Balance in the Eye of the Editor

CCBYNCND-flickr_Colin Harris

Will Gore, the deputy managing editor of The Independent, weighs in on journalistic balance. It was prompted by a headline error (since corrected) and a Dave Brown cartoon (of which a formal complaint to the UK Press Complaints Commission was filed and dismissed).

Gore adds, almost as a throwaway ending:

There will always be those who say newspapers should be impartial. But some who complain to me about what they describe as a lack of balance in our coverage are themselves seeking to pursue an agenda. “Balance”, as they espouse it, is itself a kind of artifice designed to mislead by giving equal weight to unequal arguments.

I wasn’t privy to Gore’s correspondence with readers about the issues raised in his column. By themselves, neither the headline nor the cartoon were problems of balance.

Imbalanced journalism can take many forms. The examples I’ll cite apply to Israel, but you’ll find them in other areas of public conversation too.

  1. Reporters talking to a bunch of pro-Palestinian voices, while not quoting any Israeli point of view.
  2. Panel discussions featuring two pro-Palestinian voices and a pro-Palestinian Israeli.
  3. An online forum where the vast majority of editorials, columnists, op-eds, and cartoons bash Israel. (The Independent comes to mind, with churning invective coming from writers like Mira Bar-Hillel, Robert Fisk, and Patrick Cockburn, and cartoonists like Brown coming to mind.)
  4. Misrepresenting a fringe viewpoint as mainstream.
  5. Creating false balance, which New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan describes as “giving equal weight to both sides of a story, regardless of an established truth on one side.”

These are all objective examples of imbalanced journalism.

If this editor’s views are extended to Israel’s supporters in general (and that’s how I read his final paragraph), then Gore is dismissing, discrediting, and disrespecting anyone who fights against media bias.

Balance is a way of making sure all the voices in a newspaper’s community are fairly heard, and that readers see something of their worldview reflected in the news and op-ed pages. I think Gore just revealed why Israel’s supporters don’t see that in The Independent.

Image: CC BY-NC-ND flickr/Colin Harris ADE


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