Journalism and objectivity: reality or ruse?


As someone who works in PR I read a lot of news. Whether it’s print, radio, TV or online, I’m addicted.

A side effect of my news “habit” is that I tend to examine what the message of the story is.  Who’s reflected positively?  Who’s reflected negatively?  What perception of the subject will the reader walk away with?

While websites like this one thrive on opinion, journalism has traditionally strived for objectivity.  However, this is harder than it sounds; particularly when it comes to reporting issues that people hold dear.

The traditional taboos of sex, politics and religion are now on the front page of every newspaper on a daily basis, and by far and away the most criticised area of journalism is political reporting.

A cursory glance at the comments section of websites such as The AustralianSydney Morning Herald, or ABC, will reveal plenty of comments from supporters of the Labor Party, the Coalition, the Greens, and miscellaneous fringe parties who often launch a torrent of vitriol towards the opposing side of politics.

However, the biggest criticisms are often reserved for the author themselves, who’s often accused of bias towards one side or another.

For example, when reporting the Prime Minister’s recent decision to put a price on carbon, newspapers across the country sought to cover this story as objectively as possible. 

However, the outrage from those on both sides of politics accusing publications of favouring one side of politics over the other has been overwhelming.

As a more conservative chap, I read a lot of conservative columns.  So I often see writers such as Miranda Devine and Andrew Bolt copying and pasting sections of articles which, in their opinion, show the clear left-wing bias of particular journalists.

However, I took a trip over to Crikey the other day (kind of like Marty McFly visiting the alternate 1985) and I discovered something shocking: a truckload of Crikey readers think the media leans to the right!

So, to recap: right-wing authors believe the media leans left, while left-wing authors believe the media leans right.

The sound you just heard was me slapping my palm against my forehead.

Some examples: Alan Jones came under particular fire from Barrie Cassidy on the ABC for his recent “bullying” interview with the Prime Minister.

However, on the other side, Peter Costello penned an article for The Agearguing that for conservatives, “the ABC is hostile territory”.

It seems the most common allegations of journalistic bias from commentators can be generalised as such: Fairfax papers will lean more towards Labor and the Greens and the Greens, while News Ltd papers will lean more towards the Coalition.

This argument gained steam in the week leading up to the 2010 Federal Election where most Fairfax papers endorsed Julia Gillard and most News Ltd papers endorsed Tony Abbott. 

Noteable exceptions were the AFR endorsing the Coalition and the Sunday Telegraph endorsing Labor.

However, this raises two questions that warrant a couple of PhDs. 1: How much do the readers let their own political leanings influence the manner in which they read their articles?  2: How much do journalists let their own opinions influence their political reporting?

Most journalists I’ve spoken to believe they should simply present the facts and let the reader decide for themselves.  Also, when interviewing someone, they want the interviewer to “tell their story” rather than seek to control proceedings. 

It’s interesting then that the results can polarise their audience so markedly.

I also think Twitter has played a role in the rise of supposed journalistic bias.  Take the ABC’s Insiders program. 

When either Andrew Bolt or David Marr are program guests, all they have to do is blink and the Twitterverse will explode with people either back-slapping each other exclaiming how wonderful they are, while others unleash a scathing and often profanity-laden torrent of criticism that would make Lindsay Lohan blush.

So just how difficult is it to write an objective article? 

Well, have a read of what I’ve just written and you tell me… Have I favoured one side of politics over the other?  Have I merely stated facts as I see them, or am I trying to discredit one side of the political spectrum?

The answer, of course, is...

This article first appeared on The Punch.

Click here to email Dylan about the above column.

Click here to go back to the homepage.

George Negus is a great journalist,
but did anyone know he was still alive?

Back to the future
Me taking a trip to Crikey would have
shocked the Doc and Marty too.
Lindsay Lohan has a lot in common with
partisan commenters - they're both idiots.