Article / Writing

The destructive myth of the objective journalist

The existence of objective or neutral journalists is a myth, and those who claim to revere such journalism are only attempting to justify an absence of context and depth in coverage and are elevating pro-status-quo journalism.

Male sports journalists tend to know the sport they cover well and feel passionate about it, but when it comes to covering movements and other countries and cultures, the journalist who is not an activist or who flies into the country for two weeks with no understanding of the local dynamics, is preferred.

That is, there’s an idea that the less a journalist knows about injustice, social struggle, or poverty in poor countries, the more “balanced” coverage they’ll provide. It is argued that journalists participating in a cause have an “agenda” that slants their journalism, but in reality, non-action in the face of injustice is an “agenda” as well – of no change. The latter are the kinds of journalists who are working for “neutral” agencies like Reuters (which is not neutral at all but very much pro-business and US-centric) and dominating the information we have access to.

Though the content composition of most mainstream media agencies these days is dominated by native advertising, clickbait, and advice content, many people still believe that real journalism is meant to hold the powerful accountable. That doesn’t really work though when a journalists’ “neutrality” is a disguise for their support for the existing power dynamics.

Every person is part of the world – it’s delusional to believe that some people can be omnipresent impartial observers with no stake in anything. All people are privileged and/or oppressed, are raising children or choosing not to, are paying taxes or avoiding them, and are invested in or affected by the state of the global economy and politics. Journalists from wealthy nations going to a poor country to report on it for a while are not neutral, and are not better sources of information than the people living in the country and dealing directly with what is going on. Instead, such journalists are naïve, and often fuelled by racist, classist, and western-centric ideologies.

For journalists covering movements and struggles, its a fallacy that the uninvolved ones are in a better position to network, know who to talk to, judge the credibility of the information they get, and to provide context, than those who are involved.

A lot of the English-language coverage of Latin America comes from white male journalists and academics in the US, and fails to question the US’s role in the region: from providing funding for Mexico’s military, to supporting coups, to intervention, and destructive economic policies.

The myth of the objective journalist is really an excuse for racism and classism because it perpetuates the idea that the indigenous people protesting in Ecuador, the Venezuelans leading unprecedented levels of community organisation, or Mexican academics aren’t qualified to write about, or at least be cited as experts in content about their own countries.