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March 13, 2011 Leave a comment

Finally.. To be Impartial or not to be..?!

Truly this is a question that I don’t allow myself to answer; maybe one of reasons I don’t fancy blogging and I rarely refer to blogs as a source. perhaps I will be able to get my final decision regarding my position toward Impartiality within 10-20 years, when I will be well experienecd under both circumstances.

I know that I love freedom in every aspect of life including the work. Even the smell of censorship, self-censorship, any form of enforcement, any way of control, harasses me a lot; I assume one with integrity, genuinity and self respect, in either ways, partial or impartial, is unlikely to do so wrong!

Thus, I suggest everyone, to read memoires and handbooks of successful journalists, read good and credible books, work and make self experience, attend the seminars and lectures of those who have better things to say than I; such as Prof Steven Barnett.

as Hafez, the Persian poet says:

تکیه بر جای بزرگان نتوان زد به گزاف ، مگر اسباب بزرگی همه آماده کنی‌

You can’t lay on a wise man’s chair by babble, You may do so if only you obtain the wisdom first!

And For those who are interested;

The New Journalism Haven, ‘Iceland’

Categories: Arshia Etemadi

March 13, 2011 Leave a comment

Impartiality and bigger events: Iran 1978/1979

I mentioned my personal journey in a previous blog. Here I want to talk a little about impartiality in the Western press – or, rather partiality – as it relates to events that transpired in my motherland of Iran back in 1978-79 during the Islamic Revolution. Although my views might sound a little controversial to some, even biased, nevertheless some of the facts can be referenced and cross-referenced for accuracy.

In 1979 an Islamic Revolution led by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini toppled the Shah of Iran, bringing to a close 2500 years of monarchy in that country. During the events leading to the culmination of the Revolution in February 1979, and the triumph of Khomeini and his people, the Western press – especially the Persian section of the BBC – acted in such a way that many Iranians privately still wonder about that whole event. and as a result the BBC never achieved to regain the Persians trust! Especially during the months of October 1978 to January 1979 the Persian section of the BBC was turned into a virtual bully pulpit for Khomeini and his Islamic revolutionaries. While the Imperial Iranian government had attempted to quell the uprising, it appeared that many foreign sources were more interested in toppling the Shah than many Iranians were. Exaggerations in the Western press – especially in the Anglo-American press – abided throughout the lead up to the Revolution. (The BBC was reporting 38m Iranians are in the streerts while Iran population was hardly exceeding 34m at the time, or instead of reporting the events, It was planning the next days’ demonstrations and encouraging people to take part.., just like facebook in Egypt’s recent revolution, and many more examples as such!) The Ayatollah Khomeini was being painted as an Iranian version of Mahatma Gandhi out to liberate Iranians from the clutches of an ‘evil monarchy’. At the time, it did not even occur to many Western journalists and journalistic enterprises to double-check many of the statements and publications of the Ayatollah Khomeini himself where he had laid down his vision of creating an Islamic religious dictatorship in Iran. All the Western press appeared to be repeating at the time was the propaganda of the revolutionaries.

A lot of this was due to the political mood of the time. Jimmy Carter had been elected president in 1976 on a platform of promoting ‘human rights’ in the world, so the Shah was suddenly turned into a pariah by the Western press (and obviously special interests guiding the Western press) as a result of this policy. And because the Shah had been a friend of Richard Nixon’s, and Nixon had fallen from grace due to Watergate, all of a sudden it appeared that the Western press also wanted to put the Shah’s head on the block as well.

The 1979 Revolution in Iran, and the behaviour of the Western press, would make a valuable case study about a situation where the press and journalistic community did not completely act with impartiality or integrity. Everyone was so swept up in the euphoria of events leading up to the Revolution – and especially because an elite in the West had decided the Shah was bad and had to go – that for a brief period of time much of the Western press became the unwitting pawn of a dirty political propaganda campaign that has led to the instability of Iran and the rest of the Middle East to this very day. Maybe people will disagree with me on this, but the behaviour of the Persian section of the BBC of the time needs to be carefully scrutinized, and the question needs to be asked as to why the BBC was cheerleading for Khomeini and the toppling of the Shah. Obviously this is a situation where journalistic impartiality was cast aside, and one where it has come to haunt the whole industry ever since.

Categories: Arshia Etemadi

March 13, 2011 Leave a comment

Impartiality ‘The Liberal Way’

American journalists and journalist organisations often pride themselves on their journalistic impartiality and excellence. They claim that American journalism is the best example of journalism in the world. I don’t want to necessarily dispute this claim here one way or the other. But I want to say a few things based on recent experience.

