What is Neutrality?
Media represents freedom of expression wherein one has the liberty to express what one wants to. However, what may be freedom to one can always be a hindrance to other. In such a case how does one decide what is right and what is the measure to which liberty can be exercised?
On a personal level, people may speak or tweet stuff that they think is right and inoffensive and they can easily do away with the trouble but when it comes to journalists or news agencies, they cannot run the risk of being offensive. They rather pertain to ‘Neutrality’. As the Oxford definition goes: “Neutrality is the state of not supporting or helping either side in a conflict, disagreement, etc.; Impartiality, Absence of decided views, expression, or strong feeling.”
Neutrality as the Ideal
‘Neutrality’ is vehemently encouraged in the newspapers and magazines. Newspapers are based on the theory that what they report is factual; therefore the news stories cannot be judgmental or opinionated. In fact, the words used in reports are carefully chosen. Words that are loaded or have pun/double-meaning attached to them are condemned in order to avoid problems. Thus, there is a separate page called ‘The Editorial’ page which consists of the opinionated or tailored news articles.
‘Neutrality’ is considered to be the most important journalistic ethic because it adds to professionalism and maintains fairness, impartiality and non-favoritism.
It also supports wide acceptability because the newspaper agency and its associates set them completely away from ambiguity and judgments.
Neutrality Guidelines by Agencies
Certain news agencies have endeavored to create a neutrality guideline for their associates and reporters in order to maintain professionalism and avoid confusion. The International Press Institute (IPI) made its Use With Care: A Reporter’s Glossary of Loaded Language in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict available online wherein it mentioned words that should be avoided in articles and provided alternatives to those words. It condemned the reporters to use words that are loaded or pun-intended.
The Washington Post in September 25, 2009 released guidelines for its staff using social media. The excerpts from the post read as “When using these networks, nothing we do must call into question the impartiality of our news judgment. Post journalists must refrain from writing, tweeting or posting anything – including photographs or video – that could be perceived as reflecting political racial, sexist, religious or other bias or favoritism that could be used to tarnish our journalistic credibility.”
Isn’t Neutrality Debatable?
Well, is it that easy to write ‘n’ number of news stories without putting in opinions in it? If news stories are to be complete facts, how would one report cases like crime, corruption, murder, conceit? Taking away the truth from the core of the story would in fact render it as a piece of unbaked cake.
Also, another most heated issue is that if the news agencies and newspapers demand Neutrality so much, aren’t they refraining from it themselves when they take a point of view in deciding what stories are to be covered? Somehow, the notion of objectivity fails to cater to the predicament where it comes to taking sides of politicians and leading corporations, publishing news stories favorable to them.
Journalistic ‘Neutrality’ is a much debated and discussed issue in the realm of media and expression.