Picture this: it’s 24th June 2016, you’re in your local newsagents picking up the morning paper. You glance at the headlines: “After 43 years UK freed from shackles of EU”, wrote The Daily Mail. Thank goodness, you think. Shackles? See EU later. Independence and freedom, here we come. But on the next shelf, “Pound goes into freefall”… “Pound nose-dives, stocks plunge, bond yields fall”… Does that mean we’ve made the right decision? How are we supposed to know with such a mixture of positivity and negativity in the headlines? If only there was an objective newspaper that would give us the true facts and tell us, the public, if Brexit was the right decision…
But would that be beneficial in this situation? It could be argued that the variety of positivity and negativity within our headlines represents well-roundedness, and that overall this is neutral journalism, as we are being presented with every side of the debate, just from a range of sources. Some also argue that objectivity is a method of journalism, and as long as information is collected and sorted in a fair and accurate way, a news report is arguably objective.
On another note, who are we expecting to create such objective news reports? The Dictionary of Social Research Methods actually suggests that objectivity is “[t]he state of being free from individual biases, personal emotional involvement, or preconceived ideas” (2016). So surely true objectivity could only be achieved by someone with an empty mind: no thoughts, feelings or opinions on the topic in question… which is pretty unachievable when we remember that journalists are, in fact, human.
So, what is worse – a journalist that is honest with their opinions, allowing readers to acknowledge their biases within factual reporting and draw their own conclusions, or a journalist who hides their opinions whilst striving for ‘objectivity’, resulting in underlying, subconscious ideologies being hidden within their news reports, which are much more difficult for an untrained, unsuspecting reader to identify? As post-structuralists argue, “it is impossible to write from an unbiased stance” (Baker, Gabrielatos & McEnery, 2013, p. 8), so there is no third option of ‘a completely objective journalist’ in this scenario.
This being said, have we let it go too far? Whilst absolute objectivity seems unrealistic, can it not till be strived for? We must ensure that the political views of journalists and newspaper organisations as a whole aren’t detrimental to their ability to report the news accurately and fairly. Just as an RE teacher that practises Christianity must also teach their students of Islam and Judaism, journalists must still present all sides of a debate, not just their own opinion, otherwise they risk their news reports being confused with opinion columns. There are already sections of each newspaper dedicated to opinions of journalists – they do not belong in the headlines.
Richardson argues that there is no objectivity in journalism, and disputes the metaphor of language being ‘clear’ and acting as a window on the world, stating that such assumptions “need to be contested because they can be quite dangerous” (Richardson, 2007, p. 13). Jones (2017) goes as far as to say that journalism is “a highly sophisticated and aggressive form of political campaigning and lobbying”. But how much truth is there in this statement? Surely that can’t be accurate, you may argue – don’t we have some sort of enforceable standards and checks in place to avoid such scenarios? Just as chocolate can’t state that it’s good for you, surely newspapers can’t lie… Well, here’s a scary fact. 71% of the national newspaper market is owned by three companies (Media Reform Coalition, 2015). Over 50% of National UK newspapers sold are controlled by two billionaires. So tell me, if one political party is offering lower tax for those companies, and another is offering equal tax for all, and these three companies have a circulation of approximately 33.6 million per year (Media Reform Coalition, 2015), could/would/should they manipulate their readership into voting in a way that is beneficial to them? As they say, ‘that’s how the rich stay rich’. But surely newspapers should have the public’s best interest at heart… They aren’t money-making businesses, are they?
Perhaps it isn’t objectivity that we need. Perhaps a more updated aspiration would be thorough, accurate, fair and transparent (Gillmor, 2005) news reporting. But will this ever be achieved whilst such a large proportion of our news outlets are controlled by so few individuals?
AMY MUDD, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK