Objectivity can induce both: better and worse journalism. Of course, if it would encourage better coverage of events it should be the dominant value in future journalism, but, on the contrary, if it would cause flawed coverage then it should not. Objectivity can hinder analysis, the question why, background research and interpretation of events and reduce news to plain events reporting. It can even bring about untruthful reporting if the psychological impact on the reporter and the humanitarian side of disasters, crisis and wars is suppressed. Subjective reporting can empower people, make them passionate about issues and encourage activity and involvement in their communities as well as in decision-making and politics. But objectivity can also prevent bias, misrepresentation, manipulation, propaganda and slander. It ensures quality in reporting by preventing right-wing opinion channels such as Fox News in Britain. It should also prevent the dominance and influence of public relations, marketing and advertising on the content of the media, especially in news.
Objectivity might even be one of the possible safeguards in saving journalists lives in war zones, at least in theory: by (hopefully) preventing journalists from taking any side they might be seen as neutral by the population and conflicting forces and thereby prevented from being targeted and are able to report unhindered the reality enjoying relative freedom of movement and independence when reporting. Embedded reporting, such as during the latest Iraq war in the military, or in the police forces during the Free Trade Area of the Americas protests in Miami in November 2003, can not only threaten objective reporting, but also blur the clear distinction between media and armed forces or authorities in general. This might increase the dangers when journalists operate in war zones, as they could be perceived as being part or aiding the enemy. It might be beneficial to research the effects of embedded reporting more critical to establish a context with long-term effects. As journalists were embedded into the military during the Iraq war, the lack of objective reporting might have well influenced a perception in the local population to perceive western journalists as enemies and therefore cause or contribute to the current inability to report unhindered from Iraq because of having become targets of insurgents.
Objectivity is a major ground rule in journalism and is often equated with ensuring public trust in the media.
Other values, such as accuracy, honesty, impartiality and fairness are competing in the role to dominate the perspective of professional journalists. But these values all seem to describe and pin down measurements for the real underlying dominant perspective of reporting the truth. Conrad Fink noted in his 1988 book Media Ethics: Objectivity is a standard of journalism performance in the process of attempting to convey the truth.
But the truth has a subjective and an objective side, is a highly philosophical term and more difficult to define and prove than accuracy, fairness, impartiality and objectivity.
John Lloyd writes in his article in the Prospect: Many journalists no longer believe in the existence of truth “ or believe that, even if does exist, it is unattainable by journalism.
But even if the truth is an impossible aim for journalists to achieve and to evaluate their work against, how would it impact on other associated values, such as objectivity, accuracy and fairness? In the same article, John Lloyd describes the position of David Loyn, BBC foreign correspondent, [who] argued that even if the goal of a single absolute truth could never be reached, the efforts must always be made.
Now, if the truth consists of objective facts and subjective, personal experiences and interpretations, then both sides are equal in their importance, and therefore objectivity can not be the dominant professional perspective in journalism if the overarching aim is to represent the truth as close as possible when reporting.
James Cameron states in his memoirs, Point of Departure in 1967: I always tended to argue that objectivity was of less importance than the truth, and that the reporter whose technique was informed by no opinion lacked a very serious dimension…
Many left-wing journalists therefore consciously and ethically reject the principle of objectivity. They might not however, give the same reasons as stated above, but just stress the importance of interpretations and the analysis of events and the relevancy to express personal and subjective experiences.
I have never in my life made any claim to being an ‘objectivity’ journalist, if ‘objectivity’ meant the uncritical presentation of wrong or foolish events and attitudes. states James Cameron in his memoirs, Point of Departure in 1967.
Robert Fisk, Middle-East foreign correspondent for the Independent, says:
I used to think our job as journalists was to be the first witnesses to history.[…] Our job, she (Amira Haas) said, was ‘to monitor the centres of power’. […] We should always ask the question why. […] So the job of journalism is to set the narrative of history, to make sure we do not forget what happened before yesterday, before last week, before last year.
