The Only Way is Ethics: Being independent does not mean giving every
perspective equal weight

In the general run of things, journalists should endeavour to present
the views of all the main players in a particular story

WILL GORE

Sunday 6 April 2014

Phil Collins is a wise man. He could feel it coming in the air tonight
when the rest of us still assumed the Sahara desert was incapable of
leaving Africa. But was he right to suggest that we always need to
hear both sides of the story?

It sounds like a simple question (and, OK, an awful pun) which
deserves an equally straightforward answer. But if there is a shade of
grey to be found, this column will unearth it.

In the general run of things, journalists should endeavour to present
the views of all the main players in a particular story. If Mr Smith
says Mrs Jones stole his car, it is incumbent on us to set out Mrs
Jones' position that she was given the keys by Mr Smith and told to
enjoy her new motor.

But what about matters of historical debate? Last week, one reader
expressed anger that an online celebrity story had referenced the
early-20th century Armenian genocide at the hands of the Ottoman
authorities as an established fact. This, he said, was anti-Turkish
propaganda; many have not recognised the events as genocide.

The deaths of an estimated million or more Armenians during and after
the World War I are a source of considerable controversy. In an
unrelated piece last week, Robert Fisk presented an interview with one
of the last survivors of the tragedy. He left readers in no doubt as
to the veracity of the anti-Armenian brutality but he did point out,
witheringly, that modern-day Turkey still disputes the label
"genocide".

So, should we make this point every time we mention the subject? The
item under complaint was a fairly brief report about reality star Kim
Kardashian's comparison of today's turmoil in Syria with the history
of her Armenian forebears. It was not a treatise about
Turkish-Armenian relations.

In any event, given the weight of academic opinion and the recognition
of the genocide by many governments, the European Parliament, the
Council of Europe and others, there seems sufficient justification for
asserting it in a newspaper article without endless caveats. There is,
after all, such a thing as false balance. The BBC has recently been
accused of misleading the public by allowing too much airtime to
unqualified climate change sceptics, for instance.

The Independent lives up to its name, but being independent does not
mean never taking a position on a subject. We will not give equal
weight to two sides of a story if we do not believe they have equal
validity.

To print, or not to print...

Just as there are occasions when it is alright to leave something out,
there are times when the inclusion of material which may cause offence
can be justified.

Last Thursday's Independent included a feature about the decision by
Vogue Italia to focus its latest edition on the subject of domestic
violence against women. The images in the magazine are provocative and
some have argued that they glamorise or trivialise the topic. In that
context, should we have included some of the photographs in our own
pages?

There is always a danger of being accused of having our cake and
eating it in this type of scenario. If we believe that material is
beyond the pale or is likely to cause widespread outrage, we might
decline to use it. No British newspaper, for instance, printed the
cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed which caused such controversy some
years ago.

But such cases should be the exception, not the rule. If there is a
real and proper debate to be had - and if we are discussing it in the
newspaper - then readers should be equipped to have it too.

Will Gore is Deputy Managing Editor of The Independent, i, Independent
on Sunday and the Evening Standard Twitter: @willjgore

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