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  • Writer's pictureAndré Delicata

Journalistic impartiality

Trust in the media is at an all-time low. According to a Standard Eurobarometer issued by the European Commission, 53% of the population do not think Maltese media provides trustworthy information. It's pretty much the same all around the world. People expect journalists to be impartial (not take sides), and to be totally balanced, yet do not believe them to be so.

The truth of the matter is that journalists are regular human beings with opinions and values, feelings and emotions. Other factors give context and colour to their way of seeing things, such as personal experiences, age, culture etc.

Moreover, the issue of impartiality raises several questions.

Should everyone have an equal say, even for example those who would deny human rights? A recent and highly relevant example was when radio host Andrew Azzopardi described Norman Lowell as a racist and xenophobe and declared that he would never invite him to his show. Azzopardi's statement that Lowell is a racist and a xenophobe (there is a court judgement that supports this), and his declaration that he would never invite him to his show, earned him a fine from the Broadcasting Authority. Should a journalist engage in giving a platform, oxygen, and hence legitimacy to such persons and view points?

Should not journalists favour the downtrodden, should they not uphold empathy and sympathy with the victimised?

Should not journalists that work in an environment where the media is dominated by powerful leaders who have their own media channels, spin doctors, and propogandists, hold these leaders to account? Yet in a country like Malta torn by partisanship and where religion is a cult, that seems like bias against the leader to his or her faithful.

Should not journalists offer a platform to marginalised groups, so they can tell their story?

Should not journalists in conflict zones report atrocities being committed by any of the sides in the conflict?

It seems therefore clear to me that journalists should uphold certain values. The question then, is which values? And where does one draw the line between values and activism? Also taking a stance brings about its own cons. You end up with a niche audience that fundamentally already agrees with you.

My opinion is that journalists are not stenographers, nor are they meant to be. They have an obligation and responsibility towards transparency and truth, and to factual accuracy. To reporting without fear and favour. To differentiating between opinion and fact. To pointing us towards the truth in an environment where disinformation and misinformation thrives and flourishes. They must be true to the noble profession of journalism, the fourth pillar of democracy.

"I believe in being truthful, not neutral. I believe we must stop banalizing the truth. We have to be prepared to fight especially hard right now for the truth because this is a world where the Oxford English dictionary announced just last week its word for 2016, and that is ‘post-truth’."

Christiane Amanpour, chief international correspondent and anchor at CNN


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