Objectivity might also be denounced as being as unobtainable as the truth. The reporters’ presence might already have an influence on the events. Jake Lynch from the NGO Reporting the World said that ‘journalists are always already involved whether they like it or not’.
As John Simpson writes in his autobiography: During my thirty-six years in broadcast news I must have been arrested dozens of times.[…] The offence is being around when trouble starts. If they can’t stop the trouble, there is a certain kind of policeman who prefers roughing up the camera crews instead.â€?
In the News Media, Civil War and Humanitarian Action the authors claim, that the news media, it seems, have become a major humanitarian actor in their own right, helping to frame the context within which government policy is formulated and humanitarian action is mounted. They continue to explore the ‘CNN Factor’. Although neither humanitarian crises nor their reporting is new, the proliferation of both in an era of high-speed communications has led to widespread speculation about the influence the media may exercise. The news media are widely supposed to have increased pressures on government policymakers, both directly and through the information provided to the public.
In our lecture, Conrad Finks position was explained: Objectivity is limited via the arrangement of telling the story, from the start of selecting the story, to choosing the sources, arranging the editing process, the language and terminology used, and the time and context in which the news are published. Chris Frost supports this position in his book Media Ethics and Self regulation: Like the map-maker, the journalist is never in the position of being able to present the whole picture. […] The instant a journalist decides that he or she has enough information to file a story, objectivity is out of the window; the editing process has begun and subjectivity is in.
External forces which limit objective reporting can loosely be described as capitalist powers and focus on coverage for elites. In capitalist societies, proprietors and advertisers have a strong role in controlling what is published or broadcast and the line the journalist takes whilst covering stories. Societies which are controlled by totalitarian governments, or which face strong social control from organised religion or other sources, are also constrained in a way which militates against a free press, and even in democratic societies, governments will try to control the information which is disseminated about them. [6.]
But apart from the lobby groups and the influence of the powerful on the media, there is also a consensus in society which provides the general attitude and prejudices of the public about what is acceptable and consequently sidelines dissenting voices.
P. Sanaith says: Ten percent of the population runs the lives of [a huge section of Indian society]. But a section that is beyond the margin of elite vision. And beyond the margins of a press and media that fails to connect with them.
The senior programme controller at Channel Five, Chris Shaw, claims that TV news are increasingly serving the more prosperous classes best to the disadvantage of poorer people and ethnic minorities. He does, however, not suggest that by dropping objectivity in TV news coverage, audience equality would consequently automatically improve and the needs of nowadays disenfranchised viewers would be better catered for.
However Julie Tomlin and Mary Stevens state in their article opinionated news would halter viewer slide': report that a broader definition of impartiality would ensure that the views of ethnic minorities , the young and other groups are represented.
Despite objectivity being an acclaimed guideline for evaluating and verifying news reports, many journalists and members of the audience regard subjective reporting as more intelligent, engaging and as better journalism.
Theodore L. Glasser 1992: [6.] states that objectivity in journalism is biased in favour of the status quo; …against independent thinking; it emasculates the intellect by treating it as a disinterested spectator. Finally objective reporting is biased against the very idea of responsibility; the day’s news is viewed as something journalists are compelled to report, not something they are responsible for creating…Objectivity in journalism effectively erodes the very foundation on which rests a responsible Press.
John Tusa, former MD of the BBC World Service says: Journalism is at its best a simple human exchange, a person-to-person act of communication; great events are best described and great personalities best caught by individual eyes; understanding comes from the single mind; theoretical systems are always less interesting than the personal response of the journalist. The only ultimate guarantee of journalistic integrity comes from the values of the individuals whom operate them in practice. Chris Shaw suggests in his article TV news with attitude, that subjective reporting would facilitate more edge, distinction and character. Robert Fisk doesn’t believe in the concept [of objective journalism], calling it a specious idea, that, as practiced by American reporters, produces dull and predictable writing weighed down by obfuscating comments from official government sources.