When I interviewed a prominent veteran American journalist recently some of the questions I had formulated in my mind previous to the interview where about the partiality of the American press. I wanted to pin him down on the issues of corporate pork barrels and monetary infusions – especially big lobbyist influence and interferences – in the American journalistic industry, and how this might have turned the whole industry into something resembling what we might finding under dictatorships. I wanted to find out how much he believed the system had gone off the beaten track.

In the interview this person admitted that the system had indeed become somewhat checkered in recent years and that there were very much ‘propagandists’ inside the journalistic community of the United States. But he also admitted that this was not an overwhelming rule.  This person shared with me what they believed to be the presence of many American journalists who exercised a great deal of journalistic integrity and remained as impartial as they could given the circumstances they worked under.

Without sounding too overenthusiastic or wanting to be just a defensive apologist for America, I liked the perspective this individual provided, and I especially appreciated their candour and honesty with me. My own questions about whether the American journalistic system has gone off or not weren’t necessarily dispelled one way or the other. But what I came away from that interview was that even though there are seasoned veterans out there who know the warts and all of the industry; yet these individuals don’t necessarily become totally cynical and lose their spirit and idealism altogether. I think this is an important thing to bear in mind. Sometimes with some journalists impartiality and lack of bias works to the degree a given journalist clings to their idealism about journalism. This person was living proof to me of the importance of keeping ones moral compass as the guiding light to impartiality.

At the end, I must admit that I would be a happier and more capable journalist in more liberal countries such as The United States of America, France or Italy! A journalist self integrity will do the work and I don’t think Impartiality must be enforced by laws and regulations! as well, sometimes the society needs to hear more and learn more from a spesific side of the story; what politicians and lobbyists have always tried to manipulate.

Categories: Arshia Etemadi

March 13, 2011 Leave a comment

Is complete impartiality possible?

Some people say that complete, 100% impartiality is impossible. They argue that such an impartiality would assume someone has a global access to all angles of a given point of view and access to all the information on all its various levels; in other words, near divine omniscience. But I think this argument misses the point.

Impartiality, as far as journalism is concerned, is a work in progress. It will always be that way. But this is part of the evolutionary process of journalism itself, not to mention the evolutionary process in all forms of human knowledge. Compared to 50-60 years ago we have made great strides in this area. We don’t necessarily need to be divinely omniscient in order to exercise impartiality even when this impartiality is not always 100%.

Granted every human being perceives the world through his/her individual lenses. These personal lenses would include psychological and cultural factors (all those things that make up an individual), as well as many others, all of which might create a certain flaw in each person’s view and perception of the world. Yet not every person is an Island unto themselves. This is where I think, at least where journalism is concerned, many of these arguments go off track because they are assuming the individual as an Island.

Impartiality in journalism works, in my opinion, where there is active cooperation and mutuality between various people, not to mention an array of sources. Because a given journalist is cooperating with a vast array of information, sources, individuals and so multiple points of view, this is where impartiality (even if not 100%) can be effective; but effective so long as there is an understanding that it is all a work in progress and that making reference to these is central to everything.

Perhaps impartiality works best in journalism when a journalist humbly acknowledges that they cannot be divinely omniscient and that they will always need help from multiple people and sources of information to refer in any given situation.


Categories: Arshia Etemadi

March 13, 2011 Leave a comment

A personal journey

Growing up under a religious dictatorship in Iran I have learned the value of impartial journalism and what a world looks like without it. Sometimes people who have not experienced a situation such as I underestimate the value of impartial journalism. Under the Islamic Republic of Iran all information is state controlled by the government and those elites in power. There is a great degree of censorship in the press and any story that does not reflect the official ‘propaganda’ is either filtered or completely discarded by state censors.

Back in the late 1990s up until 2005 (before Ahmadinejad was elected president) Iran experienced a brief period where periodicals, newspapers, books and journals were being published reflecting more the accurate views – especially giving voice to people’s concerns – while providing generally more accurate summaries of the news than the usual state propaganda. This was during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami when reformists were attempting to change the system from within.

Unfortunately the hardliners within the regime did not like this journalistic spring in Iran because most of the publications became increasingly critical of the system, especially critical of the fact that religion and politics were being mixed since the Revolution of 1979. Many of these publications openly criticized the system for being corrupt and dictatorial. Although President Khatami was encouraging the formation of a “civil society,” the various hardline controlled areas of government soon began closing down the various newspapers, periodicals and their publishers one by one, even arresting many journalists and writers. Usually they would begin by just take away their permits. When this didn’t work, the state would break up the operations of a given publisher either through the courts, harassment or sometimes even through brute violence.

