“Objectivity” and “bias” are words frequently used in the context of news media. And even more frequently, these words are misused – often by well-meaning and sincere news professionals – to describe their honest and robust journalism as “unbiased”, or to describe themselves as “objective”.
Brazen partisans and Twitter trolls aside, it is important we become a little self-aware of our own shortcomings, which are undeniable and also unavoidable. I have done a on objectivity in journalism. There have been many conversations on this subject for decades, if not centuries, some of which I have referenced in the podcast.
The thing is, human beings will forever be objectivity deficient. So will any technology that humans create. Other than mathematics, nothing is objective or without bias.
Even in other sciences, we use terms like STP (standard temperature pressure) while speaking of elements and compounds. When conditions change, so do the characteristics of the substance we are defining or classifying. This is because context is everything. Humans are way more complex than elements or compounds.
For much of my life, there has been, in my view (which is not unbiased), a skew towards liberal thought in journalism. I say this as a professional who has worked in news organisations and as a consumer of news. This is a good thing. The media should be more progressive than conservative because media in its many manifestations is how people at large process and make sense of the world around them – politically, artistically and socially.
The history of humankind has been one of progressing from extreme cruelty and barbarism to some sorts of civilised social frameworks and values. Information flow (thus news) plays an important part in this evolution. Wherever the dissemination of information and news flows the other way, we see small eddies that return to primitive policies and primal acts even as the general flow of the world remains progressive.
There is a tendency of people from liberal backgrounds to gravitate towards journalism. I don’t know what the reason is, but I’m sure there are many essays out there explaining it. In India, there is a huge swing towards a unique, insane ideology which is neither conservative nor progressive – it just crawls before power. That aside, every report and all journalism has bias. It is the product of information processed by an individual or group with a worldview, with beliefs, priorities and values.
A report cannot be insulated from that contamination. Everything from our gaze and what we consider “normal”, credible or fair comes from our life experience.
To give you a rather simplistic example: When I was younger, a friend of mine thought the military was pampered, and that the heavily discounted canteen items and booze, faujis were entitled to should be stopped.
I thought that was preposterous. The army pampered? Yeah, right!
When we were young adults and I was part of groups that were pushing for the right to information being made more accessible and powerful, the friend was of the view that RTI is a terrible idea that burdens government servants with paperwork and gets in the way of discharging their duties.
Unsurprisingly, his father was a bureaucrat and mine was a fauji. None of us were ignorant or evil or corrupt or alcoholic, using up the one case that officers are entitled to. We were the products of our circumstance.
Which is why reading more and exposing yourself to more ideas and worldviews makes for better decisions and perspectives. The more inclusive and diverse a team, the closer to complete their collective work.
Newslaundry is a constant work in progress to achieve a more complete worldview. Journalism is the primary pursuit of the organisation – that’s all about facts, accuracy, and public interest storytelling. If the team involved in this pursuit has a multitude of experiences, perspectives and backgrounds, it makes us all better.
Inclusive views is not the same thing as monkey-balancing or giving space to hate with the all-sides-must-be-given-equal-space trope and ending up with ridiculous false equivalences. A person advocating equality and another endorsing untouchability and a strict caste system will not be considered “two sides of an issue” at Newslaundry. This is but one example; there are several others.
With hate being amplified thanks to social media, and mainstreamed thanks to the influence the hateful fringe has on political parties and news platforms, even the vilest commentary and voices get real estate in news. Sacrificing basic human values and principles for clickbait and traffic is not something we will do here. All sides need not get the same space. Some voices belong to the stone age and not the digital age, even as those voices have experienced a momentary renaissance.
So, while Newslaundry as an organisation can't be clubbed as left, right, or centre – the individuals who work with Newslaundry can. Although what is left and right in India is . The biases and beliefs of our colleagues are spread across the political aisle, and not hidden from our readers. We want a more inclusive office where the most diverse experiences can come together and create an environment where we all learn from each other and from our subscribers.
Our podcasts and hangouts are a device for such growth. On our podcasts, you can hear the voices of our editors and reporters unfiltered as an exercise in transparency. Our hangouts and Zoom calls with subscribers do the same and also allow us to scrutinise ourselves through news consumers’ perspectives – they are brutally honest and polite, Newslaundry ke subscribers khaas hain. Our biases, prejudices and worldviews are there for all to see so each individual's work can be viewed and adjusted for our inevitable objectivity handicap.
But our facts must never be compromised. That is a disciplined pursuit at Newslaundry. Because we owe our subscribers that. They have transformed the news model once considered impossible. For this to become the new normal, we have to demonstrate that the quality of reportage is destined to be better when it is not pandering to advertisers and traffic.
That’s what Newslaundry aims for. We do this so you know us better, we serve you better, and news remains a public interest enterprise as it should be.
Newslaundry Explained is a series of articles that breaks down questions about our editorial philosophy and subscription model.
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