Chris Frost objects to objectivity as a domineering professional perspective in journalism: Fairness, honesty and justice are required because these are the only concepts that allow journalists to look up to higher ideals than something as drab and unhelpful as objectivity. Objectivity, even impartiality maybe, requires diffidence, dispassion, an ability to step outside the society in which we live. Even if this were possible for a journalist, would anyone be interested in listening to or reading his or her reports? [6.]
Other journalists reject out of their professional experiences to objectivity. They either want to induce change for society to change for the better, or have experienced the limits of reporting and mostly out of moral values, want to force policymakers to intervene when disasters strike or atrocities are committed. Roy Gutman, Pulitzer Prize winner for his coverage of the Bosnian war, states: We can’t watch passively while people are killed in front of us. There are higher requirements. Ed Vulliamy, Guardian correspondent in the Bosnia war, agrees: I believe that there are moments in history when neutrality is not neutral, but complicit in the crime.?
Martin Bell argues in the interview with John Lloyd for a journalism of attachment “ an engaged journalism, which bears witness to horrors and deliberately stirs the consciences of mass audiences and of public men and women who have the power and command the resources to put a stop to them. [7.] Out of his experience as a war reporter in former Yugoslavia in the 90ies, he has reported, that action not taken can be just as dangerous as any action considered and called in his last broadcast for direct military and political intervention. He now advocates a journalism which cares as well as knows, resulting in the former British foreign secretary to dismiss people like Bell as the ‘something must be done brigade’.
Howard Good, writes in Journalism Ethics Goes to the Movies: Journalistic norms require them to keep their personal preferences and opinions out of news stories…But ethics isn’t only about following norms, rules, traditions. It can also be about challenging them. There’s something questionable about remaining impartial or objective in the face of large-scale suffering.
J.H. Altschull writes in Agents of Power: The Role of News Media in Human Affairs: Nothing gratifies the individual journalist more than a successful challenge to power. There is built into journalism the possibility of inducing change and helping to create a world that is more just and peaceful: it is this possibility that has fired and continues to fire the imagination of journalists everywhere on earth.
Journalists are expected to fulfil a watchdog role, a popular saying goes that Journalism should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
Chris Frost explains in his book: Part of that informing role will involve them in a close scrutiny of the motives and actions of people in positions of power and trust. [6.] Robert Fisk agrees: It is our job as journalists to challenge the centers of power, and to describe with our vividness the tragedies and injustice and viciousness of the world, and to try to name the bad guys. Doug Ireland in turn admires Robert Fisk. His critical coverage of Iraq has repeatedly exposed U.S. and British government disinformation campaigns. I have long admired Fisk’s unbeatable first-rate journalism, his intrepid insistence on sticking his nose where the authorities “ of whatever country he’s in “ don’t want him to go.
John Pilger is another journalist admired for his integrity and subjective reporting. He describes his attitude as such:
I have always had a very strong sense of justice and injustice. What I do is a job of journalism with a respect for humanity, and for telling the stories of humanity from the ground up, not from the view of the powerful and those who, in one way or another, want to exploit us… For me, the unending job is to look behind the stereotypes, the facades, the authorized versions. That’s actually my definition of journalism. It’s really very simple.
P. Sanaith says: The best journalists have always been dissident journalists. There is no such thing as a good establishment journalist, only good stenographers. The only journalism worth practicing: journalism based on a commitment to ordinary people, to very high democratic ideals and to bettering the living conditions of people around him.
Objectivity is however important. Resources invested in reporting news are limited and funds for investigative journalism are currently cut, from BBC’s Panorama to the number of journalists employed by newspapers.
John Tusa, former MD of the BBC World Service, says: You cannot, of course, staff a modern newsroom with an army of Cameroonians. Think of the insubordination: resources do not permit such a luxury.
