Monday 6 August 2018

Some Thoughts on Broadcast Journalists and Bias

Your taxi driver drives where you tell them to - not just where they fancy having a drive. That’s their job. A broadcast journalist does the job they are paid to do – whatever their personal views.

Happening to hold political views, or have a political history, does not disqualify a journalist. I’d be alarmed if bright, informed individuals had not formed a view or two in their life. Our democracy allows them the right to vote as they wish - and work where they like - just as you can.

Journalists like juicy stories. In their day-job, they worry not about whIch party has sinned, or which view is on the back foot. They just want a decent story.

Journalists are proud of what they do.  They try to get things right and fair.  And they are surrounded by other journalists who would be the first to point out if they’d misjudged. Newsrooms are groups of individuals with a range of views.

Journalists are usually determined individuals and if anyone dared to tell them what to write or say, they’d get short shrift.

The thought there is some organised conspiracy is madness. If you think everyone is forced an agenda, ask yourself how exactly do you feel that is implemented.

Ofcom and BBC guidelines demand ‘due accuracy and impartiality’. 'Due' is a key word. Due impartiality is not absolute impartiality - it is not balance. Some issues are utterly polarised; others are not. There is a difference between climate change, Brexit, and ‘is the sky blue?’. The alternative is utter balance on all matters - and how crazy would that be?

The World is a big place. Not every matter can be covered in a single bulletin. There has to be a selection, if you are ever going to have some time for a song or Eastenders. If you feel there’s been an omission, there’s likely a rational explanation, if you asked politely. And often it’s not a short one, given the range of factors.Sometimes they misjudge, and they admit it.

Balance is required to be achieved ‘over time’. And sometimes an instant response is not available in our 24 hour media world. If a story could be buried by someone failing to respond, then those on the back foot would choose simply never to respond.

If you have a concern, raise it objectively, politely and specifically. Think of those silly folk in your life  who argue with you and bring up a host of stale issues.   Don’t throw in everything  that’s concerned you ever. It demeans your case.

There is no such thing as ‘the mainstream media’, that is as mad as saying ‘the greengrocers’. There are loads of outlets. They don’t compare notes. Sometimes they even hate each other.

You cannot assert that a broadcaster has ignored a story without due checks. Each has several platforms - and many bulletins on many services - have you really checked? And listeners and viewers now sample more news sources than ever before.

Press and broadcast media are very different. Press titles may hold and express a perspective on matters of political and industrial controversy, broadcast media are regulated by specific statute.

Journalists are employed. They have bosses to answer to. Conditions of employment to honour. A regulator. When you comment, pause and ask yourself whether your own comments would pass muster were you subject to similar invigilation. Admit you are wrong sometimes, just as they have to.

Sometimes the law - rightly or wrongly - prevents the broadcast of what you feel is appropriate. 

Verification of what you believe to be blindingly obvious can take time. 

The journalists on Twitter I have seen have been unfailingly polite in the face of provocation. There is no need to be rude. How would you feel if others were as offensive to your partner or children? Journalists don’t come round your house - masked - swearing and shouting. If your goal is to persuade people to your view, you will win few new friends by just being silly. Your comments may make you feel clever to your inner circle, but they really don’t advance your case.

Yes, the staff of broadcasters - and regulators - may not represent the public at large. The nature of the career means that those who are brighter are better poised for a job. That’s probably a good sign. Is there room for more diversity? Yes. And I know of no broadcaster not trying to achieve that. Are all journalists born with a silver spoon from the same background? No. And you really annoy them when you assert a fallacy. Some agree with you on the fundamental issues.

If you have a problem, then there are internal channels of complaint and an independent regulator in Ofcom. In recent years, that have been a small number of upheld complaints. That suggests the system is working. Journalists are not infallible - in our wonderful live medium.

We have some of the best media in the world. Those who compare our offerings to those of other countries where alternative views are not tolerated do a great disservice to those in such countries. I suspect they would fight to the death to achieve the standards we have. Inappropriate interventions risk making it worse, not better.

You will hear views you disagree with. When you don't something's very wrong.

I am not a journalist - and represent no broadcaster. 

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