On “Nonpartisan Journalism”

Being objectively neutral in journalism is nearly impossible.

Martin Barakov
Sep 11, 2020 · 5 min read

There seems to be a common desire among aspiring journalists, political commentators, and other similar occupations to be objectively neutral, that is, to be nonpartisan. There is this fear of being labelled as biased or leaning towards a particular political ideology for sharing concepts that you feel are justified. Even major publications have to grapple with this reality, including some like The Economist, stating their allegiance to the so-called “radical centre”, as if this is some sort of declaration of their neutrality.

There is one notion that that is necessary to discuss before delving further into this topic: Mainstream outlets are not neutral, and anyone who describes themselves as neutral journalists should be met with severe skepticism.

“Radical Centrism” is a Joke:

If we look further at the article published by The Economist, we can see that they espouse this sense of ‘radical centrism’ purely because they “tend to favour deregulation and privatisation” but “also like gay marriage, want to legalise drugs and disapprove of monarchy.” But this does not mean that they are somehow objective, nor does it show that they are centrists because they perceive themselves to have both left-wing and right-wing values.

In 1915, Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin iconically wrote about bourgeois philanthropists and mentioned that The Economist is nothing more than “a journal that speaks for the British millionaires”, a phrase often still utilized by Marxists to this day to denounce various articles that are published by the magazine that degrade socialist movements, both historically and in the present.

Maintaining a stance that is ‘socially liberal and fiscally conservative’ does nothing besides offer the illusion of not holding deeply held convictions about specific policies that are made by governments and politicians. Favouring deregulation and privatization are the same themes that are espoused by international economic organizations like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, but they are not perceived by anyone to be part of the ‘radical centre’ as The Economist prefers to call themselves.

If one is to believe in a particular position when it comes down to political debate, then they are, objectively speaking, not objective. This extends to journalistic outlets as well. Anyone who says that they subscribe to mainstream outlets such as The Guardian or the BBC for supposedly objective content are either lying to themselves or are misinformed and merely hold similar beliefs about the world.

Bias in Journalism Provides Flavour:

Some tend to argue that bias completely rids an article of any sort of credibility, although this is not true in the slightest. If we hold opinions to be indicative of biases, then the only way for an article or outlet to not be biased would be through the direct stating of factual information and the granting of zero explanation or context behind said information. As such, the hypothetical articles in question would be extremely bland and quite an eyesore to read.

However, if you read an article that, say, leans towards socialist ideas, then there is context provided and features a subscription to specific social, political, and economic concepts.

“But that is an indication of bias, which is bad!”

While the hypothetical mentioned above does explicitly lean towards socialist conceptions, it only seems biased because one might not support these notions. The same goes for so-called objectively neutral sources and when they degrade countries like Cuba. A perfect example of this is when looking at the articles produced by Reuters. The following two excerpts are directly from articles written by Reuters, one discussing Marriott International in Cuba and the other talking about the reintroduction of the American dollar in the country:

“The Trump administration has ordered Marriott International to wind down hotel operations in Communist-run Cuba, a company spokeswoman told Reuters, extinguishing what had been a symbol of the U.S.-Cuban detente.”

“State-run stores in Cuba began selling some food and hygiene products in U.S. dollars on Monday as the import-dependent country faces a grave shortage of tradable currency to purchase goods abroad.”

You will never see the publication refer to the United States as “Capitalist-run” or that there are “Corporate-run stores” within the country. This directly plays into the publicly held mentality that exists from the McCarthyist era within the United States. It either directly or indirectly creates a mentality that pits two sides against each other, as opposed to them being on the same playing field.

If we look at an outlet that is explicitly anti-imperialist in their journalistic outlook, many in mainstream political circles will be quick to point out the bias that is prevalent, alongside the ridding of any credibility for the outlet itself. Examples of this can be seen across all sorts of Marxist publications that exist, including ones heavily involved in academia or even subscribe to the peer-review process with regards to articles being written!

Medea Benjamin, American political activist and co-founder of Code Pink, wrote an article in Jacobin back in April 2020 applauding the strides that the Cuban medical system has made and going even further, stating that the United States should learn from the blockaded socialist country. This is an article that will never be featured in an outlet like Fox News, and the same can be said with regards to featuring neoliberal content in explicitly leftist publications.

In essence, the main points that are being made here are the following in regards to the work and study of journalism:

  1. Biases in journalistic endeavors are not inherently bad
  2. Genuinely nonpartisan writing can be excruciatingly lackluster
  3. Nonpartisan or politically centrist outlets are often seen as such because they are aligned with the ideas of the status quo

The myth of being nonpartisan or objective with regards to journalism has absolutely everything to do with your own political beliefs and conventions, especially when dealing with articles that you may have specific disagreements with. Articles that are written with the style and rigour that appease your own convictions will seem legitimate to you, and more often than not, they will correspond with your own ideas about a particular subject.

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