Is “journalistic balance” balanced?
This is a question that has been on my mind lately. What does it mean to be balanced in today’s world of 24-hour news cycles and social media?
When political success can be achieved through playing to the fears of the unknown instead of aspirational leadership, and modern technology gives every man, woman and child a mass communication platform all of their own in their pocket, what constitutes expertise in public life today?
Why would anyone strive to exercise moral or intellectual rigour in such a vacuum of objectivity? When emotion trumps logic – pardon the pun – the notion of balance in news reporting is an absurd joke. It simply becomes a question of who can shout the loudest. Thanks to journalism’s dependency on advertising revenue, a particularly toxic rampant populism has been unleashed in the last 15 years.
It is increasingly difficult to know what is true over all the noise.
Last month Crosslight published a story on the detention of refugees in Nauru. It described the leaking of reports of child sexual abuse and beatings in detail that was reminiscent of Ceausescu’s Romanian orphans. The public is witnessing the mistreatment and dehumanisation of detainees as part of a political gambit to make Australian unattractive to refugees. In the name of border protection, Western nations have adopted policies of institutionalised abuse.
This would seem to be a cut and dry case of moral wrongdoing. But that is not the narrative being espoused by supporters of this policy. Crosslight received letters and messages demanding the other side of this issue be heard.
- That refugees are potentially terrorists.
- That refugees are potentially rapists and murders.
- That the Uniting Church is itself adopting the position of removing families from detention as a cynical political move of its own.
Crosslight’s writers are encouraged to express their own points of view in order to engage a conversation. We as a publication are not obliged to drive pageviews to raise profits and that is a privilege few news outlets have today. We also have the capacity to believe the words we print and frame an argument around that belief. Because belief without argumentation leads to extremism.
So here is the question of balance. Are the lives of those trapped on Nauru fit for point-scoring by opposing sides of an argument? Are we obliged to give ‘equal platform’ to those who vilify the vulnerable?