Fairness and balance are the basic principles in journalistic context. According to the ONA (Online News Association) Ethics, Fairness means ‘that a journalist should strive for accuracy and truth in reporting, and not slant a story so a reader draws the reporter’s desired conclusion.’ Meanwhile, balance means ‘stories must be balanced in the sense of attempting to present all sides of a story.’
For fairness, the BBC Guidelines stated the news outlet ‘will be open, honest, straightforward and fair in our dealings with contributors and audiences unless there is a clear public interest in doing otherwise, or we need to consider important issues such as legal matters, safety, or confidentiality.’
Fairness is similar to impartiality that journalists should not favor any person or group over others. For example, when journalists report on the election, they can not reveal their preference for the candidate. Journalists should also conceal personal feelings and emotions so these factors will not influence the report. They need to think carefully about the language and tone used too. So that the news stories do not give an inaccurate and unfair representation of the facts.
For balance, journalists should try their best to cover all sides of the news stories. However, in some cases, journalists have to weight the coverage on different sides in order to avoid false balance. False balance means journalists equally report ideas from both sides even the evidence stacked heavily on one side. For example, although the majority of scientists agreed that global warming is caused by industry revolution, a small number of scientists still think that global warming is a natural climate change. If journalists report both sides equally, readers may misunderstand that there is an intense argument between both sides.
The New York Times was accused of falling into the trap o false balance during the 2016 US Presidential Election. The New York Times covered extensive stories on the controversies surrounding the Clinton Foundation and Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. Critics accused that The New York Times portrayed both candidates were flawed and omitted that the scandals of Donald Trump were more serious. The editor of The New York Times defended that ‘the critics really want is for journalists to apply their own moral and ideological judgments to the candidates’.
In conclusion, objective journalism should keep the principles of fairness and balance in the stories. They may also present evidence and arguments in the proportion to the actual evidence for each side in order to prevent false balance.
MAZA 2016, The New York Times Proves “False Balance” Is Ruining Good Campaign Coverage, Media Matter for America.
Section 6.2, BBC Guidelines.
Balance and fairness, ONA Ethics.
Spayd 2016, The Truth About ‘False Balance’, The New York Times.
Grimes 2016, Impartial journalism is laudable. But false balance is dangerous, The Guardian.