Impartiality in Broadcast Journalism – Palatinate
By Alex Jennings
Impartiality is a word that occupies a preponderant place in the world of British audiovisual journalism: it is a doctrine that has long been hailed as one of the greatest assets of our communication culture and a pillar of our public discourse. . Still, there are many signs that the impartiality owed to British broadcasting may soon disappear.
The concept of fairness in broadcasting arose out of necessity rather than design. In the early days of media, when over-the-air transmission was scarce and therefore a monopoly was inevitable, the requirement that broadcasters remain impartial reporters of opinions and interests was necessary as a safeguard against potential abuse of power. .
Amid the torrent of fake news and conspiracy theories perpetuated online, however, the need for independent, factual, and unbiased information is perhaps greater than ever.
Now, however, the world is much different. We can choose from hundreds of TV channels, a multitude of radio stations and are instantly exposed to almost any opinion on social media. In a more divided and individualistic age, the practice of impartiality is more difficult. People are less willing to accept editorial decisions that set both the news agenda and the parameters of fairness, while many are increasingly cynical about the objective truths presented by broadcasters.
Amid the torrent of fake news and conspiracy theories perpetuated online, however, the need for independent, factual, and unbiased information is perhaps greater than ever. Moreover, in the polarized media environment of the United States, which abolished a 60-year-old impartiality law in 1987, democracy and social cohesion have deteriorated as Americans stop believing in a common set of truths and are only exposed to opinions that reinforce their prejudice. -existing prejudices.
British audiences “increasingly avoid spaces and programs where their ideas are challenged”.
In contrast, unbiased broadcasting in the UK has long balanced public discourse against persuasive partisan press, exposing us to different perspectives and interpretations. But as communications regulator Ofcom noted last year, the British public “increasingly avoids spaces and programs where their ideas are contested.”
Indeed, despite the increase in audiences for unbiased broadcast journalism, particularly BBC News, in the UK during the pandemic, the tendency over time has been to disconnect. Many viewers, it seems, find neutral news services too bland and uninviting, often preferring opinion-based emotional coverage to cold, objective analysis.
In this context, the news GB emerged. When it was created, veteran journalist Andrew Neil, the face of the new broadcaster, claimed that this center-right news channel would extend free speech to those who feel marginalized by current broadcasters and help build engagement. of the public in politics. Noble goals, but goals that turned out to be futile. Neil’s inconsolable departure from the channel was accompanied by the revelation that his dream had in fact been hijacked: “shock jocks” are now regularly broadcast on the airwaves, expressing extreme, often hateful opinions, while Nigel Farage is now at the head of the channel in stark contrast to the incisive journalism promised by Neil.
The result is a broadcaster that bears little evidence of impartiality, and in many ways mirrors Fox News, Rupert Murdoch’s right-wing American television network – an outcome countless commentators had predicted. News UK, another opinionated television news channel to be launched by Murdoch in the UK next year, is also expected to push the boundaries of impartiality in favor of provocative and sensationalist coverage.
Ofcom, meanwhile, has long indicated that it may be in favor of releasing some news services from the impartiality pledge, while some government advisers on the issue of regulating broadcasters share the same conviction.
Whatever happens with the legal framework for broadcast impartiality obligations in the UK, it is clear that the BBC remains a staunch stronghold of neutral media coverage. Indeed, Tim Davie, the general manager of the corporation, recently spoke of the doctrine in sacred terms, saying: “We must together renew our vows of impartiality. This is the foundation of who the BBC is.
However, it is certain that in order to succeed in this mission, the company must not only avoid a passive and disinterested approach to impartiality which risks ceding viewers in the future to partisan and obstinate broadcasters, but also redouble its efforts. to win back an audience that challenges what it sees as a narrow, metropolitan editorial perspective on current affairs.
In a context of disinformation and social fragmentation, the battle for the truth is already being waged in the sphere of audiovisual journalism. The question is whether impartiality will remain viable as the struggle escalates in the years to come.
Image credits: Fred Kearney via Unsplash