Why Be­ing Neu­tral is Smart Jour­nal­ism

To un­der­stand Trump, me­dia must lose its bias

The Economic Times - - The Edit Page Chock-a-block -

Neu­tral­ity may well be the most im­por­tant word in a jour­nal­ist’s vo­cab­u­lary now. Democ­ra­cies are in fer­ment in ma­jor coun­tries. And glob­al­i­sa­tion of in­for­ma­tion means bi­ases can quickly travel across ge­ogra­phies. So, some pre-held, pre-fixed no­tions in sec­tions of the In­dian me­dia on, say, Naren­dra Modi in­flu­ence many Western me­dia commentary on the In­dian prime min­is­ter. Sim­i­larly, some of the US ‘main­stream’ me­dia’s pre-held, pre­fixed no­tions of Don­ald Trump are find­ing strong echoes in In­dian me­dia writ­ings on him. But get­ting in­fected by such in­for­ma­tional bias is not smart jour­nal­ism. The best an­ti­dote is a strongly held po­si­tion of neu­tral­ity.

How does this work? Sim­ple. Look at ev­ery is­sue as it is, the ‘why’, the ‘how’, the ‘when’ and the ‘what’, and don’t let ‘who’ be the pre­dom­i­nant fac­tor in anal­y­sis. As they say in foot­ball, good play­ers play the ball, not the man. On a leader like Trump, it’s tempt­ing and easy to play the man, be­cause the US me­dia can’t get enough of what it thinks are his dark per­sonal traits. But it is pre­cisely be­cause Trump ap­pears to be a break from the usual mould of lead­ers, it is im­por­tant to play the ball. We won’t un­der­stand what Trump is do­ing if we start ev­ery anal­y­sis with a deep bias. An im­por­tant part of this is avoid­ing sweep­ing ad­jec­tives. Many ‘lib­eral’ Western an­a­lysts of Modi throw in the term ‘Hindu na­tion­al­ist’, with­out both­er­ing to ex­plain it or to un­der­stand whether as prime min­is­ter, Modi has sought to nu­ance or change his im­age. The ca­sual use of the term cheap­ens the qual­ity of anal­y­sis. Call­ing Trump a nar­cis­sist or a liar or a groper sim­i­larly cheap­ens any anal­y­sis of the US pres­i­dent’s poli­cies.

Once neu­tral­ity is strictly ob­served, the qual­ity of anal­y­sis will also im­prove in other ways. For ex­am­ple, on Trump’s or­der tem­po­rar­ily ban­ning US travel by cit­i­zens from seven coun­tries, a neu­tral per­spec­tive for an In­dian com­men­ta­tor would lead to ques­tions such as these: (a) Is Trump the very first Amer­i­can pres­i­dent to re­strict travel to US in any form? No. (b) Is In­dia all milk and honey about ev­ery­one com­ing into this coun­try? No. (c) Would it have served In­dia’s pur­pose had Trump tem­po­rar­ily banned US vis­its by Pak­istani pass­port hold­ers? Yes. Pak­istan would have re­ceived a much-needed jolt from US. The point is not whether Trump is en­tirely cor­rect. That’s a mat­ter of de­bate. The point is not to get caught up in me­dia frenzy. Even on pos­si­ble Trump-induced re­stric­tions on H1B visas, in­stead of hand-wring­ing, the me­dia here should ask whether this is the op­por­tu­nity for In­dia to start build­ing its own Sil­i­con Val­ley, with easy ac­cess to Amer­i­can jobs gone. Borrowing Don­ald Trump’s seem­ingly favourite words, if the me­dia stays neu­tral, it can be “tremen­dous”. If the me­dia stays hope­lessly bi­ased, it can be a “dis­as­ter”.

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