What is interesting about this situation is that many of these publications, which I personally read, were actually quite impartial in many of the criticisms offered of the system, often providing concrete criticisms with many real examples. But the state did not even like this. Either one had to provide uncritical support of the system and paint a rosy picture of everything, as is the case in all the state run publications in Iran, or fall into silence.

During the journalistic spring of 1999-2002 for the first time since the Revolution many began taking an independent line. Because of this a political momentum began building. The state believed this momentum would eventually become a momentum against it so it shut everything down.



Categories: Arshia Etemadi

March 13, 2011 Leave a comment

Being impartial so all sides may tell their story

Journalists are supposed to be impartial, that is, take no sides in a given story. Although one hundred percent (100%) impartiality is impossible, because there will always be some level of bias, we must nevertheless strive for it and make such bias as inconspicuous as possible, otherwise we are engaging in propaganda.  For example, in a political story there are always two primary actors at work – meaning, two sides – and impartial coverage of what each of these actors represents – that is, saying – is important so that we may gauge what is going on and not lean too far on one side or the other.

In the cause of impartiality correct sourcing of information is everything. Even though sometimes errors of judgement will occur or the source of a given piece of information may later turn out to have been incorrect, it is nevertheless important that the journalist strive to locate their sources as accurately as possible throughout all stages of the process.

Because of this I would argue impartiality is to a journalist what the Hippocratic oath is supposed to be to a physician. Just like a physician attempts to diagnose all symptoms of a disease and balance these symptoms against the overall strengths and weaknesses in the body of the patient being diagnosed, so too must a journalist do this regarding all the angles he/she covers.

That is not to say, however, that a journalist shouldn’t offer a point of view. But that point of view should also be weighed and tempered against all the factors involved so it doesn’t become overbearing and so turn into an outright bias. As such a journalist’s job in the cause of impartiality is a serious balancing act. This is so because all sides must be allowed to tell their story so that the greater picture of a given issue may emerge.

Categories: Arshia Etemadi

Impartiality and me

Well what a journey we’ve been on?!

The blog: It’s been a wonderful insight into everyone’s opinions- Some amusing entries, some interesting and intelligent comments- Thanks to everyone! We’ve tried to keep it current, we’ve paid attention to the world at large and some specific examples of news coverage. We’ve been philosophical and we may have been a bit ridiculous, but I think we’ve managed to look at the subject of impartial journalism from different angles. Perhaps inevitably, we’ve returned regularly to the good old BBC. But then, due impartiality is so important to the BBC, a real cornerstone. Some people may not like it, but as Calum points out, it’s an important part of being a well respected public service broadcaster.

The presentation: Despite a few presentation gremlins possessing the overheating projector, our presentation allowed us to talk in more detail about impartiality and journalism inside and outside of the BBC. Calum’s commentary was well structured and hopefully our slides communicated the information clearly. Fellow blogger Graham Smith kindly lent us some words of wisdom- it was fascinating to sit down and talk about impartiality with a BBC employee who really has to think carefully about impartiality in his writing. It was a real shame that Alex didn’t get a chance to preview the hard work he put into his news stories (don’t forget you can find them here) but it showed that as a group, we should have thought more about timing. It all ended in a very entertaining and passionate discussion from everyone in the room and beyond on Twitter. -A real highlight, thanks to all who contributed, bird brains and all.

And what about me?

To think about my personal conclusions on our regulation and ethics project, I took a peek at the very first nervous blog post I made on this site. I’d forgotten that I began with a dictionary definition. I now realise this was wholly inappropriate for the subject on which I was about to devote many lonely hours of blogging.

The concept of impartiality in the digital age is far from consensual. It might have a specific meaning, but it’s importance to us as individuals is what is most relevant and most interesting about it.

I feel that our Twitter-led discussion was the highlight of our presentation a few weeks back, and since then, the issues that were raised have been the basis for some of my recent blog posts. Impartiality is an interesting issue because people feel passionately about it, either negatively or positively.

If we as journalists want to commit to due impartiality as a journalistic value in our digital age, we have to quieten our own voices a little. In many ways doing this seems like a backwards step in an online community of avid tweeters, youtube phonomenonons and internet trolls. -When everyone is part of the big conversation, why can’t we be?

My carefully considered and much blogged opinion, is that as journalists we should aim for due impartiality in any news broadcasts which we make. Due impartiality increases our audience, helps to preserve the truth, and of course distinguishes news broadcasting from other forms of broadcasting like blogging and reviewing. It’s a view that was generally backed up when I posed the question to members of the public.

But just before you go, Calum began with the BBC and not very impartially I suppose, I intend to end with it.

Just how easy is it to achieve impartiality? Have a go at this test on the BBC’s college of journalism website to find out.