives an example to elaborate his point. “Imagine someone who is a member of Iran Islamic Participation Front and works in the party’s newspaper. Since this party works within framework of the system, all this person does is to watch over and find fault with the activities of rival parties. And in the process of all this, the multi-faceted truth will in fact remain ignored.”

Another Iranian journalist who has lost his employment due to increasing political tensions says: “All people and all journalists living and working in liberal societies can have their own point of view. Yet, inserting one’s own ideology, ideas, and values in writings can be dangerous. At that point the writing becomes personal analysis and is no longer a reflection of true events.” This journalist, who worked for newspapers affiliated with certain political parties, goes on to say: “Criticising power must be the top priority of professional journalists. Unbiased and critical journalism is basically the truly professional journalism which is accepted around the world.” According to him, journalists are not robots without personal ideas and opinions. “Journalists are human and definitely they have their own perspective on various subjects. Such inevitable influence of personal views does not harm the context unless they cross the all-important journalistic red lines.”

The public looks for news, not a journalist’s personal views “Making a judgment is not a part of a journalists’ duty. Journalists must be narrators and reporters of what is taking place. Readers are looking for a narration of happenings and not the personal view of a journalist,” a professor of journalism in Iran told “Iranian Journalists”.

This professor goes on to say: “neutrality in global media is taken so seriously that in some countries journalists and reporters are not allowed to write any analysis for the same newspaper in which they report , and they are also not allowed to write a weblog . Such newspapers show their respect for the readers by presenting them with facts rather than opinions or analysis.” This professor considers taking sides a malady, which questions both the media’s creditability as well as the journalists’ own prestige. Nikahang Kowsar points out those major media outlets across the world strictly advise their journalists to stay away from reflecting their own ideology. “If journalists reveal their personal ideas in the news they report, the reader will not trust that particular outlet’s “news” broadcasts. Certainly by incorporating your own views in the news you may be able to attract members of certain political parties with whom you side. However, one must bear in mind that this is no longer journalism.” Kowsar believes supporting a political party can be balanced with reporting the news, when this is done without fear and with due weight also being given to the mistakes and shortcomings of what one supports, and adds that this is very rare in Iran.

Impartiality is meaningless in the real world

Remaining impartial and unbiased is a pillar of journalism and all news agencies do their outmost to obey the rules so that they may be recognised as such. However, many journalists and media experts believe that there is no such thing as an impartial media. An Iranian journalist who writes for a newspaper inside Iran says: “The definition of impartiality does not make sense in the world of journalism. When I, as a journalist, choose to work for a reformist newspaper before I start my work, I show a personal preference in my political stance. When I work for such a newspaper, I can’t support the conservative government’s policies, even if they are positive. This also affects my choice of subjects and those I choose to interview.” Another journalist says: “Neutrality in journalism has a different meaning to what is commonly perceived. What it refers to is Keeping the balance and covering both sides of a story while mentioning both supporting and opposing views and avoiding personal judgment.”

This journalist explains: “It is obvious that a reporter cannot be impartial about particular subjects such as citizen’s and human rights. A journalist must be socially responsible and thus cover everything supporting or violating such basic rights.”

He continues: “People trust an unbiased media source. Political parties and their news agencies broadcast news according to their own taste and flavour. Journalists must avoid praising those in power and only report the reality.”

Impartiality in journalism and professional ethics

A summary of interviews in this article shows that staying impartial in journalism is a part of professional principles and ethics. No one can question this principle and the growing trend towards it. Although Journalists cannot be void of feeling and close their eyes on everything that happens in the world - so that they inevitably use some part of their own personal views in their reports, this does not mean that they are allowed to manipulate reality based on personal views and values or distort real occurrences to serve their personal interests or political, financial and social affiliations.

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