THE ETHICAL APPROACH TO NEWS

I recently watched the first series of the HBO series – THE NEWSROOM.
I can highly recommend it. For television made in the United States, it is very good indeed.
For many that have seen the series, the high point was in fact the opening sequence which involved the lead character, played by Jeff Daniels launching into a tirade in which he highlighted why America was – ‘not the greatest country on earth anymore’.
For me the high points were many, but none were ‘higher’ that a speech given by the same character in which he stresses that – THE ROLE OF NEWS IS NOT TO PROVIDE BALANCE (as many suggest) but to PRESENT THE FACTS.
I could not agree more. News services should be in the business of presenting to their readers, viewers and listeners all of the available facts and the leaving it to those readers, viewers and listeners to draw their own conclusions. Surely this is what news is all about.
Of the major newspapers readily available in Western Australia, for me the best is The Financial Review and the worst is The West Australian. For me these two publications are very different, so much so that I no longer read the West Australian.
In addition to a higher standard of writing, the Financial Review clearly distinguished between fact and opinion, something the West almost rarely does.
Frankly, I could not care less what a journalist thinks and I rarely read opinion pieces. I want the facts so that I can make my own assessment. I don’t want a journalist trying to think for me.
What is more, I would argue that it is a lazy journalist that presents facts in place of facts, and it is no better when they present both or all sides of a story for the sake of balance.
I know that presenting all the relevant facts is hard, but why should journalism be easy.
The same is true of television and radio. Whilst far from perfect, the ABC is far more focused on presenting facts whilst, Channel 7 and Channel 9 news broadcasts are far more colourful and more like infotainment, paying little attention to the facts, and a lot of attention to the journalists interpretation of those facts. Commercial radio tends to be even worse in this regard.
Whilst the ABC often presents opinion in programmes like the DRUM, it seems to work harder to clearly distinguish fact from opinion, allowing people like me to focus on and give priority to the facts. They don’t always get it right, but they get it right more often than their commercial cousins.
On a local level, I stopped reading Business News altogether, because it is more opinion than fact. It seems to me that for this publication publishing opinion is cheaper than publishing facts.
Surely, and traditionally, the role of journalists has not been to entertain and to offer opinion, but rather, do the hard work of gathering as many facts as possible, including the opinions of all parties involved, and then the even harder work of presenting those facts as clinically as possible – leaving it to the reader, viewer or listener to draw their own conclusions.
It would be 20 years since I read an editorial. Who cares what the editor thinks. Why is the editor’s opinion of any more or less value than anyone else’s? What I want are the facts that allow me to think for myself in an informed way.
I my view the ethical approach to the news is to present facts in a way that allows me and everyone else to draw their own conclusions. It should NOT be about opinion or even BALANCE, it should be about facts. It is certainly not about opinion.
The ethical approach to news is to do the hard work necessary to present the facts and to offer enough information to enable people to think for themselves.
Just a thought

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