What does it mean to be impartial? Jan Fran on the “pursuit of fair and balanced reporting”

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“They may have done the one thing they tried so hard not to do and taken a side”

As the world turns its attention to the destruction happening in Israel and Palestine, the question of how to cover the atrocities has come up in newsrooms across the globe.

On social media, journalist Jan Fran has broken down the idea that to be a good journalist you must be impartial, and to be impartial means representing both sides equally. “But what if, in pursuit of these righteous ends, we obscure the truth and do the bidding of the powerful?” she asks.

She highlights the beginning of an email sent by SBS‘s head of news to journalists and producers – from 2011, but just as relevant as ever – which reads The present conflict in and around Gaza once again brings into focus the fact that we have to be very careful with the terminology and figures we use in our reports.


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“In my time as a journalist I have seen several newsrooms cover Israel/Palestine in as balanced a way as possible. If a representative from one side is interviewed, a representative from the other side is interviewed,” Fran writes.

“Their interviews are often the same length. If we hear the personal story of a Palestinian, we should hear the personal story of an Israeli. At SBS we were told not to adopt the language of either side i.e. not to call the Palestinian territories ‘occupied’ nor ‘disputed.’ We were told instead to use ‘geographical terms’ to remain fair.”

She continues, pointing out that by avoiding the “perceived lack of balance” journalists may accidentally be obscuring the truth of the matter.

“I don’t blame those who look at the reporting on Israel/Palestine and think the mainstream media is a malevolent, biased, agenda-driven institution controlled by lobby groups. It can be! Sometimes, it’s just understaffed and simply doesn’t want the headache of dealing with the ‘inevitable slew of complaints.’”

“Often though, it is righteous, convinced it is acting ethically in pursuit of fair and balanced reporting. It is doing a good thing, the only thing it knows how to do. It is doing the very thing that sustains it.”

Finally, pointing to Amnesty International’s use of the word “apartheid” when it comes to Israel’s treatment of Palestine, Fran concludes writing that “The great irony in pursuing this balance is they may have done the one thing they tried so hard not to do and taken a side.

“Perhaps in the midst of this ‘conflict,’ as we advise and revise words, we might want to consider adding a new one to the list we can – and should – speak.”


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