Martin Bell, former war correspondent for the BBC states: I’m more and more aware of the limitations of journalism. You fly in and out of places and you make instant judgments because you must. The work I’m now most proud of are programmes which attempt to find out the facts and lay them out carefully.?
John Lloyd, Financial Times, sees the credibility and trust in the media in danger by dismissing objectivity.
At the level of journalism, objectivity “ which I take to be an attempt to give a truthful account “ must be possible or reporting dies, except as an entertainment.? He points out that the aim of news is not only to inform, but also to serve as a foundation for decision-making.
It is when Martin Bell or Rageh Omaar start suggesting that ‘something should be done’ on the mainstream news programmes, with their aura of objectivity, that problems begin.
Daniel Wolf, whose documentary The Hunger Business exposed the dark truth behind Band Aid, states how it went wrong when vital facts were omitted: When Michael Buerk’s first report on the Ethiopian famine ran on BBC News on October 23, 1984, the stark images of the dead and dying shocked a complacent world. But, crucially, what we didn’t know was that this ‘biblical famine’ had been created by man, by the government of Colonel Mengistu Halle Mariam of Ethopia… […] The world didn’t know that government troops were setting up road blocks to prevent the movement of food, while the air force was bombing fields of crops and food markets. When Michael Buerk’s first report on the Ethiopian famine ran on BBC News on October 23, 1984, the stark images of the dead and dying shocked a complacent world. But, crucially, what we didn’t know was that this ‘biblical famine’ had been created by man, by the government of Colonel Mengistu Halle Mariam of Ethopia… […] The world didn’t know that government troops were setting up road blocks to prevent the movement of food, while the air force was bombing fields of crops and food markets.
A lack of objectivity can cause possible distortion by journalists trying to influence policy makers.
The problem for the participant journalist wedded to the events around them, is how to respond when events force a choice between professional commitment and participatory loyalties. [8.]
It should also be noted that objectivity is a legal requirement when reporting court cases, covering election campaigns and elections as well as respecting privacy. Objectivity is also a prevention mechanism to evade libel and criticism. The editors and proprietors use objectivity as a control mechanism to check the stories.
And objectivity developed historically as an important value in the times of the start of news agencies coinciding with the technical advantage of the telegraph. Objectivity also ensured mass appeal and increased circulation of newspapers by bridging the interests of advertisers and audience.
Finally, Kovach and Rosenstiel point to Phil Meyer, University of North Carolina journalism professor [10.]:
I think we ought to emphasize objectivity of method. That’s what scientific method is “ our humanity, our subjective impulses¦ directed toward deciding what to investigate by objective means.
1 Tumber, H. (1999), News a Reader, Oxford University Press
2 Atton, Chris (2001), Alternative Media, London, Sage
3 Allan, S. (2000), News Culture, Oxford University Press
4 Hartley, J. (1994), Understanding News, Routledge
5 Keeble, R. (2001), Ethics for Journalists, Routledge
6 Frost, C. (2000), Media Ethics and Self-Regulation, Pearson
7 John Lloyd, Interview Martin Bell, Prospect, February 2004,
8 Dr. Howard Tumber, Bystander journalism, or the journalism of attachment? , Intermedia February 1997/Volume 25/NO.1,
9 John Simpson, News From No Manâ’s Land, Pan Books 2002,
10 Kovach & Rosenstiel, The Elements of Journalism, Guardian Books 2001
11 Andrew Marr, My Trade, Pan Books 2004
12 Howard Good, Journalism Ethics Goes to the Movies, Praeger Publishers 2002
13 J.H. Altschull, Agents of Power: The Role of News Media in Human Affairs, Longman 1984
14 James Cameron, Point of Departure in 1967, Oriel Press 1967
15 Conrad Fink, Media Ethics, Prentice Hall, 1994
16 Charles Bierbauer (Foreword), Larry Minear, Colin Scott, Thomas G. Weiss, News Media, Civil War and Humanitarian Action, Lynne Rienner Publishers Inc, 1996