On the impossibility of absolute impartiality

Paul Bernal tweets:

Paul's not the first person to pursue this line of argument. In 1969, Umberto Eco described objectivity (impartiality's slightly more aggressive and prepossessing big brother) as, at best, a myth, and at worst, a manifestation of false consciousness.

There's a lovely response to Umberto Eco from the Italian journalist Piero Ottone, who was for a time editor of the Corriere della Sera. Here I quote from my translation, in my book on public service broadcasting:

"It is true that absolute objectivity does not exist, but Umberto Eco is wrong, according to me, to place the problem on this level, because he ends up saying things which are so obvious as to become irrelevant. It is as if, discovering a child stealing some jam, we were to begin a disquisition on the impossibility of absolute honesty. Absolute honesty is a utopia, fine; but there's no need to steal the jam".

As the book goes on to show, I think Ottone had the better of it, and that Italian public service broadcasting would be in a better place if journalists in the nineteen seventies had been a bit more focus on objectivity and impartiality, and less philosophically sophisticated. For more on how concepts like impartiality help media organisations, read the book!